Under Gunned


He stood atop of the sea wall and starred at the growling fringe of the blue Atlantic.

The intimate streets of the village with it’s luscious walled gardens and dark bars had not prepared the jaded traveller for the sensual overload at this precarious edge. He looked back inland and surveyed cliffs behind the next point break to the west. Canyons, spires  and shear cliffs formed a dizzying cacophony of massive vertical surfaces. Transfixed by the sight, an unwelcome mixture of vertigo, awe and nausea involuntarily rippled through his body. He looked down quickly as sky started to spin around his head and knelt to regain his failing balance.

It had been a long day. The gloomy early start, shepherding surfboards through customs, the landing at the worlds most precipitously positioned airport and then the  drive along the endlessly meandering roads of the south coast of the island. Now the strong February evening sun dazzled and warmed the somewhat weary traveller.

He adjusted his eyes to the golden glare that spread it’s self over the gilded ocean and focussed on the slipway immediately below his vantage point. The slipway fell away into the swell at an alarming tilt. He noted the spherical black boulders that rolled up the sharp incline with every surge and the subsequent grinding noise as the water rhythmically withdrew. The relentless shorebreak beckoned and alarmed the traveller in equal measure.

He looked around for sight of company but found none. Two minutes later he was suited up and gazing intently at the slipway for final clues and warnings against an unsuccessful launch. A hundred meters up the boulder strewn point  a peak unzipped itself  within a few meters of the black shoreline. The white water,between the face of the wave and the shore, flowed down the point with the intensity of a river rapid.  Pushing contemplations of slips and falls ,the resultant broken fins and loss of face to non existent spectators he stepped forth pushing his 7’0” pintail into the green brine. To his relief one well timed duckdive and the assistance of the back surge pushed him beyond immediate peril. Refreshed, he stroked up to the apex of the point. The evening sunlight and the warm sea water soothed the man’s frayed nerves  and heightened anticipation of a session in a new place.

The waves were fanned by soft off shore wind supporting a walled overhead wave that expired just before the slipway. At first, rides were tentative affairs with few turns. The steep drop and the immediate presence of the shiny black boulders reminded the surfer of the consequences of becoming over confident. After half an hour the swell seemed to strengthen, perhaps due to the push of the incoming tide. Each drop got perceptibly longer and the take off position migrated a little way further out. The take off’s started to steepen even more as the increasingly hefty swell was hollowed out by the backwash from the nearby rocks. A tentativeness started to insinuate itself in the travellers motions. Paddling into these waves was no-longer the easy pleasure of half an hour ago. Tired shoulders tensed and the motion of jumping to his feet became less fluid. The swell steadily increased in size until it was twice head height. The last two waves caught resulted in falls at mid face . The surfer got tumbled along the point , sometimes under the water feeling the presence of the round black boulders. The surfer’s leash briefly became entangled around a large submerged boulder until the racing rip current and his own efforts set him free.

Just at this point he felt a pair of eyes from the sea wall alight upon him. He looked up at the cliff and sure enough spotted a partially obscured figure looking intently down on him. Slightly rattled by the intrusion and the embarrassment of his predicament he decided to paddle in and call it a day. After all, the session, had been a successful first surf at an unknown break. The by now fearsome shore break and the speedy rip were negotiated with one part aplomb and three of beginners luck.

The traveller met the gaze of his inquisitor as he walked up from the slipway and summoned a smile. The inquisitor smiled broardly back and said

”Welcome to Madeira. You was under gunned out there”

The words were said in English with the hint of a Welsh accent. There was no sign of  denigration or condescension in these words. They were simply meant.

The advice was useful. These were the smallest waves he surfed for the next  ten days.