Surfing in Straya! One of those things you just have to have done if you travel to Oz, just like diving in the Great Barrier Reef, seeing the Opera House and so on. My first taste of surfing, in the land down under. A total of five days for 495 AUD (around € 345), accommodation, lessons, meals, all included. Not a bad deal!
Monday October 27th
After a three hour drive, we arrived at the ‘Discovery Holiday Park‘ in Gerroa, close to Gerringong. This camping also houses Surf camp Australia, our hosts for the week. The surfing would be done at Seven Mile Beach, another one of the many beautiful beaches here in Australia.
We were divided in two groups which were called ‘group 1’ and ‘group 2’. Original, isn’t it? One group got the early shift, the other one got the late shift. I was in group 1 and therefore would be amongst the first to get a surfing lesson.
Lesson 1, practice – 3pm
Our ‘group 1’ was divided into three ‘teams’ which each had two instructors. Luke (Aussie) and Edwin (Dutchie) told us that they would start filming us on the next day as this was just our first lesson. Within the next day’s more pictures would be taken and videos made.
I’m wearing a medium sized wetsuit, which has blue colour on the arms. Wetsuit number 23 even. Black wetsuit, blue touch, number 23. Supporters of Belgian football/soccer team Club Brugge know what this made me think of…
Anyway. We started by introducing us to the coaches and to the rest of our teams after which we had to get a team name consisting of “a colour, an animal and the dirtiest word you can think of right now”. The result was… ‘Black slutty tigersharks’.
After the first surfing instructions we took our soft boards to the Pacific for the first time. Soft boards basically are bigger, thicker and heavier than normal surfing boards, so we used those to try and learn the surfing technique. The soft boards came in three different sizes (7’4″, 8’4″ and 9’2″) and as I’m kind of small (1m70 – 5’7”), I immediately got the smallest sized board, which is also the most difficult one. I learnt surfing at the most difficult level whereas others started on bigger boards and had to switch to smaller ones as they improved. I started at the most difficult level and I love that.
In the end, I managed to stand up on my board one or two times. Ok, that’s not much, but for a rookie like me in his first surfing lesson, I was satisfied with this result.
Tuesday October 28th
Lesson 2, practice – 10am
New and important stuff to learn: the surf check! Basically, it means checking out the surfing context before you get in the water.
- The wind: on shore, off shore, cross shore or no wind at all..
- The tide: high or low?
- The waves: what kind of waves and how high?
For us rookies the most ideal situation to surf would be a high tide, as little wind as possible and waves that are not too high.
The surfing went ok, but the icy wind made it difficult nonetheless. The hardest part for me was the timing: when exactly do you stand up on your board? It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact perfect moment to get up.
Lesson 3, practice – 3pm
There’s still a lot of wind, but less waves. It’s going pretty good for me now. I got up on my board five, six times and I’m happy with that. Okay, I didn’t stand up for a very long time, but I’m getting there. And I was lucky enough that my best surf was the one that was caught on Edwin’s GoPro. Looking forward to the pictures!
Wednesday October 29th
Lesson 4, practice – 8am
The early shift again, so not looking forward to the cold. Yet, there was hardly any wind and the tides were higher so it was warmer and the waves were better! Nice. It’s still going better and better for me. Pretty much every time I wanted to catch a wave, I also succeeded. The hard part today though was the fact that the waves followed each other quickly, which meant that there wasn’t much time to pick a wave and go for it. The muscles in my arms and legs are starting to hurt a bit as well…
Lesson 5, practice – 1pm
After another very nice lunch (I recommend the meals here at surf camp!) we put our wetsuits on again and headed back to Seven Mile Beach.
A higher tide, more wind, the waves a bit taller than myself. It’s going worse than this morning as it’s more difficult to get in the ocean against the tide and the waves. My arms, legs and neck are soar. By the end of the lesson it got even windier and more cloudy. I was happy to be in the early shift today as ‘group 2’ must have had an even colder lesson after we were done for the day..
Lesson 6, theory – 8pm
Yep, theory as well! About the kinds of waves, about rip currents, about the best beaches to surf on the Aussie east coast, about the equipment and also about surfing etiquette: who goes first on which wave? There’s more to surfing than I expected… Respecting the others is key and we now also know that surfers don’t like body boarders. This lesson was closed with a video shot by Jackass-legend Steve-O who was at this very same Surf Camp a couple of weeks ago. For those interested, this is his video:
Thursday October 30th
Lesson 7, practice – 10am
The first hour of the lesson went pretty well. I still manage to get up on my board pretty much every time and I’m standing up for a longer time as well.
After that, it started going a bit worse. I drank too much sea water, got a bit frustrated. I quit the lesson early, hoping that the afternoon session would go better!!
Lesson 8, practice – 3pm
Overall, this was my best surfing day. This afternoon went a lot better as the waves were a bit smaller and less frequent. A bit more time, a bit easier, perfect learning conditions. Realising that I can catch a wave and surf (even with little turns and corrections) to the beach takes away every little frustration I had this morning. When I started surf camp, I didn’t even imagine being able to do this after just four days.
After one and a half hour of surfing I got out of the water for a little break. After that I walked back into the ocean to surf some more but a wave that was a bit too big and too powerful knocked me over and my soft board out my hands. The board hit me in the head and even though I wasn’t hurt at all, I decided this was the signal for me to call it a day.
Evening on the beach
We spent our last evening at surf camp on the beach of course. Seven Mile Beach is just a five minute walk away, so that was an obvious thing to do. Edwin brought a little guitar and a bonfire-moment-without-bonfire was born. We sang along to some classics. ‘We’re going to Ibiza’ (Vengaboys), ‘Save tonight’ (Eagle Eyed Cherry’), ‘Wonderwall’ (Oasis), ‘All the small things’ (Blink 182), ‘Why does it always rain on me’ (Travis), ‘Teenage dirtbag’ (Wheatus), ‘Don’t look back in anger’ (Oasis), ‘Best of you’ (Foo Fighters), …
That’s also one of those moments where you just stand still and take the time to realise what’s going on. That it’s nearly midnight and you’re watching the stars and the moon on a beach in Australia, surrounded by people you’ve only met a maximum of two weeks ago. That you’ve been surfing and saw snakes, dolphins and kangaroos in the wild. That you drank some goon but didn’t try that stinking vegemite yet. Axel’s Borat-English, Conor’s Irish accent, Leni’s ‘I hate you’-friendship, Blandine’s music and coolness, Audreys sense of humour, the German connection between Jana, Leni, Fabian and Nick. The possums at base camp and surf camp, kangaroo Josey and cockatoo Bugsy. The view of Sydney Harbour and jumping in it. So many more things, all in just two weeks time. That life can be beautiful.
Friday October 31st
Lesson 9, practice – 8am
After the evening on the beach, this early shift was a hard one to swallow. Nobody really felt like surfing as we were tired and it seemed like it would be a very cold morning. Nevertheless, we put on our wetsuits and took our soft boards to the Pacific Ocean for the final surfing lesson of surf camp.
For me, it would be that lesson where nothing went the way it should have. My timing was worse than ever, my arms didn’t feel like pushing me up and when I did manage to get up, I lost my balance way too early. I didn’t want to end on a bad note and I never like to give up, so I kept trying until it finally worked once. Such a relief.
Back to Sydney
We took the bus back to Shitney (as Surfers call Sydney apparently) in the afternoon. After just two minutes the bus already stopped in the nearby village of Gerringong. A half an hour stop. Why? To go to the toilet, to have some ice cream at Scoops and because there’s a surf shop that probably sponsors Surf Camp Australia… I was curious enough to enter that shop but got out pretty quickly after seeing the prices of the surfing equipment.
We were back in Sydney at 6pm. I’m not sleeping at WakeUp but at Bounce, a hostel that has apparently been voted/named the best hostel in Australia. Not bad! The first impression of Bounce is pretty good: cheaper internet, bigger lockers and more importantly: power outlets IN the lockers. No more worries while leaving the room while cell phones or laptops are charging..
I’ll use this weekend to arrange some stuff (bank, Medicare, …) and to decide what I’ll do in the next couple of weeks. Working or travelling…
EDIT/ And here’s the compilation video Surf Camp Australia made of our week!