Palm Tree Reef


15 Nov Palm Tree Reef


“Moments of Insanity: Part 1″ was written by Ithaka, and published in Water magazine for his column “Fishdaddy Chronicles”.


First time in ten years

that I’ve lived within

walking distance of the beach.

And not just any beach, CARCAVELOS.

In the summer,

a beautiful, but crowded destination

for working-class Portuguese beachgoers.

The sand is clean and the

surface of the water lake-like.

But in the winter,

the wide belt of golden sand

almost entirely disappears

and is replaced by sea and river trash;

(Oil barrels, logs, hypodermic needles,

plastic tampon applicators,

dead fish and birds,

and the occasional dead dog or dead cow)

that get washed up

with an almost endless

succession of storms.

But more importantly

aside from the unwanted

addition of trash,

these storms

also bring with them

powerful well-shaped waves.

Carcavelos is one

of the best beachbreaks

in Europe.

No, it’s not paradise,

but it used to be a lot worse

when I first arrived here five years ago.

At that time,

it was polluted not only with junk,

but also raw sewage.

The authorities

have since rerouted

the sewage

(to ease strains on the tourism trade)

to a less accessible part of the coast

so now it’s mostly the trash,

junk and dead animals

you’ve got to deal with.

Like I said, it’s not Eden by the Sea,

but it sure as fuck beats

not surfing at all.

To maintain

my own personal equilibrium,

I need both

stimulating urban culture

and close access to rideable surf.

And THIS is as good

as a combination

as I’m likely going to find

anywhere in the world.

I’m a twenty-five minute train away

from the center of Lisbon.

I’m a fifteen-minute train ride from

the record company

(Valentim de Carvalho in Paco de Arcos).

And best of all,

a ten-minute walk

from Carcavelos.

I’ve even got an ocean view.

I can’t actually see the waves

breaking from my window,

there is a small pine forest

(eagerly awaiting to become

apartment complexes)

blocking my vision,

but I can see the swell lines

on the bigger days.


I get up around dawn,

spark up some coffee and exit

(with blue ceramic mug in hand).

Elevator from the fifth floor

to the ground level,

cross the corner of the parking lot,

through a tiny park,

across a small road,

through the fields

between the Sao Goncalo Estate

and the N.A.T.O. building,

(this time of year the fields

are covered with a zillion

yellow sour flowers)

and across the coast highway

to see if Atlantida is in a good mood or not.

In Portuguese,

the word OCEAN is masculine,

but I know better than that,

She is PURE female,

a temperamental sugar-bitch.

I love her. I hate her.

She loves and hates me too.

She never lets me get too satisfied.

So I’ve got choice but to return daily.

Usually a thirty-second check

is all I need

to know if I’m going to ride

or not.

If it’s on

I’ll walk home,

suit up, wax up

and walk back to the beach.

If it’s no good,

I’ll stay in and continue

to pretend being an artist

(like I’ve been pretending

for a long, long while now):

paint, sculpt, scribe…whatever.

Yesterday was too small to surf

and today was windy and rainy,

so I skipped the morning check altogether

and got to work on some new songs.

But at my big window,

(with pen in one hand

and microphone in the other),

a movement on the distant horizon

caught my attention:

A five-meter peak rolling off

some forgotten sandbank about

a couple of kilometers

out to sea above the tree tops. SHIT!

I get down there to take a look.

It’s HUGE, out of control.

Windy and beginning to rain again.

Out of the question.

I stand there a good thirty minutes,

just feeling the ocean’s anger,

then walk back on the muddy red trail

through the sour-flower covered fields

back home to the EMBRYO,

my laboratory of illusion.

I have a good day with the pen and mic

and hours disappear,

(a kind of cerebral holiday).

And about five in the afternoon,

I finally complete a rough draft

of a new song idea.

For the first time since noon,

I take a good long look

out the window.

The rain had stopped.

The wind had stopped.

The sun shone through

a crack in the black storm clouds

and I had the urge, desire, whatever

to say goodbye, good afternoon, good night

to that bitch, that babe,

my lover, my sister, my mother

my friend, my enemy

my life, my death,

my gain, my loss,

my focus, my distraction,

my sport, my art,

The Ocean.

Back through the mud

with headphones on my dome

(lately, I’m more addicted

to sound than ever before.

If I’m not creating it,

I’m listening to it…CONSTANTLY).

I arrive at my usual check-out spot,

just over the small hill

looking across Marginal .

It’s still huge,

but the texture of the surface

is now mirror-like glass.

The swell has somehow organized itself

during the last several hours

and perfect double AND

EVEN TRIPLE overhead rights

are dumping (absolutely SLAMMING!)

on what I call “Palm Tree Reef”

then reeling off into

a deep water channel.

Actually, Palm Tree Reef

is not a reef at all,

but a very sturdy sandbar

that never seems to relocate.

And there are no palm trees

on the beach either,

the palm trees are paintings.

The flat cement seawall protecting

the Marginal Highway (from swells like these)

is covered with

giant block-letter graffiti murals,

mostly from the same crew of artists

and all similar in style and color.

From the water looking back to land,

all the murals bleed together into an enormous

strip of intricately patterned wallpaper

stretching from one end

of the 2km long beach to the other.

And is only interrupted by two,

three-meter high brush-painted palm trees

about three quarters of the way

south of the beach’s center.

Easily visible from three-hundred meters

out in the ocean.

And Palm Tree Reef,

is located directly in front of them.

On days with excessive current,

it’s useful to use the palms as a line-up marker

to make sure you’ll be over the sandbar

and in position for the sets when they arrive.

Running back to the Embryo,

I slip in an oily-slick mud puddle

and land on my ass,

(drowning my two-week old Discman).

But seventeen-minutes later,


with a freshly waxed 7’2″under my arm,

I’m back at the water’s edge.

I’m anxious and ready to go,

but also weak and tired

from forgetting to eat all day

and downing cup after cup of black coffee.

But fuck it,


The first wall of whitewater

rolls over me blasting about twenty liters

of icy Atlantic through my wetsuit

and pushing me back almost all the way

to the beach.

I make a little progress,

then another descends upon me.

Then again and again.

For every five meters of progress,

three meters were automatically deducted

with every coming wave..

ONE wave, TWO waves, THREE waves,

FOUR, FIVE waves,

coming in at about fifteen-second intervals.

But instead of coming in sets like most days,

(with lulls in between),

today they were marching in

one after another.


I began calculating the time

using the wave intervals.


(about five minutes, I thought).

Some waves were significantly bigger

than others and dragged me even father back.

And even though my arms

were beginning to feel like pudding,

I persisted.



Number THIRTY-FIVE was lighter

than those preceding it

and I made double time.


SIXTY-THREE was a nasty mother

that ripped the board out of my hands

and pushed me three meters

below the surface.




One-hundred waves,

about twenty-five minutes I calculated.

My arms completely Jello

at this point,

but not about to quit.



seemed like there was

more time between waves,

but when they landed they EXPLODED.

I lost my board several more times.

Exhausted as I was,

I became concerned for my own safety,

(glad I’d used the heavy-duty leash).


I ascended and descended the monster

without taking any water on the head.

Free at last

(sitting two-hundred meters off the beach).

The sun had already gone down

and most of the cars on Marginal

had already begun using their headlights.

I can barely make out the palms on the seawall,

but I can see that I’m about fifty meters

off my mark to the south,

so I start paddling up to the reef.

While I’m still in the safety of deeper water,

a bigger than usual group of waves appears,

stands up to attention,

then on after another

(like missles dropping out of a plane)

the payloads DETONATED onto the sandbar,

transforming millions of liters of water

into contorting black dinosaurs.

Then silence……..

There was a long enough lull

to allow me to get situated just right.

But minutes later,

the black walls appeared again,

(the first one beginning

to break much farther out

than I’d predicted).

I scratched for the horizon

barely making it over

and saw the second wave,

slightly smaller,

but still

easily five-meters on the face.

She came right to me.

What could I do?


It was TOO easy.

The drop effortless.

And the water so smooth

my board cut the surface

like a surgeon’s scalpel.

There was no tube on this one

but the wall was near-vertical

for the next 70 meters

eventually backing off in the channel,

where it reformed

into a long left across the inside.

This inside section alone

would’ve been a memorable

wave for me on any other given day.

I didn’t offer much of a challenge

to my liquid sister,

just cruised,

letting her to do most of the work.

She took me all the way in.

I stepped off my board directly onto the sand

between an old tire and a dead seagull.

I walked up the seawall stairs

and up into the parking lot.

There were several people

in and outside of their cars

mostly upper middle-classers (betinos).

A couple of them nodded to me,

some smiled and others stared.

I nodded, smiled and stared back accordingly.

Had I met them before?

Were they in awe of my stupidity

(to be only the person

dumb enough to be in the water

on a night like tonight)?.

Had they been watching me

get the shit kicked out of me

by a hundred and seventeen waves

before being rewarded the payback?

Had they been watching too much TV

and seen one of my videos?

I’ll never know.

But what I do know,

is that this afternoon was a gift

and mine alone,

a reminder to stick it out.

It’s sometimes worth it to take

a hundred and seventeen failures on the head

for a few precious seconds of happiness

and accomplishment.

I crossed Marginal at the street light,

then back through the fields,

across the small road,

and tiny park.

and across

The complex’s parking lot.

I tracked mud

through the building’s entry way

to the elevator.

But the elevator was broken,

so I tracked mud all the way up

five-flights of stairs too.

(leaving at all of my beloved neighbors’

doorsteps a subtle reminder,

that I was among the living,

a survivor).

Scalding hot shower,

(even washed the mop that I call hair).

I Dressed.

Then split back out the door

to the station

and trained to town.

She met me at the station in Lisbon.

We ate at a restaurant in Cais do Sodre

amongst the druggies and whores.

We’d planned on going to a party

up at Soul Factory after dinner,

but by the time we’d eaten dessert

and had coffees

at Espaco Agora Student Center,

It was already two a.m.

Time passed quickly with her.

“Let’s go”, she said,

assuming I’d be sleeping over at her place

(I usually did on Sundays,

Monday being her only day off work).

“Can’t….I gotta go”.

I can see from her face

that she immediately

assumes the worst (another girl).

“I’m gonna surf early”, I say,

“It’s going to be EPIC”.

She understands,

she SAYS, with a forced smile on her face

and walks me back to the station

before taking a cab to her crib.

When I get home,

I make the necessary preparations,

(get all of my shit together

for the dawn patrol):

wetsuit ready,

board waxed,

leash attached,

earplugs and dry towel on standby.

At seven a.m.

no need to check it,

(skip coffee too).

I’m out of the house trotting through the mud.

The wind is light offshore,

the sun is glimmering,

the tide (I know from looking at the chart)

is medium-low coming to high around ten a.m.

Gonna be classic.

My heart is pounding.

Fuck, I hope it didn’t get any bigger.

But as I reach the hill I don’t see any waves.

Great, (I think naively), there are lulls.

At least it’ll be easier to paddle out today.

I wait for the green light

to cross Marginal

and into the parking lot.

I stand there for a few minutes

to survey the best peaks,

but none arrive

and No One is in the water.

But this time,

not to avoid danger,

but because it’s dead calm.


“At least it’s a beautiful day”

I say out loud

trying to reassure myself.

THE *%$#%$ ing Bitch !! !


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