I was powering, swooping and circling around the waterfront on my pushbike this morning. Digging the glittering water of the bay and trying not to get back-sweat on some loaves of bread in the backpack. The water sparkles like that no matter the season and I was reminded of a situation I was involved in there, four southern winters ago.
Those were my lumpin days and although very little was asked of me, I was saddled with the organising of an event, of any description. So the name came first, the ‘Ride My Bike Into The Ocean’ Festival. What it entailed came after. We invited people to bring their pushbikes along and ride them off the edge of a short, barrierless pier between the larger Smorgies pier and the carnival carousel.
It was a six or eight foot drop to the water then, after some prodding with a long pole, we guessed at 15ft of water when the tide was right. I expected there would be zero interest in the event and would’ve been quite comfortable with that, but as testament to the robustness of this county’s social welfare system, several dozen people showed up to ride that chilly Thursday lunchtime. These were the young people for whom—when that opening came up at Pizza Lovers, the photo-processing shop, K-Mart tyre and auto, the basement Red Rooster—said, “Fuck You”. The online comic drawers, the stencilers of public property.
There was the practicality of retrieving the bikes to be dealt with. For the first few that went over we would have a rope tied to the seat axle. That was fine but in the interests of keeping the festival flowing snappily, it was planned that the first three would use rope, the next three a different method and then back to rope.
As an aside, once the organisation of the thing gained momentum, two forces of opinion emerged on the issue of competition/prizes. 1) No prizes, just participate. 2) Points awarded for “style”. The problem, I felt, with the second option was that style was too fuzzy and any prizes would go to the judges’ friends.
The second method of affixment was arrived at when someone found a bunch of surfboard safety cords balled up at the bottom of an op-shop basket. The cords were connected from the bike to the rider’s ankle.
The first few intrepid-to-the-absurd riders of bikes into the ocean went swimmingly. The crowd of spectators, the cameras, the media, the volunteer ambulance service, the odd tourist and the ever-free arts community all caught the beauty of that moment in air when the bike comes away from underneath the rider, and both hit the water in their own space. Once fished out, gasping, shivering but invigorated, the folks would raise their arms triumphantly or do a little dance or something.
Things started to go wrong when the fourth participant hit the water. It was the saftey cords. Together with the bike, they anchored the attached guy to the bottom of the bay. For 20 seconds we could see or hear nothing of him. He’d just hit the water with the bike same as the others but a second later he disappeared and that was that. It’s one of those moments I won’t forget.
First the crowd was silent, then murmurs of concern or dismay gained volume until a couple of people jumped in, lamely trying to do something. Just at that moment the no longer glassesed, but still goateed and shoulder-length haired slacker crashed back to the water’s surface, having freed himself of the velcro strap. He was spluttering and what-not—you know how it is. The St John’s crew grabbed him and bundled him off to the back of the ambo.
But you know, when I think back to it all, it’s the next bit that’s still bewildering. I had a cheapo Reject Shop pair of those glowy traffic-directing light sabres and I was in charge of sending the participants off, one by one. While all of this hullaballoo had gone on at the edge of the pier, the line up of participants was some way off (to get a run up for momentum) and they were pretty much oblivious of what was going on.
Like I said, I don’t know what I was thinking, but I waved the next person off and exactly the same thing happened except this time it was some freckly girl.
The police wanted to charge me for wreckless endangerment of life or some bullshit, but because the participants had rode in of their own free will, they let me off.