The Big Fish


Sometime in the late 1980s I paddled out into the lineup at Penhale Corner  A few other guys were sitting on their boards amongst the occasional scruffy peaks pawed by an incessant south westerly. No one made eye contact, it was (and probably still is) that type of spot. There are no locals as such , the break is marooned between Peranporth  and Holywell Bay. Access involved a long trek by foot, hence the surfer felt some type of entitlement when he arrived. Other surfers and less than perfect conditions were an unwelcome reality check when the surfer  completed his walk and stroked out.Snake eyes or lack of ocular contact were the illogical result. Of coarse we are are talking about grown men here. Anyway, I digress.Surely it is different now?

Settling myself just outside of the small pack I gazed out to the horizon , seeking out bumps that just may have turned into the high quality peaks that this spot could provide to the keen hiker. During a long lull other stuff preoccupied me. Was my elderly Toyota Corolla going to get me home this night and the next few nights come to that? The prop shaft had been clanking alarmingly as I drove to the beach. The cost of renewing it far outweighed the cars paltry value.

What to do?

For no logical reason I turned toward the shore for an answer  Perhaps I was expecting a new shiny prop shaft to have been deposited in the sand by some mechanical good Samaritan. Instead I found myself gazing at a row of surfers….agitated surfers. They made a comical sight, a mixture of flouro coloured wet suits stretched across an array of body types. The squat man  in early middle age and his rake like mate jumped in unison up and down on the spot waving their arms above their heads. Next in line the younger ripper  more coolly beckoned towards the shore. The older longboarder stood firm and starred hard out to sea and finally the kneeboarder at the end of the line with a ponytail appeared to be doing star jumps most erratically . I returned my gaze seaward and looked for the person whose attention they were clearly trying to attract. There was no one.

These guys were trying to catch my attention, but why? I looked around the immediate seascape for ideas but drew a blank. Small grey waves broke inside of me, another lull meant there was no action out the back and the cliffs to the right yielded no clues. I checked back to the shoreline. They were still gesticulating, and now shouting by the looks of their contorted mouths. I felt a hint of paranoia settle aound me. Were they trying to get me out of the lineup? Had I taken too many waves? Had I inadvertently dropped in?

Reluctantly I stroked for the shorepond. A mixture of paranoia, embarrassment and confusion  rippled through me. I paddled slowly with all the dignity I could muster and then ambled up to the group. As I drew near I tried to read the faces of my fellow surfers. There was a mixture of excitement, concern, amusement, and nervous laughter. Not quite what you would expect from an angry mob.

” Did you not see it?” The kneeboarder implored.

“It was following you around, every time you turned ”  said the longboarder.

“It’s a bloody great shark”

Sceptically I scanned the faces for signs of a hidden agenda. There were none evident but after five minutes of starring out at the Corner my feelings of paranoia started to return. There was no sign of a jumping bass let alone a big fish.

Just before I turned to the dripping group of conspirators with a retort  a very large fin cut through the surface of the shorepond approximately 15 yards from where we stood. It moved with speed and purpose up and down an invisible line twice and then sunk and disappeared from view.

I understood the nervous laughter now.

Spring brings some large visitors to our shores.

2 thoughts on “The Big Fish

  1. A great tale. Beautiful footage too and they are rather wonderful creatures (but I wouldn’t like to meet one). Do they pose any real danger here? The name ‘basking’ gives such an impression of mildness!

    • No, it was a fin not a tail.

      Basking sharks grow up to 12 meters long and eat plankton.Gentle giants really. They swim into British west coast waters in the spring but are mainly spotted in Cornwall or the Western Isles. They are truly big fish. I would love to meet up with another but have a snorkel; and mask to hand this time. I have spotted one from a cliff top a few years after this incident but have not seen one since.

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