In 2006, a pimply faced, gangly teenager with constant growing pains wrote a story (in between bowls of cereal) that somehow ended up in the statewide newspaper.
Surprisingly, this wasn’t the one-way ticket to being the cool kid that he hoped. The girls didn’t flock and his nerd status remained. A classic case of social suicide. Go figure.
11 years on, having just gotten over the embarrassment, I thought it was time to pull out the old floppy disk, load up Microsoft Word ‘97 and revisit* this badboy as a mature** adult.
*I tried to only make small tweaks to preserve the authenticity of said teen author, so if you think the writing is a bit angsty, well, you’re right, it is.
My mum has always been one to try and inspire me.
On our fridge at home, she has sayings on bits of paper ranging from “From one candle many others are lit” to “live every second as if it’s your last”. She has clippings from her favourite comic, ‘Zits’, and she has reminders such as “This is an equal opportunity kitchen.” But there is one piece of paper that always stood out most to me.
It is bright pink and, still to this day, sits on the top left corner of the fridge door. It reads:
“You’ll never regret a swim.”
Often I have laughed and teased mum about her quest to inspire, but there is something about the tiny little pink piece of paper that has always made me think.
When I was young I used to love running a warm bath. I’d wait impatiently for the bath to fill and keep dashing back to the bathroom to check if the water level was just right. Once it was perfect, I’d don my Zoggs goggles, grab my favourite scuba diver Lego toys and dive in head first to explore the underwater world of the Shepherd family bathtub. I’d thrash around for what felt like hours, swimming from one end to the other (without even taking a breath) until the water got so cold that I’d start shivering signalling it was time to get out.
When I was a little older and struggled to fit in the bathtub, Dad decided it was time to teach me how to snorkel. We started at the local pier and all I could think about was a great white shark swimming into the three feet deep rock pools where I stood, to get himself an easy lunch. What I didn’t realise was this was the least of my worries. The bigger concern was dying of overconsumption of salt water. Being the youngest of three meant I was always the one to get dad’s 34-year-old leaky snorkel. “That was my 21st birthday present” he’d tell me proudly. I’d be swimming along, thinking I’d got the hang of this snorkelling caper, then make the fatal mistake of breathing in. A litre of salt water would come streaming through my snorkel straight into my mouth causing me to cough, splutter and mumble under my breath before diving back in and doing the same thing again ala Homer Simpson.
This cycle would repeat itself for hours until I’d eventually decide enough was enough. Despite swallowing my bodyweight in salt water I’d climb out of the rock pools, happy I’d outsmarted the great white.
Keeping on the topic of my dad, it’s worth noting he always had a secret everything. He’d travel to work his ‘secret’ route, put on his wetsuit his ‘secret’ way and prepare his breakfast using a ‘secret’ method. So once I’d mastered the local pier he decided it was time to take me to his ‘secret’ spot (SS) at the Ocean Grove beach. Obviously, I’m unable to disclose the location of said spot, but I can tell you that to this day, every time I go there (and I still do), I wonder where everyone else is. Growing up, we’d pull into the car park and always be the only ones there. Dad would laugh, raise his hands off the steering wheel and say “where on earth am I going to park?!” He’d chuckle to himself, mention how ‘tough’ life was, and we’d trot down the shell covered pathway to the beach, not a soul in sight.
My first visit to the Great Barrier Reef was equally as ‘tough’. I was holidaying at Magnetic Island in Northern Queensland, and we decided to head out to the reef to do some snorkelling.
Three and a half hours on a small, rocky boat isn’t ideal, however, when we got our first glimpse of the sparkling blue, crystal clear water it was worth the sea sickness. “This is where all that practising at the pier will pay off Pete,” my dad was telling me over and over. The guy was losing his mind with excitement.
When the boat suddenly came to a stop in the middle of the ocean the 16 people on board began talking excitedly and making, what seemed to be, as much noise as possible. There was nothing in sight but beautiful coral reef, so I quickly made my way to the back of the boat and was the first to take the leap. As soon as my head hit the water, all I remember is complete silence.
Not a sound. It seemed to be a different world to the one I’d been in just seconds beforehand.
Then, as I began to swim around I noticed a dull ‘tick ticking’ noise, which was the sound of the hundreds of fish picking at the coral. We swam for hours with fish, turtles, rays, sharks and even dolphins, and my snorkel didn’t leak once. Whenever I think back to my time in Queensland and remember the hours of snorkelling and exploring the reef in silence, I smile and think of this dude.
As I’ve grown older life has become more lifey and, at times, stressful.
11 years after writing this story I still sit back and reflect on these memories fondly. Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I’ll pick up my phone and text dad two words: “Secret spot?” Almost every time he agrees and I’ll drive the 90 minutes back home to the secret spot to try and find a park. As soon as I dive underneath that first wave, everything else washes away.
In every single swim I can ever remember, every bath I ever had, I came out of the water happy. I came out laughing, or I came out smiling. I came out yelling ‘yiew’ or I came out fist pumping.
Mum would be overwhelmed to think that one of her many sayings has inspired me. That is, of course, if I ever tell her.