Like a comb in the wind, I learned to fear the chop

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My father hated the wind. A mammal fear of seeing its hearing impaired? Or of its scent carried to a distant predator? A fan of flames and a bone cooler, the wind was always disconcerting, if not downright dangerous. Or maybe it was just that he was making a comedy out of his comb.

Anemophobia is not uncommon. Voltaire (powdered wig excluding the anguish of the comb) claimed the east wind was responsible for many suicides; “Black melancholy extends to the whole nation”. Hippocrates accused the west wind of making people pale and sickly, with digestive organs “frequently disturbed by the phlegm which descended from their heads”. Theophrastus observed that in southerly winds “men find themselves more weary and incapable”. Shakespeare described the north wind as “angry and tyrannical”. Hell of all cardinal points.

Until now, I have never bothered to distinguish one wind from another. But ever since I swam in Lorne, I started to interpret the sea through the wind and become a relentless wind checker on my phone. I have a weather app that predicts its speed and direction for days to come, and I’m getting to know what the different winds are doing here on the water.

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The westerly wind is held back from the beach by the hills and descends and becomes stronger offshore. It may fool you. You swim in Bass Strait marveling at how easily it is today, despite the choppy water. But there, when you stop to rest before you swim down to land, you realize you’ve been duped. So far you’ve been swimming with the chop, but now you’re sinking into it, slapped by the wind, breathless and blinded.

The east is a deciding factor here. The waves roar up the hill and people are drawn to their windows at dawn to look at the water, scratch their stomachs, but not the sleep of their eyes because they go back to bed. They don’t come out in there. Fishing boats stay ashore and swimmers from Snapchat groups call it one by one. The east organizes the sea into a frontal assault on the city, with waves snowballing from as far away as Flinders Island, taking attitude the whole way.

Swimming in open water gives me a little perception of the wind and its choreography of the oceans.

If you’ve lived in the bush, you can’t help but feel the fire in a north wind. The north brings up a mood in your memory. The old fires your parents fought as leaves and dust swirled in the hot air. Bring the dogs into the house. The deserts have come to call and at noon the hydrangeas are as soft as the people are tense. If you breathe to the left while swimming in Lorne, you get choppy water in your face as you come out of the beach in a northerly wind. But at least you know you’ll breathe easily on the way in, your mouth downwind of your scalp.

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The strong southerly winds which keep the boats at home cannot bring all the majesty of their swells to our bay. On the horizon, large water pyramids flow north to Aireys Inlet. But the southerly swell has to wrap around Point Gray to pivot into our bay, and in doing so it loses weight and morale, much like a plumber does when he walks into a pub that has a sign ” No shoes, no shirt, no service “. on the door.


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