A member of our surfing community has died. It came as a shock. No-one in my circle had known he was sick, but none of us had been very close to him.
Big John, John Keevers, was a larger-than-life character. Literally and figuratively. He was a huge bloke, a big fella. He had been in our area longer than anyone else, born and raised here, and had lived in a shack in bushland where now massive mansions look down on everyone.
He paddled out every morning like clockwork. You would see him clamber out of his old car, put his board on his head, and stroll calmly out to the furthest point, where he’d put out into the frontline of the ocean, paddle casually with one arm, and, taking his time, get to his feet and ride away into the twilight. Not such bad going at the age of 71. You can only hope.
So we got word he passed away, and six of us resolved to do a dawn paddle-out in his honour and memory. There was no swell predicted at all, so we prepared to float out into flat water, watch the sunrise and commiserate over the passing of a kind man.
At the first glimmer of daylight we got suited up and headed out. We walked over the long sandy beach towards that streak of orange signalling the day was going to happen for us, if not for the old fella. In honour of the big man some of us put our boards on our heads and carried them like he used to, old style.
A couple of others tried and twisted their necks, sprained their shoulders and put their backs out. A small downpayment of minor inconvenience, poured into the vast ocean of human suffering.
When we reached the furthest point of the headland where the land meets the sea, where the great swells come roaring in out of the big void, and where the currents suck in and out of the bay, we waded out into the water.
To our surprise there actually was some swell, and, as we paddled onwards, we saw several peaks rise up out of the blue, breaking cleanly here and there. It would be an unexpected bonus.
The eastern sky in front of us was a hard, burning orange, topped with a vault of dark sky with a few stars here and there.
All of a sudden, as we had almost reached the bank we were aiming for, right in front of us, a dolphin leaped high out of the water, cut through the air in a graceful arc, and landed smoothly in a perfect motion. Its black silhouette was outlined crystal clear against the flaming orange background, and it looked for all the world as if it welcomed us and was inviting us to leap and surf and play along with it, celebrating life while mourning death.
Moments later a pod of three others turned up, one of them a baby. Life continues in spite of all obstacles laid in its path.
A bubbling rushing noise to our side and there were another two dolphins. A splash, and a tell-tale rising and falling of curved, shiny grey backs right in front of us, not two metres away, and there were another three.
We called out cautiously to each other, not wanting to scare them away. They weren’t put off, and kept on circling around us and diving along underneath us.
Where do surfers go when they die?
When a surfer dies, a dolphin will appear out of nowhere, and take him away to a place where the waves are always breaking cleanly, the sun always shines, and the water is always warm.
We got some huge drops there and then, massive eye-watering rides. We dedicated every single one of them to the memory of Big John.
A week later the surfing community came out in force to pay their respects. Out there, on the rolling waters of the open sea, we made a huge circle around John’s widow, seated on a jetski.
As she poured the old man’s ashes out into the ocean, more than a hundred people threw salt water to the sky, clapped their hands, cheered and threw flowers in the water.