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An Expat Abroad – On Surfing

By Mike Hytner on September 25, 2012 in Other

Photo: Richard Hirst -

It’s the question many of my ilk dread: Daddy, can you teach me how to surf? Gulp. What the f**k do I know about surfing? You see, I am English, born and raised in the north-west of the country where ‘goofy’ remains a popular children’s cartoon character, an ‘aerial’ is a device used to get reception on pre-digital tellies and a ‘floater’ is something found all too often in the babies pool at the local indoor baths.

But now I live in the Eastern Suburbs, a stone’s throw from a number of gorgeous sandy beaches with crystal-clear waters, and the pressure is mounting for me to step out of my comfort zone (which pretty much ends two yards from the shoreline) and learn how to blend in with the local ‘frothers’, at least before my son asks me the above question and is left crushed by his father’s pathetic Pommy response.

The trouble is, I can barely swim. Despite us too hailing from an island, taking a dip in the sea back home bears virtually no resemblance to getting wet at Bondi or Bronte. So unappealing are the conditions of the oozing mass that passes as a body of sea water on my local ‘beach’ back at home, I – and presumably many of my kind – have little experience swimming in the open water, let alone surfing in it. You can perhaps understand better when you consider that an intrepid swimmer in my neck of the woods is more likely to be faced by a supermarket trolley or a sunken turd than a blue groper or a surgeonfish when he or she ducks below the surface.

My boy may well have been born in England, but his formative years are to be spent in close proximity to a starkly contrasting beautiful and inviting ocean. It is almost inevitable that he will develop a love of the water and all the recreational activities that go on in it. Swimming, snorkelling, diving – the ocean is his oyster. And I can just about handle those pursuits, and maybe even a spot of bodyboarding. But surfing?

Surfing, like pretty much any ‘action sport’, seems a skill best learned when young and fearless. Unfortunately, I am neither. So what to do? Either I hang in there and paper over my inadequacy when the time comes by telling my boy that I’m probably better than his mates’ dads on the football (soccer) pitch and that we can’t all be brilliant at everything, or I take the plunge, so to speak, and do something proactive about it.

Fearing an impending sense of shame (on my behalf) and disappointment (on my boy’s), I’ve chosen the latter path. I don’t want to be that father who embarrasses his kids with his inability to do cool stuff. Equally, I don’t want to be that father who tries to do cool stuff but only succeeds in embarrassing himself and everyone around him. So, a good few years before my son will reach surfing age, I have already made enquiries to Bondi Surf School.

So if you see a pale, balding, slightly overweight Pom struggling to get on his board in the coming months, please feel free to take the time to stop and tell him how ‘rad’ (do they really say that?) he looks. A small boy’s future respect for his dad could well depend on your encouragement.