Having mastered the basics, next came catching “shoots” - swimming onto unbroken waves and riding them to the shore arms by our sides travelling like missiles. We followed the advice dad offered and body surfing seemed to come naturally.
We two brothers would practice, always measuring our skills against each other. Catch the same wave; punch the air and whoop in triumph even when only a matter of inches and some dodgy practices separated us; race back through the lines of white surging towards us, smashing our chests into each and being slapped in the face by nature for our impudence, to do it all again.
Meanwhile dad would have disappeared “out back” for what seemed like hours. Mum certainly felt the hours. Ever faithful, she would sit, read, doze under the brolly patiently waiting for the return of her man. His role was to be the water hero; hers was to apply sunscreen, pass out hats, keep us hydrated, break up fights and at regular intervals wander to the shallows where she would spend time bobbing. She was never a surfer. She was a suburban Sydney girl from the inner western suburbs.
My father, who’d never had a swimming lesson in his life but had grown up on the banks of the Richmond River knew the secret. We watched him. He watched us. We strived to beat him and eventually did. We’d learnt from an expert.
It was on one of these beach holidays that I had my first inkling that my father was not immortal. Inexplicably he declined an invitation to join us boys in tackling a pretty decent surf. The ear plugs he’d used as his only artificial aid in his years of surfing lay unused in the side pocket of the beach bag. He never ventured beyond the broken surf again. He was probably only sixty. Still a young man in my eyes despite the years.
The final photo in this collection would see an old man wobbling across the same stretch of sand, supported on either side by a son and his daughter-in-law, making his last pilgrimage to his beloved Currumbin. Everyone in the photo knows the truth. If you look closely at the photo you can see the pain in their eyes - knowing what they all know and not wanting to speak about it.