«« PreviousNext »»

Dark Water
Indyana Horobin (Griffith University, Australia)



The last wave, second in the set. Six-foot rogue, all teeth, no meat; hungry for an eighteen-year-old with a skinny board to match his frame. I face my board adjacent to the wave and sit myself just behind the break point. My head has the blue fear, I’m afraid of the drop. The salt air weighs heavy in my lungs, thick with crustaceans. I have to catch it. If I pull back, the fear becomes permanent, becomes physical. I turn shoreward. Paddle, shift, breathe.

Clothes to last for three days, a car floor full of snacks, an argument about the price of cabins and we’re skirting down the south-east coastline. Eight people, switching from coast to highway, three hours in, three cars till Yamba. Our engines spur on the road and fill the silences that waft over small towns. It’s clear the sugar cane industry has a cult following, green-tubed growths sporing, stemmed liquid ready to be back-burned. Our cars swim through molasses. Anya says they look strange, says she doesn’t have them in Germany. She’s lived in Australia eighteen years out of twenty.

It hasn’t rained in months, you can tell ‘cause the air runs hot and the static that carries through the mugginess sneaks its way into your lungs. Mountains in the west sucked dry, stoney waves sticking to the ground, cracked with ridges like ship sterns. Now, isn’t that a face? Frothing, seething, coils within coils of breaking sections, only the crazy surf The Bluff. At least if the mountains roll out into wash there’ll be forests around to chop the water. Dry eucalypts. Our windows go up, the menthol of old tea tree oil drained from pores, roots trying to get to ground water. It clears the sinuses. Jaime and Jaime, tell us it gives them a migraine each, three Panadols in she asks if he’s got an upset belly, tells us he needs to poop. A single stop in the journey for everyone to catch up, and we’re caught halfway in a William Carlos Williams poem.

For so little
Depends upon
The dead wheelbarrow

Glazed with dust
Sitting beside
The white chickens

A dead wheelbarrow, white chickens all but abandoned, their clucking raining droplets on leaves. We’re all here except for Brandon and Shawn. Cut off by logging trucks, we lost them back on a mountain bend. Half an hour of waiting has us confused, then they text:

‘So did you guys get on an earlier ferry?’

‘Why are you on a ferry?’

‘Maps said to get on it’…‘umm, it says it goes to Brisbane.’

‘Get off it ASAP, just go south on the road.’

‘Which way is south?’

A short reply. ‘Just go straight down the highway.’ We’re an hour out from Yamba.

The place is an ecological reserve; air sawdusty and crisp with all kinds of trees: palms that couple along the road, lilly-pilly: hinterland gold and Aussie compact, eucalypts that have followed our journey, maritime pines – bush on gangly trunks – Norfolk pines, western radiata pines, acacias: green magik and blackwood, she-oak casuarinas, coastal banksias, kings park specials, blueberry ash, swan hills, and stretches and stretches of thick grass. Green, yellow, brown. The locals don’t grow like trees, one thought on their minds, on their faces, ‘You’re not from here, fuck off.’

The catch-up at camp is quick, a 3pm check-in has us starved for shelter hunting the supermarket, starved for food. It’s right next to the produce section that Jaime endures the racist insults of an elderly woman, stating that he should “Go back to his own country.” He was born in Australia. He’s says it doesn’t matter, why should we listen to someone who smells like burnt toast anyway? It’s only a full shopping trolley and two bottles of vodka stuck between us, the cabins, and the night.

Dinner is simple, burgers. Low grade mince, plenty of fat to flavour, seasonings. Mine are special because no one’s ever tried smoked paprika on the patty, it sweetens the flavour, makes it taste like it’s cooked on a campfire, not a cheap gas barbeque. The Jaimes and Kelly say they love it, that it’s as good as any hipster burger joint. I cook everything, even the pancakes for dessert. Anya jokes that they’re so good someone should ‘wife me,’ it’s lucky the barbeque heat has made me red already.

The coldness of the wind catches all of us by surprise. Shawn on the cabin porch, red cup one hand, bong in the other. Joseph says, ‘just because it’s a surf trip, doesn’t mean you have to get baked every night.’

Shawn’s nostrils leak smoke, ‘want some?’

‘Of course I fucking want some.’

Joseph joins the porch, cracks the lighter, sucks the glass pipe. Water bubbles itself murkier. Anya cocks an eyebrow at him, Jo coughs and locks in a staring contest. They were supposed to drive down together, they didn’t.

The cabin beds do nothing to hold out against the temperature, flat marble with slate thin sheets. Organising the trip, of course, garners me the double bed. My stuff isn’t alone, another duffle-bag laid partly on top of mine. Purple, unzipped, tops, skirts, bikinis. The blue fear is with me.

‘Hey,’ Anya’s voice carries from the doorway, ‘I hope you don’t mind, I thought I’d share with you.’

‘No worries, I thought you’d be sharing with Joseph.’ I pick the skin on my fingers. Pull back, paddle arms, kick feet.

‘Nah, we aren’t really being friendly right now.’

‘You okay? I thought you guys were kind of…’ My words trail off. I shift, breathe. The drop, navy blue.

‘No, we aren’t, we were just gonna travel together, had a disagreement.’

‘Oh okay, Um I’m just going to go brush my teeth, then I’ll be back.’ My words crash, frothy wash on a glass surface.

‘Sure.’ She smells like maple syrup.

The cabins seem much smaller in the 5am light. Stumbling through the corridor, vaguely aware that where there’s supposed to be one bed there are two people, a product of crunched red cups and half-squeezed limes. Brandon’s half awake, Kelly the little spoon in front of him. He reeks of vodka, he’s still drunk. I look at him, give him a nod, a smile.

‘You know we could hear you guys last night’ he says.

No barbeque heat is there to cover me, ‘I’m going to head for a surf.’

‘Sure.’ Brandon’s eyebrows are thrown halfway up his forehead, mouth cracked into a smile. I turned to walk when he adds: ‘by the way, you’ve got hickeys on your neck.’

The waxing on Shawn and Jo’s boards sink a hollow sound onto the balcony, not as hollow as the stare from Joseph. There’s no blue fear, just gold and green and brown, colours of the trees, colours of me. I find my board and begin the ritual, bowing forward and backward, raising sticky bumps on the resin. The prayers to the surf god are answered when I strap my mal to the roof racks, admiring my work. My hands smell like coconut, beard like maple syrup.

The waves at Angourie have always been slower, like taking one of those ‘how it’s made’ videos and playing it at half the speed; hypnotised. On the most regular day of regular days the waves seem to lay almost flat with the ocean. Their slow crumbling wash topped with the smallest of barrels and all squashed onto a hazy, weedy filled liquid. It’s longboard or die here, you either slice the ocean with that shark fin or not at all. That’s how it feels, like you’re a white pointer gliding the knife on your back through the murk. Waiting for the swell, waiting for the moment. The road twists down, winding with sharp corners threating to suck the cars off the sides. Pines grow on the edges of the straights, local protectors. Salt air crusts the bark, a sea-weedy, fishy smell pasted on the woody one already there.

Three goofy surfers and a decent sized right-hand wave, the decision is made before we bag our feet and hands to slip through wetsuits. Teeth chattering is better than shaking on the paddle out, hesitation out there is what gets you stuck under a monster and sting your lungs trying to kick to the surface. Joseph is silent on the paddle out but catching a wave loosens his mouth. ‘Hey,’ he starts, ‘just wanna let you know it’s okay, I’m cool.’


‘Yeah, dude, it’s not up to you, it’s up to her.’

My eyes on the swell, the seaweed filling my nose, ‘I don’t know, man. Look, I didn’t know you guys were doing something together.’

‘Nah, don’t worry about it, she’s been sending mixed messages.’

I stay quiet, goose-bumped inside my wetsuit. It’s cold.

‘Like the other week, she invites me over and there’s all these other guys there. I get up to her place and she claims me in front of all of them. The next day there’s nothing, I text, nothing.’

‘That sucks, man. Again, I’m sorry, I didn’t know there was anything –’

‘There isn’t, we’re not talking anymore, so I’m not bothered,’ his arms crossed, eyes on the sets.

‘We’re still cool, right?’

‘We’re always gonna be mates,’ he checks to see if it’s just us out the back, ‘besides, we’re the only two of these people who really know how to surf.’

‘What about Shawn?’

‘Shawn’s a stoner who’s still high right now.’

‘So are you.’

‘Yeah…now, twenty bucks says I can get barrelled on the next wave.’

‘Twenty says you can’t.’

Half a day out, it’s time to head back. I line up my final wave. A pause to think about lunch has my board nose-diving the face and me, caught by the wash, being shoved down to the weeds. Hesitation is what gets you stuck under a monster. Eyes open down here, who knows what other things swim in the dark blue. We heard there’s supposed to be turtles and fish and seals. Where seals are, so is the white death. It doesn’t help that Angourie has always been sharky, always been Noah’s ark time. The weeds are still, nothing here but me and the sea-grass. The quiet is enough to send me shooting up. The surface gives me some comfort, the air a little bit more, my board is what saves me though. I can’t leave the swell with a catch like that. I just can’t. I wait, bobbing in the water.

The last wave, second in the set. Six-foot rogue, all teeth, no meat; hungry for an eighteen-year-old with a skinny board to match his frame. I face my board adjacent to the wave and sit myself just behind the break point. There’s the deep blue and me, golden, green. The salt air weighs heavy in my lungs, thick with crustaceans. No fear. I turn shoreward. Paddle, shift, breathe.



Indyana is a PhD candidate currently studying at Griffith, with major focusses in modern history and creative writing. He has had multiple publications within Griffith’s Talent Implied works, a publication in Drunken Boat’s 2020 anthology Meridian, and a short-story published in APWT’s Pratik: Fire and Rain, which launched at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2023. He also has a publications in SWAMP Writing Issue 29 and Family History ACTs The Ancestral Searcher. His current PhD project focusses on familial oral histories told in memoir.

«« PreviousNext »»