A life metaphor or two

I am too sentimental. I can find myself thinking, legs flapping either side of my board, that the ocean doesn’t have the water for even half enough tears. But then there’s always the next wave to deal with, and of course the occasional sea lion.

Liz Breslin
Liz Breslin
The first time I saw a sea lion flashing through the unbroken green of a wave face, I thought it was a dolphin and my much more clued-up surfing companions couldn’t work out, in the moment, why I was paddling towards it.

Now I write that sentence it seems like a metaphor for life. But then, big life metaphors are something both cliched and attractive about surfing.

Every day I go out there I get to remember how much vaster than us this all is while sitting on/pushing myself up on/standing up on/falling off a hunk of plastic attached to my leg by a plastic lead.

The three of us who paddled towards the sea lion paddled hard, and bemusedly found ourselves in the calm of out the back without a sea lion in sight. It had, instead, chased after the one of us who ditched. In the ditching, she also ditched her board and the sea lion played with it in the shallows for full on 20 minutes before it got distracted by a couple of men with short boards, one of whom walked over and rescued the longboard while one of us was still sneaking up on it while trying not to freak out the sea lion which by then we had decided was probably a pup, and there’s probably a metaphor in all of that but I am not sure what.

For the minutes we were there and watching, it sparked very much joy to see it nudge the board, dip its head under the fins, take the legrope in its mouth and shake it, put one flipper on the deck. It looked like pure play meets surf yoga meets look at the size of that.

But some of it we missed because we were busy being tumbled — and tumbled — and tumbled — by a rogue set and then coaxing each other back to shore. When those massive swells come in and hold me under, it’s mostly the want to breathe that I feel first, which is just as well. And then there’s awe and fear. Though I’ve been less fearful about learning to surf until this time around when it’s been more about curiosity than getting in and doing it right right away. Big life metaphor?

Fear in the waves, in the chase. And relief. And actually, I don’t know at all that the sea lion wasn’t frightened too, at this new, untactile friend. I’m purely anthropomorphising, out of my element.

Because this is not my element. Not ours. This is theirs. Possible metaphor for the continued arrogance and damage of colonialist practices: waving boogie boards at sea lions to make them go away because they’re persistent and they can run fast and they’ve got scary teeth. Possibly necessary history lesson for boogie board wavers: they were here first, we hunted them into a status of ‘‘Nationally Vulnerable’’ endangerment. (12,000 left and (happily) still counting. It’s supposed to have been a particularly successful breeding season for the sea lion harems here this year.)

Necessary clarification: none of us was waving boogie boards. Neither was anyone else I saw, though quite a few people were holding their phones in video-taking mode. All the humans on the shore and in the water that day, and all the days since that I’ve seen beaches and seas and sea lions combined, seemed respectful of their respective places in things. And yet, here we are and they’re still endangered. Big life metaphor?


Once a couple of swells went to Waitakere Hotels.

Blue is the Tasman. 'A f*****g Badedas Bath'.

- Ian Wedde, "Dick Seddon's Great Dive".