Surfers waive the rules

In these outlandish times, the measure of all things needs to be constantly recalibrated if we hope to stand a chance of emerging relatively healthy and sane. So I don’t know if what is happening is a good thing or a bad thing.

I went surfing the other day. Don’t judge me. I didn’t drive through the suburbs spreading death and disease to get to the beach. I walk out of my gate, over some rocks and into the big wet thing. Yes, technically I broke the Law, but I, too, feel broken by the Law, and that’s all I can say about that.

I was among a handful of outlaws bobbing about in a cold, undulating ocean. A few guys and girls in their early twenties, a smattering of wild-eyed teenagers. One kid couldn’t have been more than twelve.

The waves were on the small side and there was no aggressive hustling as there usually is at this spot. Everyone was getting their turn. The sun, fat and orange like Donald Trump but way more useful, headed for the horizon as flocks of sacred ibises flew overhead in perfect formation. Then, in an instant, the mood darkened. Four police vans pulled up in the parking lot. They were about as welcome as a swarm of orcs gatecrashing Bilbo Baggins’s birthday party.

For surfers surfing illegally, there aren’t too many options in a situation like this. You could try paddling to Australia but you’d just get thrown into one of their filthy internment camps. The best is to sit tight and hope that the cops get hungry and go back to the station for a bunch of confiscated pies.

I wasn’t too worried. I’ve been arrested before – once in the 1980s under the Police Act, which was interesting. What I wasn’t keen on was spending a night in the cells in my wetsuit. A man of my boyish good looks and natural charm, wearing nothing but a figure-hugging latex rubber bodysuit, could easily find himself in trouble. Maybe they’d let me go home and change. Slip into something less comfortable. It seemed unlikely.

The younger kids, though. They were panicking. Their parents had encouraged them to get the hell out of the house for an hour or two so that mommy and daddy can have some alone time. Now look.

Unlike sex, surfing is not a team sport. Someone might paddle over and begrudgingly give a hand if it looks like you’re drowning, but generally it’s every man for himself. The coronavirus doesn’t stand a chance. You’d have to pay a surfer to get him to give you Covid-19.

The youngest of the crew was sitting near me. He had been having a great time until the cops arrived. The unsmiling enforcers of our insane new laws had spread out, sealing off the beach, and were settling in to wait for their catch of the day.

As I said, your choices are limited. You could pretend to be a piece of kelp and stay very still and hope that a great white shark doesn’t mistake you for a wounded seal. Or you could just keep surfing and wait for cover of darkness.

“What should we do?” the kid said to me, the very last person anyone should ask for sensible advice. His little privileged face was creased with concern and he seemed close to tears.

And that’s when it struck me. In the days of yore, white South Africans saw the police as allies. You’d call the Flying Squad if you were in trouble. Or if you saw a darkie acting suspiciously by, say, walking in your street after dark.

Sure, that particular kid wasn’t around in those days, but even so, it’s unlikely he or anyone in his family had ever considered the cops to be anything other than the Good Guys.

This whole fearing, dodging and lying to the police is all very new to white people. Out of nowhere (China), a virus is rapidly causing them to rethink their loyalty to an elected government and reconsider their trust in a police service which is quite clearly more of a force than a service.

Even though most whities never really bought into the ANC as a party capable of governing, they still clung to the idea that they could call 10111 and know that help would be on its way.

Now, they’re not so sure. Now the police no longer seem like the kind of people you’d want to call under any circumstances. If you had to, say, suffer an ischemic event while out for an illegal walk at 10am, you’d call anyone but the cops. Nobody wants to face additional charges of being drunk in public because their speech is slurred. Police are trained to recognise the symptoms of drinking, not strokes.

Obviously not all cops are vicious brutes incapable of independent, rational thought. But some people simply can’t help turning into instant assholes the moment you put them in a uniform. Hitler was probably pretty chilled on weekends, slopping about the Berghof in T-shirt and leather lederhosen, getting high on Bavarian skunk while painting tastefully lit nudes of Eva Braun. But come Monday, it’s on with the Schirmmütze and jackboots and suddenly it’s all, “Erschlagen alle Juden!”

People say children are adaptable and can handle anything. I don’t know about that. The kid in the water with me looked genuinely scared. This was clearly his first face-off with a bunch of angry black men with guns and handcuffs. Rookie.

He also knew that if he was arrested, his parents would discover that he was out surfing instead of doing virtual homework in his bedroom. During lockdown, angering mothers especially is to be avoided at all costs. Having had their husbands in the house day and night for two straight months, they are perilously close to cracking. There would be repercussions. Banned from surfing and without access to his phone, there’d be no point in living. I feel the same.

A lot of white kids, unless they come from a family of self-righteous snitches, are discovering that the authorities are not necessarily on their side. It’s quite an awakening. Breaking the law is a novel experience for a lot of whities and there’s a good chance they will develop a taste for it. As I said in the beginning, I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. It could go either way.

I didn’t surf today. Instead, I poured myself a bootlegged gin and tonic and stood in my sand dune of a garden, watching the sun melt into the sea. I saw a dad push his kid onto a wave. He couldn’t have been more than seven or eight. The kid, not the father, although they do start young in these parts.

Life seems so much better when the police aren’t around.

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  • This column first appeared in The Citizen on 27 May. More every Wednesday. Subscribe here: https://citizen.co.za/bundle-subscriptions/

19 thoughts on “Surfers waive the rules

  1. Harold Kimmel

    Dear Ben,

    Your name was given to me as someone who may be interested in joining a new Religious Institution.
    Coincidentally this religious institution was formed some 60 odd days ago and the coinciding with the lockdown is purely coincidental.

    The name of this institution is “Brethren of the Apocalypse”.

    Everyone is welcome but in line with the presidential Guidelines, membership is limited to 50 people.

    The Brethren of the Apocalypse is a friendly and welcoming congregation, and the requirements are not at all onerous.

    Dress code is very simple

    A head covering such as Peaked Caps, Cowboy hats, Deerstalker caps, or other Sun hats with a wide rim must be worn at all times and must be of practical use, which are useful, as because of the reduction in traffic and subsequent pollution, the harmful effects of the sun have recently become greatly increased.
    Fezzes and Skullcaps are frowned upon, as are Beanies, Astrakhan hats, Dunce caps etc., etc.
    Face masks should be worn at all times to prevent the spread of any disease and to protect members of the congregation, who might be being sought by the police, loan sharks, ex-wives, annoying children or boring friends. Ladies may decorate these masks, and these will be useful for any religious Belly-dancing or to comply with the requirements of Muslim countries.

    Also required are dark glasses to protect the eyes, and a White Stick to ward off any vicious dogs, speculative parking attendants and people selling coat hangers and refuse bags.
    Many congregants will find this quite useful if they require to walk their dogs as they will find that the overzealous police will refrain from harassing them and arresting them and putting them in the jail cells recently vacated by criminals on Presidential Orders.

    Congregants are required to bring a Tithe consisting of Sacramental wine, Pineapple beer, Flavored gin or skokiaan, and umqombothi.
    Any additional sacramental liquors you bring can be shared amongst the less fortunate of our community as well as any special munchie cookies

    As per ministerial direction, no smoking of cigarettes will be permitted although hookahs, pipes, cigars, Cheroots is quite acceptable
    It has come to our attention that some people or spreading evil and malicious rumors about the use of marijuana at our meetings, although we have made it abundantly clear, that it is just strong-smelling incense used in these ceremonies as part of the “Spells and Smells” when meeting our Imaginary friend.

    Any cash donations or cheques made out to our treasurer Mr. C. Ash, to the institution is Tax deductible and your reward will be waiting for you at your final resting place either above or below depending on the results of your behavior being weighed.

    Any unnecessary interference by interfering officials who may question your traveling further than 5 kilometers can be easily averted by telling them that you are on your way to Doctor Kimmel who oversees your mental health and wellbeing.

    Those congregations wishing to swim, surf paddle ski or Kayak, may not be interfered with as a strict requirement of the institution is the mandatory baptizing in Seawater.

    Should you have any further questions please direct them to the Cantor head of the and choirmaster Warren my son
    Looking forward to seeing you in the near future and reminding you that we use special and different calendars, having only four days in the week, namely, Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow and Someday.

    Yours in solidarity

    Congregation leader

    Harold

  2. Christo Carel Coetzee

    Hi Ben. Have been following you all the way from Umhlanga. Now in Stellenbosch.
    Great comment!
    I snitch you blog from my wife as I haven’t received it at my email. Even though I have been sending you R100 monthly. Plz sent to me too.

    • I’m not sure about this R100 a month you claim to be sending me. But anyway. If you go to my blog and look on the right hand side you’ll see a box that says: Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.
      Email Address
      Subscribe

  3. Stewbart

    It is so difficult to pin point where you live! Although this article points in one direction many of your others contradict it.

    I’m not sure why I even want to know, but you shouldn’t worry, I don’t know what you look like either.

  4. Victoria Braaf

    Brilliant and insightful.
    These insane laws have certainly turned many law-abiding citizen into law-breakers.
    I wish you had helped the kid though. I was hanging on for at least a word of encouragement. But of course it is your story and you must write (live) it as you see fit. Though ‘A Person’ may think differently.

  5. Geoff Stroebel

    We are hoping to assume that level 3, and therefore exercise allowance at any time of the day or night, may mean that they won’t “police” the beaches 24/7. Time will tell.

  6. A person

    I appreciate your writing and what you are saying but I do believe that it would be in the best interest to try move away from slightly racist and sexist remarks that make it less palatable. What you are saying should be heard by many but I wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing it due to the above mentioned.

  7. Ian Pero

    so, you’re leaving us hanging . – what happened ? Did you guys get out of the surf without being harassed ? Did the cops go back to their station for confiscated pies ? Did the kid get back home safely ?

    • I left the kid to fend for himself, then almost killed myself trying to escape over the rocks. Eventually the call of the pies was too strong and no arrests were made.

      • kelly schlesinger

        Brilliant!!! i really needed to hear what happened! Glad u left the little tike to fend for himself – you just gave him an extra chunk of experience.

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