‘Is it time’? my youngest drowsily asks as I place my hand on his shoulder. ‘It’s time’ I say indicating the pile of clothing at the foot of his bed. I gingerly make my way down the darkened hallway shushing our enthusiastic terrier, the one family member who is always unashamedly pleased to see me, as I go. Taking the damp and cold wetsuits from the shed, I toss them into the car as he appears at the door and we slip quietly away to the sound of birdsong.
We don’t say much as we drive through the indigo dawn along the winding, empty, lanes to the beach. The car park is closed, but we are not alone. A few others have risen to ensure that ours are not the first footprints in the cold, wet, sand. We suit up, with a slight shiver, in the early autumn air and wind our way through clumps of windblown vegetation and sand dune to the sea. The sun doesn’t rise as lazily as it sets, its abrupt and impatient rays ensure that our shadows reach the waters edge before we do. I look at the diminutive shape my son casts as I indicate our line out past the rocks through the rip.
Entry into the water is not as chilly as I anticipated and we chat as we pick our way past the pink, marker buoys bobbing on the grey, metallic, sea.
We are blessed with a substantial west swell and adjust our positions to compensate for its direction and the surge of the incoming tide. A large set looms toward us and I shake the sleep off with an early left, kicking out before it crashes and burns in a sweeping ark of snow white foam. As I paddle back out a new, even larger, set appears and my boy turns to go. Prior to punching through its rainbow sprayed maw, I see him jump to his feet with enviable agility and laugh inwardly, and proudly, as he sets his line. As my eyes clear of water I scan the lineup, ready to catch the next wave to help if he needs me, like a sheepdog with a lamb. I catch a glimpse of him far inside making his way through the foam, I can’t see the smile on his face but somehow I know it’s there. A new set appears, making the paddle hard for a little one, but the next wave gets me near him and we paddle back out together. ‘How was it’ I ask ‘I’ve never gone that fast before in my life dad’ he says with a smile as broad and clear as the horizon.
A few hours pass and the rapturous shore is lonely no longer. There are some fifty souls out as we laughingly snake back through the dunes swapping stories while salt water drips from my beard and his nose. The sausage and egg sandwiches washed down with mugs of lukewarm, flask-flavoured, tea tastes sweeter with the knowledge that we have had the best of a glorious morning.