Peter had taken up body-surfing in his forties and now chased waves every weekend. He’d met Clarissa in July, at the water’s edge looking out on huge sets coming through onto Slippers, one of the south coast’s legendary breaks. He’d decided the swell was too big but Clarissa, ten years younger and full of energy, urged him to join her. It was something he’d never forget, the sheer power, the speed of tonnes of water rushing forward and the exhileration of riding those steep, glassy faces.
She lived in the next suburb. Peter started calling for her on Saturday mornings after he’d dropped Gina and the kids at his mother’s. Clarissa always knew the best breaks, secret places away from the holiday crowds. In gravel carparks at the end of obscure sidetracks he’d help her prepare, zipping her into her wetsuit’s sculptural neoprene curves.
One afternoon they drove to Cluster Cove, Clarissa tucked tight beside him in the middle seat he only usually used to carry one of the kids when the car was full. An enormous swell was rolling in. Clarissa couldn’t wait to tackle it. Peter hesitated momentarily. But the sight of her easing the tight suit over her bikini bottoms was enough to convince him.
They each caught good waves in the first set. But the next was twice the size, crashing in under a darkening sky. It scared them both. Clarissa called time. ‘I’m taking the next one into shore,’ she yelled above the surf’s constant roar. ‘This is getting risky.’
They took off together on a huge wave, Peter next to her but closer to the lip. Partway in the breaking wave caught his ankle and flipped him. The last he saw of Clarissa before he went under, she was racing towards land.
The wave held him under for so many long seconds that his lungs burned with the need to breathe and the random colours of semiconsciousness obscured his perceptions. When he finally got his head above the foam and recovered his bearings he’d been swept hundreds of metres down the beach. A funneling rip took hold of him. He was too exhausted to fight it. Within moments he’d been swept way past the headland and only the very top of the lighthouse was visible over the towering seas.