I love summer on the Gold Coast. It gets light at 4.30am and is only dark after 7pm. That means you can paddle a canoe on the river in the morning before work and go for a surf after work, or vice versa.
I recently went for a late afternoon surf at tower 36 and my two Hungarian friends were there too. It's amazing how two guys from the same country can be totally different in their attitude to their sport. Zsolt, with his grom-like (newfound) stoke (enthusiasm – the feeling only a surfer knows), took on the roughest on-shore three-stacks (that's when there are three layers of broken waves heading for shore simultaneously, so only the fittest of the fit can actually make it out to the backline) Surfers Paradise has to offer. Gabor, on the other hand, took a more placid approach, sizing up the ocean for many minutes before risking his life against mother nature.
I got a few adrenalin-filled rides, all the while keeping an eye on my friends, as surfers do, and eventually coming back to shore to find Gabor scanning the horizon for his buddy. I had only just joined in the search when a passing power-walker pointed us toward the lifeguard tower, to which we sprinted to find our friend in agony on the sand, clutching a bleeding leg. He was in good hands. The lifeguard was going about the business of cleaning the sizeable wound and reassuring Zsolt with a certain optimism and laid-back style befitting a council employee whose job involves hanging out on the beach, uttering loud-speaker instructions to tourists once in a while, and avoiding too much sun.
Zsolt's surfboard was in two pieces, which suggested that the notorious Surfers Paradise shore dump had played a hand in his demise. This was confirmed by the deep slice running down the length of his left calf. It became clear that those razor-sharp fins had done their dreaded deed and he would forever have the scars to prove it. It looked like a shark-bite, but alas, it was no more than a ‘fin chop'!
The lifeguard had already called paramedics and an ambulance and all that was left for Gabor and me was to assure Zsolt that the wound would only need a few stitches and he'd be back in the water in 10 days.
That was a month ago and he's still on crutches and hasn't been able to manage the restaurant where he works (which means he doesn't get paid). He could be pretty much going off his rocker lazing around in an apartment that heats up like an oven as the day progresses, watching Endless Summer and reading zen books and surfing magazines. But the amazing thing is that Zsolt remains philosophical about the whole thing. “Everything happens for a reason,” he assures me. “I needed the break from work, anyway. I'm okay. It gives me time to think about what I want for my life.” Gabor is happily standing in for him at the restaurant, all the while ferrying food and making sure he is as comfortable as possible. The doctors and nurses (every one of them foreign too, by the way) at Gold Coast Hospital were superb in their handling of my friend.
I've always believed the ocean will teach you whatever you need to learn. So, what do we learn from this? A few lessons:
One: Always size up the surf before you take it on, no matter how amped you might be for a ride.
Two: Never surf alone.
Three: Respect the lifeguards, ambos and medics.
Four: Be thankful there are enough highly-skilled doctors and nurses in hygienic and conveniently-located hospitals, regardless of their country of origin.
Five: Appreciate your friends.
Six: Respect the ocean.
All of which are good life lessons. Zsolt, however, is still trying to work out which of the fins was the culprit, and questioning whether a surfboard really needs to have three dangerous weapons as fins?
Dr Dave Robinson is Professor of Management Studies at Imagine College and Central Queensland University, an entrepreneur, surfer and amateur musician.