Visual stories

Deep in the Canaries

Watch three surfers find liquid bliss in the Atlantic’s remote, rugged Canary Islands chain

Sacrifice is a concept few would associate with a surf trip. Surfing is a leisurely pursuit in which the greatest sacrifice usually involves giving away the last rub of your wax. Hardly an offering of great worth in the grand scheme of things. But in those few horrible moments directly prior to waking, I felt that my current fragility surely had to be a sufficient offering for the greater good of our surfing success.

Let me roll back a few hours. We had arrived the previous evening as a premature dusk surrounded us. The volcanic topography of the island meant that the sun disappeared behind the mountains far earlier than expected leaving a striking contrast of light dancing through the salt spray rising from the ocean in front of where we stood. We had convoyed down the narrow, winding lanes passing sheer cliffs with only cacti clinging to their sides, thick rainforest then on to the tiny carpark by the ocean surrounded by platanos. The promise of surf had been slim but given the warm water and my own dwindling boardshort opportunities; I was determined to make use of the hand plane that had damaged my boards, wedged between them on the flight over. This also ensured I avoided the task of emptying the shitstorm of groceries, camping equipment and beers that we had stuffed into the cars earlier. While I frolicked in the onshore dribble, the rest of our clan made camp in a clearing on the edge of the cliff under the broad green leaves of the banana trees.

Night quickly came and with it beers and joviality. After a Spanish BBQ a few nights earlier, I should have been prepared for the seemingly endless stream of meat being cooked then passed around the fire. Unfortunately it’s a hardwired symptom of growing up with a younger brother that every meal involves eating to excess, and with no end in sight, the BBQ became more of an endurance test than a meal. Nevertheless the tide of food eventually eased and was soon replaced with beer and banter. My Spanish is limited to coffee orders and obscenities but with the lubrication of alcohol, and the rest of the crew’s slightly better english, we managed to communicate to a passable level, enough to laugh at each other and trade stories of the past 10 days. Wine soon followed beer then a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black appeared. Fragmented memories of my last whiskey encounter flashed before me; stumbling along Scottish streets, sick in bushes, waking with shoes on in bed like a pre-pubescent delinquent. Coincidentally this happened to involve Chris who now sat across the fire grinning like a cheshire cat. Slowly, one and two at a time, the crowd dwindled until it was only the grinning cheshire and myself left beside the embers of the fire. By this stage I was completely glued to my camp chair, half reclined. As Chris rolled his camp mat out under the stars, I chose the more upright position still seated by the fire. The mantra Chris had heckled me with all trip rung in my ears as I passed out with my head in my hands, “Australian’s ay? Can’t take them anywhere.”

And so it was that I came to wake stiff yet thankfully on my back. I had obviously managed to make the transition from chair to ground during the night but didn’t have the cognition to lay anything more than a jacket between myself and the rough gravel. Laying with my eyes still closed I noticed 3 things; firstly the thin blanket covering my face which must have landed there through some show of sympathy; the low thunder coming from our ocean side, a sign that the forecasted swell had obviously arrived; and the far more aggressive thunder rolling around the inside of my head and stomach. The first waking hour and half was a ginger affair as the rest of the crew slowly rose to admire the 6-8ft left grumbling down the distant cliff-lined point. It was with some trepidation and a fair amount of encouragement that I finally entered the water and was soon followed by the others. We traded shifting tubes and speed runs before the tide and wind had their way and the day was called a wrap.

Much like Gandalf the Grey giving his life for the Fellowship of the Ring, I had layed down the ultimate sacrifice to the surfing deities in the interest of the greater good. And much like the resurrection of Gandalf the White from the great abyss, I had been revived from my hangover by the wash of the brine. We ended the journey on a high and as the crew parted ways that afternoon, I couldn’t help but feel that our good fortune had been a result of the divine smiling upon my excessive behaviour and subsequent sickness as a worthy sacrifice.

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