It seems at the beginning of every season, when we’re finally ready to depart from wherever we’ve spent the Southern Summer, we find ourselves impatiently sitting in front of the computer, watching the weather as the weeks seem to slip by. The winds promise to take you swiftly and effortlessly offshore, in just the right direction, only to strand you days later or carry you off to where you never intended to go. So we wait. We’ve gotten pretty good at waiting. We imagine our entrapment this season is due to it being the tail-end of an El Niño year, or maybe it’s our lower-than-normal latitude, or poor timing, but either way we’ve become very, very stuck in Nelson. An unrelenting and uninterrupted succession of lows barreling in from Australia has all but shut down the Tasman, and turned the Cook Strait into a stretch of water that even the titanic ferries cross with caution. Lest you be fooled by Nelson’s sunny disposition, no one is going anywhere.
So where is the silver lining? This unusual and unseasonable weather anomaly is about as rare as the local surfing scene. And as it turns out, they come hand in hand. There’s only a small window of opportunity in Nelson for a good swell; tucked away in a low cradle of the Tasman Bay, it is rarely exposed to weather that produces a surfable wave. But these very Northwesterlies, as they funnel down between the North and South Islands, blow constant across the bay and appear on the shores as just that.
Celebrating our last few days with the beloved Ford, the drive to the break takes you just outside of town, the final stretch of narrow dirt road bridging the tidal flats, transitioning from the lively urban buzz of Nelson to somewhere more reminiscent of the wild Pacific Northwest. The palm trees turn into soft, sturdy beach grass, and the sandy shores become steep and rugged, an ancient and undulating mound of cold and smooth ocean-worn rocks. This is the boulder bank. No one comes here to wade in the water or lay in the sun. Some days the pitted torso of a tree will be pitched up onto the embankment, offering a temporary seat until the tide returns for it later. Other days, shelter can be sought in masterfully constructed beach tepees, made of nothing more than the boneyard on which they stand. Sticks and stones that will not break.
I suppose sticking around long enough to find ourselves in this lineup is one of the perks of being honorary locals. I imagine we will be here until it’s time to go.