At 19, I did an internship with Southern Star Broadcasting in Sydney, Australia working on a TV show centered on surfing. I started as the 3rd assistant director’s assistant. And, perhaps, the biggest challenge was learning the public transportation system to get to these remote beach locations in time for 7:00am starts. Often this translated to me being on a bus at 5:00am arriving just in time for breakfast, a daily pre-filming ritual. The cast was my age and although friendly, they kept to themselves. Often at lunch they’d go surfing in the water and I’d watch from a distance longing for a try. By the third week, I started bringing a swimsuit at the odd chance an opportunity presented itself.
One of the crew members I befriended, a 37 year old grip named Jason, handled all the heavy lifting on set, making sure the wiring was right for each scene. He wore a beat up baseball cap and spoke out of the side of his mouth with an Adam’s apple that bobbed up and down. Periodically, when he saw me on set, he’d call out across the crowd, “Americhano!”
One day during lunch, I walked down to the beach surrounded by jutting rocks in a horseshoe pattern. I closed my eyes burying my feet in the sand listening to the mighty ocean crash and recede. I inhaled the salt air and my own sweat feeling grateful.
“Americahno, you got a suit?” Jason asked, coming from behind.
“Good. Go change and I’ll grab another board.”
Giddy and a bit overwhelmed I ran off to change. When I returned a board was lying in the sand with another one in Jason’s hands. “It’s rough out there, mate. Make sure to flip the board over and hold onto it when the big waves come. Don’t roll back over until it fully passes. Watch.”
Just like that, he was off running with the board tucked under his arm handling its mass with ease. When he got into the water he didn’t break stride until his midsection was covered then he flopped on top of the board and started paddling. When one wave came he pushed his hips into the board, driving the nose under and staying on top, a technique I’d seen before. But when a larger wave came he rolled over disappearing under the water only to flip back over and continue paddling. In no time at all he passed the white water a good 20 feet from me.
I slowly made my way to the water now feeling more fearful than excited. Waves came in with an insistent frequency, pushing me back five feet at a time. The white water swirled around as I thrashed the board this way and that wresting a shifting sea monster. And then, a gigantic swell rose in front of me, I gauged my options wanting to toss the board aside so I could dive through it. My pride resisted and I followed Jason’s instructions flipping the board over so my nose pressed against the surface of it as the water crashed ferociously on top. I felt the pull and strength of the ocean, and the strong undercurrent swirling beneath. When I flipped back over another wave equally as fierce came upon me forcing me to flip over again. It took almost ten minutes until I reached Jason who was sitting on his board idly making circles with his feet.
“I’m impressed, Americanho, never thought you’d make it out here.”
A Warrior Princess