A fierce November sun was finally sliding, ever so stubbornly, behind the Richmond range as Frankie tied the last board onto the roof racks of his 1956 Ford Zephyr station wagon. Four surfboards were roped down individually. If only he’d had the vision to put metal hooks on the end of elasticized bungee cords and marketed them as “occy straps”, Frankie and his three surfing mates could have been executives for Billabong or Quiksilver rather than students at the Lismore Teachers’ College, surviving on beer and chips, and living from week to week on meagre scholarships with the arses out of their boardshorts. 1972 was still a few years shy of that time-saving invention.
Frankie crunched the column gearshift and located first gear as Rob, Rick and Smurf bundled into the blue Zephyr. It wasn’t a chick-magnet, but Frankie’s 16 year old Zephyr was his pride and joy in 1972. T-shirts, towels, board wax and a pair of thongs were the only luggage needed for a surfing weekend.
After a $2 fuel stop at the Alstonville general store, Frankie took the backroad around to Marom Creek for a quick dip in the waterhole below Marom Falls. Always an invigorating stop before or after a surf, it could wash away the sweat of subtropical humidity, or the crust of salt in shoulder length hair and sunburned bodies.
Jimi Hendrix blasted from the Zephyr’s radio but was drowned out by a cacophony of voices enthusing about the weekend forecast. An east coast low was forming off Bundaberg, and every surfer knows a low generates great swell.
“Stoked. Lennox is gunna be pumpin,” shrieked Smurf. “It’ll be eight foot in the morning.’
“Yeah, but what about Tallows at Byron? That left break’s gunna be huge and clean. Drive straight to Tallows, Frankie!” Rick shouted.
Consensus was usually reached via a bellowing match. The higher the decibels, the more valid the argument. There was no antagonism, merely sustained enthusiasm. So the plan was agreed. Drive to Lennox Head, sleep the night on the beach, check the surf next morning and drive north to Byron if Lennox was crappy.
Passing Lennox Headland and the aboriginal stone fish traps in darkness, the Zephyr crawled into sleepy Lennox Head village. From a shallow pool of scholarship cash, a carton of KB tinnies and a dollar’s worth of hot chips was purchased at The Angler’s Arms. It probably wouldn’t feed multitudes, but hot chips, beer and proximity to surf felt like a religious experience on par with loaves and fishes. They drove to the darkened dunes near Lake Ainsworth, parked, lit a driftwood fire on the beach then feasted, laughed, argued, joked and guzzled beer to the accompaniment of an increasingly loud shore break. Tonight, they were richer than kings, freer than the breeze and, after several hours, drunker than lords.
After the daytime heat, the beach sand cooled quickly, and all four used their beach towels as makeshift bedding in softer sand at the high tide mark. Laughter subdued, talk became intermittent, the fire was stoked with thicker logs sending sparks crackling skywards. Several gulls stood nearby like beach sentinels, perhaps in the vain hope of being thrown some scraps. Towards midnight, in the absence of moonlight, a lone fisherman trudged along the beach towards the village, oblivious to the beer induced sleep of four young surfers in the dunes.
At about 4am Frankie stirred into semi-consciousness. His dream about being fire-hosed during a demonstration against the Vietnam war proved to have an element of reality. It was raining, quite heavily, and he was covered in his sopping wet towel. He threw it off with a start, sat bolt upright, drenched through and shivering.
“Bloody hell!” Frankie called to his mates. Silence.
There was just enough light to make out that he was alone. What the...? Through a boozy haze, he staggered across the dunes towards his car. Inside the old Zephyr, he could distinguish the sleeping body of Rick stretched across the front seat, while Rob and Smurf had laid down the back seat and were cocooned, warm and dry. Frankie ripped at the door handle. It was locked. His beer stupor lessened as his anger rose.
“Unlock the bloody door, you bastards!” Frankie shouted through flecks of spit and rain while smacking repeatedly on the glass. Smurf roused and wound down the window.
“Why’d you bastards leave me out in the rain?”
“Arrr… yeah… sorry Frankie. We tried to wake you when it started about an hour ago, but… anyway there wasn’t really enough room in the car for four.”
Frankie was apoplectic. “Whaaaat? It’s my bloody car!” he screamed, unsure whether his shivering fits were from chill or rage.
“Get out… and get your boards off the roof now if you’re stayin,’ Find your own way home. I’m going back to Lismore right now. You can stick the east coast swell. Mongrels.”
After the fifth unsuccessful turn of the ignition key, it was unanimously agreed the battery was totally flat. At the crack of dawn, four hungover surfers, with freshly waxed surfboards under their arms, crested the dunes to the magnificent sight of clean lines of uncrowded, pumping surf. With whoops all round, there was a short race to the water. It was easy to forgive.