Hamburger Hill is a mound of earth in the middle of a small coastal high school, where you’ll find a tight group of unruly teenagers. The novel Hamburger Hill follows what happens when the Hill is overtaken by another gang of kids. Author Ryan Glover shares an excerpt with us...
“That’s outside jump rock.”
Heff pointed to a frog shaped rock between two pointy ones. Pete and Jacko nodded.
“I know it looks like you want to jump off that one,” he pointed to another rock much closer that looked much safer, “but if you jump off there your fins will snap off like you’re riding down stairs on your stomach,” he smiled. “Your knees will be ripped to shreds because just below the surface are oyster covered rocks you can’t see.”
Spreckels turned pale as a seagull.
“The trick,” Heff explained, “is to be on jump rock just as a wave comes. It’s scary but that way you jump out and over the wave and the wave smashes on the rocks under you and there’s heaps of water between you and the rocks. I know it seems like the best time to jump is in a lull, but if you
time it wrong, a set will wash you back onto the rocks. The best is to jump at the end of a set.”
Heff looked at the grommets, their faces were as white as the whitewash running up the rocks towards them.
“Just watch Ham Bun and Matty, first. There’s nothing to it.”
A huge wave exploded and washed across the shelf. The wave roared and came at us like it
wasn’t going to stop. We all took a step back.
Ham Bun went first. He stepped forward and paused like a dog does when it sniffs the air. He took
a moment to himself, then started, dashing across the rocks. Ham Bun hopped a crevice, then a gap, then a boulder and finally made it to jump rock. He paused for a second. He looked small—a black dot dressed in rubber against a sea of white. A monster wave loomed ahead. Ham Bun took his board in both hands. He crouched, and with one mighty leap he threw himself towards the beast.
The wave exploded in a roar of whitewash and Ham Bun vanished. The grommets watched with horrified expressions. When the water washed away Ham Bun appeared and was already twenty meters out to sea and safe from the rocks. He paddled quickly across the rip. In a few moments he had reached the pack of surfers on Kiddies Corner. His hair wasn’t even wet.
“Easy as that,” said Heff.
The grommets looked at Heff like they didn’t agree. Matty Poo Shoe was next. A wave washed back. Matty started his run. He hopped the crevice, then the gap, but when it came to the boulder he tripped on his leg rope. He let out a yelp and fell to his knees.
“That’s the reason why you always hold your leg rope in your board hand,” said Heff.
In a second Matty was up again, but the next wave was already at the rocks. In two strides Matty made jump rock but the wave did too and all Matty could do was throw himself at it. Matty didn’t quite make it. He let out a squeal and was engulfed in whitewash.
When the whitewash cleared Matty was nowhere to be seen.
“Oh gosh,” said Spreckels.
“He’s dead!” Jacko cried.
Another wave came. Suddenly Matty Poo Shoe appeared. He was separated from his board. He grabbed at it with panicked movements. He finally got his board and pulled himself up. The wave
hit Matty before he had a chance to go under it. There was an explosion again and Matty’s board shot up in the air before being engulfed. Then another two waves came before the set ended. Matty finally appeared, grabbing for his board and sucking for air. He pushed off a rock and paddled like a rat abandoning ship before joining the pack on Kiddies Corner. The grommets let out long held breaths.
“So who’s first?”
Heff looked at Spreckels. Spreckels didn’t move. Spreckels turned to Pete and Jacko. They all looked away and studied the ground.
“I’ll tell you exactly when to go and when to jump,” Heff reassured. “All you have to do is get out there. You’ll be fine. I promise.”
Spreckels gulped. He bent down and hooked his leash up into his hand like he’d seen Ham Bun do.
He stood ready.
“Not yet,” said Heff.
Spreckels waited as an extra large wave exploded.
“Get ready,” Heff said slowly.
Spreckels focused his energy. He positioned his feet like the start of a running race.
“No hang on,” said Heff, and he placed a hand on the grommets shoulder without taking his eyes
off the approaching waves. A large set appeared on the horizon. The lines of many waves stacked
up to the sky.
“Better wait a bit”
Spreckels relaxed and his stance deflated. He started trembling. Wave after wave began to wash against the rocks, the biggest set yet. We were forced to wait a long while. Every wave clawed closer up the rocks. We took one step back, then another.
“Okay get ready,” Heff finally said again.
One last wave washed back into the ocean.
“Now!” yelled Heff.
Spreckels lept. His legs were shorter and it took more steps. He came to the crevice and paused, the gap was much wider than it looked. The grommet concentrated his strength, jumped, and made it.
“Go! Go! Go!” we cheered.
The grommet came to the smaller gap, but instead of focusing on that, he looked up and hesitated. An enormous wave was approached.
“Go! Go! Go!” we yelled.
Spreckels was frozen.
“I’m not going to make it,” he squealed.
“Go! Go! Go!” we yelled.
He suddenly turned and jumped back over the crevice and ran towards us. Wild and pure fear was
on his face. He let out a series of yells like a hundred dogs were chasing him, nipping at his ankles.
In a moment he was back with us.
We couldn’t control our laughter. We were all out of breath. We put down our boards and dropped
to our knees.
Spreckels looked at us confused, “What’s so funny?”
Heff gasped for breath and pointed to the sea.
“I wasn’t going to make it,” said Spreckels. He turned to see a very small wave, half the size of anything even scary, brush up against the rocks. The whitewash didn’t even make it to where Spreckels had been. Spreckels groaned in embarrassment.
“It’s okay,” Heff said, “the first time out on the ledge is scary as hell. It takes time to get a feel for
the ocean. Get your confidence up.”
A high pitched war cry suddenly sounded.
Before we knew it Pete was halfway to jump rock. Pete eloquently leaped into the air. The grommet soared like a sparrow, flew over the breaking lip and slid smoothly down the back of a medium sized wave. The wave exploded on the rocks and after two calm paddles, Pete was clear.
We looked at each other and shook our heads.
“In his blood,” I said.
“Me next,” said Jacko.
Jacko had realised the sooner he was in the water the sooner he wasn’t standing on the rocks.
He waited only a short time and just like Pete ran and jumped into the ocean with no troubles.
“See. Nothing to it,” Heff assured Spreckels.
But Spreckels had a grim look on his face. The fear had taken him. Maybe it wasn’t the jumping
off the rocks that scared him the most, but the feeling that getting off the rocks was only the start of it. That once he was off the rocks he would be in the grips of the wildest ocean he had ever seen. Maybe he didn’t want to be out there in the first place.
But he did want to be out there. We knew this because we had once stood exactly where he had,
and Wingnut and Rawiri had shown us where to jump. There had been confusion, fear, and the contradiction of not wanting to jump, but at the same time wanting to jump. There was the want
to prove to the older boys you could do it. But more, the want to prove to yourself you could do it.
The difference between the grommets and us is now we know fear is natural. When the surf is big, everyone is scared, even Rawiri. Fear is always with you. The ocean is dangerous and deserves respect. We were all scared, but we would never let on to each other. The grommets had to experience for themselves that fear and courage are two sides of the same thing, and that learning the art of turning fear into courage is the first lesson in our school of mysteries. You can’t be forced, you can only be shown the rock. If you can make the leap, you will learn much about yourself. Tomorrow at school we will talk and laugh about who caught what wave, who got the most flogged and how scared we were, and be proud of it. The grommets who jumped will realise pushing themselves wasn’t about conquering the energy of the ocean, but overcoming the fear that energy could instil in you. Heff had shown Spreckels the rock. It was up to Spreckels to leap. That was the way it was meant to be. But Heff’s voice softened.
“Hey Spreckels, show me your board.”
Spreckels held his board out to Heff. It shook in his hands.
“I don’t think you have enough wax. If you go back to the bikes there’s some stashed under my seat.”
Spreckels looked confused. Heff went on.
“There’s no point coming all the way back out here to jump rock. It’s almost just as quick to paddle out the rip. Just sit in it and you won’t even have to paddle. That way you get a feel for the waves
on the way out, too.”
“Yeah, I did forget to wax up,” Spreckels replied, slowly, cautiously.
“Once you make it out the back I’ll show you where to sit.”
Spreckels pale blue eyes looked up at Heff in relief. The grommet turned and disappeared up
the steps and into the grove of Pohutukawas. Heff and I stood on the rocks. I shook my head.
“I felt sorry for him,” replied Heff.
“You should have made him jump.”
Heff stared out to sea, “I felt sorry for him.”
“You go first.”
Heff nodded. He moved out onto the ledge and started running. He moved like someone half his
size. He made it to jump rock and with a hoot, threw himself into the ocean. Ⓟ