Sunset surf with dolphins

Exhausted, I caught a last wave to the beach. The light was dying. The sea that had blushed pink beneath the setting sun now faded to a deep, thick green. The offshore breeze that had groomed the waves into translucency and turned the skin of the sea to glass, now brought with it a chill. I scrabbled with crinkled fingertips to wrap the leash around the board, then plodded up the beach. I’m done, I thought. That’s it — the third surf of the day, the last surf of the tour. My body felt shipwrecked.

“Did you see the dolphins?” The guys said as I hobbled over the rocks to the fire, “we were yelling at you. They were right there, coming across the bay. There — look — still there.” I turned around. A finned hump disappeared into the waves, about 20 metres off shore. Aw man, I thought, I missed the fucking dolphins. “I’d go back out if I were you,” said Callum, the surf instructor who we’d watched from the cliffs on the first evening, bobbing in the sea with the dolphins swirling beneath him. “Get in quick, mind.”

So I turned and jogged back to the surf on shaking legs. I had no strength in my arms. Heavy, unwieldy, useless: I might as well have been pulling two marrows through the water. But the board moved, and I got past the subsiding waves, trying to judge the direction and speed of the three fins on my left. Then I sat up and waited, moving with the sea in the last of the light. The moon rose, dusty red and huge above the dunes. We floated there, in a spell of perfection with the sun and the moon and the sea. And we waited.

Then the surface broke, and a dolphin puffed up and disappeared in front of me. I laughed. I glowed. I went silly. I lost my grip on the board, and I nearly slid into the sea. I lay down, and tried to keep my shit together.

A dark shadow passed under my board. I felt the slap and wash of the sea, trailing a hand in the water. Out of the dark green came a second and a third dolphin, barely a foot from my fingertips. A mother and calf, swimming in symmetry, puffing up, sliding down, moving smooth and muscular through the water. They left little smooth footprints on the sea.

I was cold, but in a wild ecstasy. Helpless, grinning, weak. There were four or five of us in the water. We stayed for a few more moments in the stillness and the swell, then paddled back to shore, not believing this moment. Not knowing what to say, how to articulate such a feeling. It was a moment of unreal significance. The perfect, inconsequential alignment of natural things, flowing together, moving apart, meaning everything and nothing at once.

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