|Bruce Walshe |
b. 22/08/1953 d.13/03/2014 at Bell's Beach
Another post will be WWBD - "What Would Bruce Do". Another one "Why we surf (and do other crazy things)". Another one might be "Why we believe what we believe". I am not sure what order I will write these in. These topics might be a bit ambitious for someone of my limited writing ability and intellect, but I will give them my best shot. That's what Bruce would do.
You won't, of course, know how I feel as I write this, but you will have your own feelings as you read it. You won't know how many times I have had to stop to dry my eyes enough so I can see the screen, just like I won't know how many times you have to do the same.
Last Thursday (13th March 2014) started out like many others in my sometimes busy and oddly fragmented daily schedule. But let me go back to the day before to start with, as that will help understand the Thursday just a little. (I am writing this without much of a plan, so it's a bit of a ramble.)
Simon Degaris and I decided to go for a very early surf on Wednesday morning. Both of us felt we needed the exercise and Simon wanted to give his new camera a test run in the surf. We paddled out to Winki Pop, from the Bell's Beach side. We were joined later by Cliff Slade, another one of Bruce's close surfing mates.
The surf was terrible - small, onshore, choppy - everything you don't want, if you want to have a good surf. We knew it was going to be awful surf and that's why Bruce wasn't there.
Bruce lead an extremely busy life for many years. While he was the Bishop of the Geelong Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for many years, I worked with him very closely and I took it upon myself to make sure he got enough surfing time. Good quality surfing time though, as his time was too precious to waste surfing in junk surf. So I would only call him to tell him I was going for a surf when the surf was good, not like it was on Wednesday.
I must also say, that while he was Bishop, he also managed the production of the Australian Smartsaver, plus he had a relatively young family of six kids. Plus he was actively involved with the Geelong Interfaith Council. Do you get the picture of how busy he was?
Thursday morning, the conditions were looking pretty good for a nice surf. Slightly increased swell from the day before and a light offshore. I drove out my driveway, around the corner on to Rennie St, and gave my mate a quick call to let him know the surf would be nice and worth his time to drive down. He said he had the day off work and a bit of time up his sleeve, which meant he wouldn't be rushing down.
I arrived at the Bell's car park about 9.00 am I think. Late for me. I had to drop off a parcel at a freight depot in Lara on the way to Torquay and they didn't open till 8.00 am so that slowed me down a bit.
My very close mate Cliff Slade is camping in Torquay for 2 weeks, as he and his family always do at this time of year, and he got there maybe half an hour before me. Cliff had to start work at 11.00 am in Geelong, so he was going to be getting out of the water about 10.
As I pulled in to the car park, Jeffrey Binch was getting changed in to his work clothes. He had arrived there at the crack of dawn as usual, and caught all the good waves before the wind picked up. Simon Degaris was there with him in the water, but I didn't see Simon. It's not that unusual to surf the same location without necessarily seeing your buddies. Jeff and I had a quick chat and then he went to work and I got ready to surf.
I walked around to Centreside, a short walk from the bottom car park at Bell's, to where I knew Cliff would be, and where I told Bruce we would most likely be, so he could join us.
Surfing is a great way to clear the mind. I had a great time, caught a couple of little waves and then had a real cracker - not a big wave, just a nice little long one that peeled perfectly, as Centreside can in the right conditions. I paddle back out for one more, and as I did, Cliff caught a wave in, as it was really close to 10.00 am.
I and Paul (of the Tubby variety, not Tall Pall or Dickos mate Pauly, another regular Bell's surf crew) paddled back to Rincon. I caught a little wave from Rincon, halfway in to the Bell's Bowl (which wasn't really breaking properly) and then caught a tiny wave most of the way in to the beach. I walked up the stairs and in to the car park, and there was Bruiser's car, parked just to below the toilet block on the left as you are looking up the hill. We all have our regular car parking spots and that was probably Bruce's most regular.
"Oh yes, Bruiser you're here!" was my immediate thought. I looked back around to see if I could see him in the Bowl or Centreside and I couldn't. No big deal, he was going to drop in to the shop on his way back to Geelong to say hello and to drop in a spare board for us to sell for him. He had a spare 6'10" board he had bought from me "for Genevieve" but I am not sure she ever got to use it. He didn't use it too much either. He loved his little 6'2", a pretty short board for a "senior surfer" to be riding.
So this was about 11 o'clock I guess when I left Bell's to get back to the shop in Torquay. I didn't need to rush as Alex said he would open the shop that day. After a while I was anticipating Bruisers' visit.
I got a phone call from a policeman. He was calling from a mobile and it was a bad connection, the type of call where you are barely catching every second word and trying to piece together what the other person is saying. After a minute or two I worked out he was trying to identify a person by the serial number on a surfboard. He assumed I would have kept a list of board owners by serial number. Obviously doesn't know the surf industry too well, I thought. I told him I would be happy to help though if he wanted to drop in with the board.
Sometime later "Ebay Pete" (not to be confused with "Smokin' Pete") dropped in to the shop. He started telling me what had just happened back at the beach. He described the surfer he had helped out of the water, telling me how a group of guys had spotted someone with his face in the water and one leg up on the board, like they had fallen off from a sitting position. He described the person and the board. I knew it was Bruce. "So how is he now?" I asked, not wanting to here the answer I got. "He's gone."
Kenny, Tristan (don't know surnames), "Ebay" Pete Bistak, Brendan Arnel - these are the guys who tried to save Bruce. One of them spotted him first, paddled over to see what was going on, called the others over to help. Mayhem! Four guys, one unconscious, four surfboards tied to legs, thankfully fairly small surf, but trying to get in over a shallow reef, cutting feet, tripping in holes, struggling to keep Bruces' head above water. Tristan seemed to be a bit of an expert in CPR and coordinated things. Pete got hold of a phone (it's a couple of hundred metres back to the car park where a phone would have been) and tried desperately to call 000. Talking to Brendan and Pete later, it seems that Bruce was probably gone even while they were dragging him in. But they did CPR for nearly half an hour while they waited for the paramedics to arrive. The paramedics took over of course, and tried even harder. But to no avail, our friend was gone.
After hearing all this from Pete, I ran across to the Police Station to see if there was anyone there and I could get some more information. No-one there. Torquay's a small town and the station is not always manned. There's a button of the door which I pressed several times which was supposed to put me through to the police mobile phone but nothing happened. I was panicking a bit, trying to call some of the Torquay Police, kite-surfers that I know. No luck. Started running back to shop. An ambulance drives past quite slowly in the opposite direction to me, back towards Geelong. Bruce was in there. I wanted to run after it. Pointless.
I arrive back at the shop just as the police car pulls up. I walk over and see Bruces' board in the back of it. That was tough. That's when I really knew it was Bruce. That was real tough on me. I gave the officer all of Bruce and Jenny's details and offered to help in anyway that I could. The officer was good - comforting and helpful. I was a mess, I was in shock.
I know the surf would not have killed Bruce. It was not that big and there is no way known at that size that Bruce, with his years of experience in the water, would have got in to difficulties. He was an accomplished surfer. The autopsy may show what happened, depending on what happened.
I stayed in the shop, not really knowing what to do, but knowing that I could't really tell anyone till Jenny and the family were notified. I waited a few hours. I am not sure who I told first, my wife Margot, or our Bishop Craig Sandford. I think it was Craig. I could hardly speak but he helped me get the words out. He called David Cowan, Jennys' brother. He found out that Jenny and her good friend, Jayne Crouch, were in Sydney for a few days. Eventually he got word through to them. Miracles happened in Sydney, and they got back to Geelong that night.
In the meantime, my practical side kicked in and I started making calls and telling a few key people what happened. I drove back to Bell's where I found Bruces' car still in the car park. Looking for keys, trying to get it out of the car park and back to Geelong. Simon Degaris went back at dusk to try to find the keys. No success. The car was in the car park overnight. I wanted to go sleep the night there to stand guard over it. Fortunately, Margot said she would be worried about that and I stayed home. I didn't sleep to well though.
My friend was gone!