By Tim Winton, 2008
“A momentary illusion of being at the same level as the distant cliffs. The angelic relief of gliding out onto the shoulder of the wave in a mist of spray and adrenaline. Surviving is the strongest memory I have; the sense of having walked on water.”
A couple of paragraphs later:
“The heavy board fell from under me like a leaf and I sprawled down the hard, unyielding face without it, bouncing from hip to hip, unable to break the skin of water. I was falling down the staircase – one that never seemed to end, which collapsed on me and shot me skyward before snatching me down again so its rubble-spill might drive me headlong across the reef, rattling and wracking me all the way.”
Ups and downs of a surfing experience. From angelic feelings of adrenaline to falling down a never ending water staircase. Exactly the same I experienced with this fantastic book – Breath by Tim Winton. Half of the book brought me on top of the wave, I was in love with it, but the other half made mo so angry. This is a very good book, Tim Winton writes so well, but it is very bad in the sense of what it takes you through. Up and down.
It’s 1970s in Western Australia, a coastal village. Two teenage boys, Pikelet and Loonie, discover the thrill of surfing, they meet a solitary guru, Sando, once a professional surfer, now just a chaser of dangerous and never before surfed waves, who leads a simple, free and adrenaline filled life. A dream of every teenage boy. They become a strange but enviable trio, a marginal team of daredevils. The way how Winton describes water, waves and surfing is just amazing.
“I couldn’t have put words to it as a boy, but later I understood what seized my imagination that day. How strange it was to see men do something so beautiful. Something pointless and elegant, as though nobody saw or cared. .. from the day one I was stoned from just watching. We talked about the skill and courage and luck .. but for me there was still the outlaw feeling of doing something graceful, as if dancing on water was the best and bravest thing a man could do.”
“I will always remember my first wave that morning. The smells of paraffin wax and brine and peppy scrub. The way the swell rose beneath me like a body drawing in air. How the wave drew me forward and I sprang to my feet, skating with the wind of momentum in m ears. I leant across the wall of upstanding water and the board came with me as though it was part of my body and mind. .. I was intoxicated. .. I still judge every joyous moment, every victory and revelation against those few seconds of living.”
It’s so addictive that nothing else can fill the young surfers with the same doze of excitement and intensity. They become restless, they become bored with everything else. They want to go back and surf those big bad waves. If you are in your teens, you can become even too confident. “The fatal abundance of confidence,” Tim Winton nails it. Three years pass, Pikelet is now 16 and starts another forbidden journey down the rabbit whole… No not drugs, something more strange, he thinks it’s love, but it gets ugly. You as a reader have to travel there, I suppose, to live through all those conflicting emotions. You love those characters and then you hate them so much, but you still care. Why they screwed up their lives! Or did they really screw up? Did they cope with it later? What are the epiphanies that main character took with him in his grown-up life? And what still haunted him? Find out by opening this amazing book and breathing it in and out. Is it worth it? Yes.
This book underlined my suspicion that almost no one else talks about the water and waves so beautiful and with so much love and awe and love as surfers do. They find the right words. One of the main characters of this book definitely is – the breath.
A breathtaking book.
By the way in 2017 we will probably see a film adaptation of this book. The film “The Breath” is the directorial debut of Simon Baker. He will act in the film as Sando and produce it as well. Can’t wait to see it! At least half of it… And will have to take courage to watch the rest.