Week 8: Judith Wright’s “The Surfer”

I had no intention of digging up another of my old clunkers, but Judith Wright’s poem took me right back to the moment I was trying to capture when I wrote my piece. I think it was the line “Turn home, the sun goes down; swimmer, turn home.” It reminded me of the rapturous joy that could overtake me when I was immersed in the thrill of being part of the ocean, not just in it. I would lose all track of time and the sun could very well set without me noticing. I never got past the beginner level of surfing, but riding waves, either on a body board or just body surfing, was an amazing experience on those occasions when I lost myself in it.

I have two vivid memories of sharing this experience with others. One was my cousin and I surfing at Cronulla beach. We were barely teenagers and had just mastered standing up and riding the wave all the way in. A sand bar meant that we could simply walk back out and catch another wave. It was almost pitch black before we finally wretched ourselves out of the water. I think the fear of sharks overtook the fun. I spent so many days at that beach, yet that one stands out as something special for some reason.

The other one was what inspired my poem. My summer holidays as a youngster were usually spent in a caravan park at The Entrance on the central coast. The poem is about the summer of 1989 (yes classmates I’m that old). Re-reading it I first noticed how clunky it was, but I also had the stark realization that this was the last summer of my life that did not revolve around alcohol. It’s fascinating how our focus changes through the years. Anyway, this enigmatic elation I am trying to grasp was shared by almost two dozen kids and teenagers. It was almost a kind of mass hypnosis. We were there every day after and I never felt it again; intriguing.



The sun is going down already.

Can’t stop yet, too much fun.

Seems like every kid in the caravan park is out here.

An army of boogie boarders and surfers.

All desperately clinging to the feeling.

Friends, fun, freedom.


The surf isn’t even that good.

But something makes this great.

We’re all in this together,

And yet we all catch our own waves.

We all experience it differently.

But the smiles are unmistakeable.


No one on the shore now,

Except for the invading beach fishermen.

Slowly and reluctantly,

Kids head into the sand.

Night time now.

Getting hungry.


We’ll be back tomorrow.

We’ll keep coming back.

Looking for whatever it was.

But somehow we’ll never find it.

That special ingredient.

I still don’t know what it was.