Things got a little weird yesterday. Other than a two-hour long mission back to Forster town to find internet access so I could maybe get my assignment completed on time, I didn’t do much driving. School has always come easy, a love of learning and a perfectionist personality combine to make studying fun. Still, you’ve gotta put the time in. The day before on deadline to complete a silly assignment, one step closer to earning an MBA in Marketing, I had searched for an internet café, but being Sunday, the only one I could find was closed. No luck. Oh well, I don’t have to get 100% on every assignment, right? Right.
Back to the weirdness, I was staying at a killer campground called Bulls Paddock (special thanks to Rebecca Woods for the excellent recommendation). The campground was essentially an open grass field lined and dotted with big soothing shade trees, no power hookups which deterred the big caravan campers, and no numbered camping spaces. Just show up, drop $20 in the box, and pick your piece of grass. There were only about five other campers and all spread out. I have been continually surprised by the quality of the amenities at these campgrounds. Free hot showers (no $.25 per ten minute silliness like at Jalama or San Mateo) and perfectly clean bathrooms. I’m definitely used to roughing it with no shower and a bush toilet, but I am certainly not going to complain about feeling clean. It even had a killer 6 km hike that started from the campground, looped up along a cliff, around a headland and back via the lake (see photos in previous blog post). The beach out front was long with squeaky white sand and turquoise clear water, completely empty except for a few fishermen.
A very friendly Kookaburra
The first day there were a few little waves to ride if you were desperate, which I wasn’t, so after a quick swim I went hiking instead. Yesterday by the time I returned from my internet mission the forecasted swell had started to show just a little bit. With the sand only a few meters from my camping spot, it was a quick sprint into the warm water. There were 3 guys out already which I was happy about since I hadn’t been speaking to many people and considering all the shark stories taking place in Australia, I was glad to not be out there alone. Unfortunately, before I had even worked out what the wave was doing, they all went in! Sorry for me but even sorrier for them as it seemed to be getting better. There were super tight powerful wedge peaks that produced a steep sudden drop and then mushed out, but as the tide seemed to be dropping, two nearby peaks started connecting. You could take the drop, do a turn and then pump into the next section and backdoor that peak for a quick little tube. There was no one within earshot, so I self-hooted every wave! I kept looking back to the beach to see if there was anyone there. “Did anyone see that?” Just the seagulls, and they didn’t seem very interested.
The water was boardshort warm and so clear you could see every scattered rock and random piece of seaweed on the white sandy bottom. At least I figured the sharks would not be able to confuse me for their usual prey, and I could see them coming, and have a last split second to pray to whatever god seemed like the right one when the pressure was on, before being eaten. I had enough time alone in the lineup between waves to consider the dream I had a few nights before in which I was slowly being swallowed by a shark and not even fighting it, after reading The Wild Within by Paul Rezendes where he talks about every living creature being one. He happens upon a snake with a bullfrog half in his mouth and decides not to intervene to save the bullfrog as it is in the process of “becoming the snake”. I didn’t fight because I was quite content to become the shark.
Still, it was strange that there was no one else along the whole beach as far as I could see. In California or so many other places in the world there would be someone if not a horde of someones all fighting like animals for the exact same thing. And here I am all alone finally, and almost wishing there were someone else with me. It didn’t take long for my wish to be granted. I looked back to see about a dozen surf school students walking down with 8’ long boogie boards over their heads or dragged in the sand behind them. The instructor arranged them in a circle on the sand and started going through the drill of miming the routine of lay down, paddle, pop-up. The wind had come up as well, so I called it a session and returned to the sanctity of my campsite.
This morning the wind was howling and immediately upon opening the sliding door of my campervan, I could feel a different energy in the air. The swell had finally arrived. I made coffee quickly, packed up and started driving further South to another destination recommended by Rebecca, Seal Rocks.
My surf guidebook describes it as a mellow right point break with an inside tube on big swells. It was onshore with three guys out and looking very mushy. I kept going around the headland to check Treachery. The name sounded interesting, but I found a big-water mushy left breaking far out. It was offshore and clean but absolutely no one around.
What do you do? Surf an offshore paddle-mission left by yourself or go back to the friendly looking onshore right? I’ll tell you what you do. You go back to the right, realize the 3 guys out there do not know how to surf and you can actually take off a lot closer to the rocks allowing at least a couple turns before it turns into mushburger city. Then you feel bad about back-paddling the kooks and taking every good set wave, so after only 20 minutes you decide to go in and keep driving. On the way in, you spot the closed-out shorebreak down the beach that is almost a little bit of a left and definitely hollow and decide to give that a try. After getting chucked over the falls on your first three attempts, the beating wakes you up and you decide to stay out until you get a good one, which happens on your next wave, an unbelievably clear tube that affords you a quick view before throwing you on your back in the sand and creasing the underside of your board right above the fins. Damn! Might as well try to break it at this point, but the tide is coming up and it’s getting more make-able and you actually come out of one and the next one lets you do turns and now there are a couple of guys joining you, friendly Spaniards from San Sebastian, young chiropractors studying in Sydney but taking a few weeks off to travel up the coast in a Wicked van. After surfing, they insist you stay for a breakfast of bacon and cheese, then bust out their massage table and give you an impromptu adjustment.
You might even stay for another session and an evening glass of wine with them but you’re traveling in opposite directions. So you say goodbye and head on to Newcastle.
Ah, Newcastle, the first familiar place since leaving Byron Bay. One month last year I spent a year here, or so it felt. I checked my email in the exact same backpackers in which Skippy, Laurina, and I spent a very awkward nearly two weeks sharing a bunkbed for three. The experience ended one friendship but cemented another. Driving through town, stopping at the same café to have the same mango, passionfruit smoothie with pesto chicken sandwich, all the memories of the triangular girl drama in which I played too much of a starring role came right back.
Slideshow from that trip last year
I remember it as the trip where I decided I really didn’t want to do the tour anymore. Now checking the flat surf at Merewether beach, the location of last year’s Midori Pro, those memories come back as well. It was big, stormy, and incredibly messy. I had advanced already to the second or maybe third round and was in a heat against friends. The waves were so bad that with five minutes to go, I was in third place needing a 3. My friend the silly little South African, Tammy Lee Smith was in 4th, but only needed a 1 point something and our other friend, Jessi, was in second, playing defense. I was closer in placing, but Tammy needed a lower score since she only had one wave, so Jessi went and paddled circles around her to keep her from getting a second score. I took off on a few closeouts that I couldn’t even get a turn in and as the minutes ticked away, the situation was the same. I sat there, thinking how silly it all was. The next heat was paddling out, more friends. I don’t remember exactly who it was, maybe Nicola Atherton and Kim Mayer, and for sure Rebecca. I just remember thinking how fun it was that we were all out there together and how cute they looked in their jerseys, and how annoying it was that we were putting our friendships aside to try to beat eachother in the most disgusting waves ever. I said something to that effect to Rebecca and with a minute to go in my heat, she looked at me like I was crazy, asked me what I needed and then said, “shut up and get a freakin three!” But I was over it. The hooter sounded and I rode in and announced that I would do a few more contests, but for the most part, I was done.
I’ve second-guessed that decision. I almost entered the contests on this trip, but didn’t and sitting here, I’m glad. Still, the girls are my friends and they are right now preparing to compete in the second event of the year, a 4 star at Soldiers Beach, just about an hour south of here. It’s rare that I am only an hour’s drive away from hanging out with the silliest girls in the world, and even though I’m really enjoying the solitude, I can’t resist the opportunity to laugh with them for a night.
Off I go…
The same international crew as before: Sarah, Marina, Amandine, Me, plus the cutest little South African, Tammy Lee Smith