Surfing in Australia - A New Surfer's Experience - Bondi Manley

THE frustration of trying to quell the incessant itching of my newly acquired gnat bite was momentarily forgotten as I attempted to prise open my sticky eyes in search for some flat Sprite. It wouldn't be my favourite dehydration quencher after a night involving industrial amounts of Bundaberg rum, but this was no normal Saturday morning.

I suppose my hangover could have been cushioned by the thoughts of a lazy day of Byron sunshine, surrounded by craft shops, tattooed hippies, and an abundance of alternative lifestyle shops. But before I even had chance to water my furry tongue, the sound of a wailing horn confirmed my fears.

The distinguishable rattle from a van outside could only be produced from a recently converted 1970's ambulance and meant only one thing. It was 6am and time to go surfing.

Hazy recollections of a drunken challenge from my surfer friend, Dave-or perhaps it had been the fumes from the Nimbin style ‘cigarettes' coming from the tent next to us- had resulted in me being roped into a surfing session.

My lack of sporting prowess up to this point hadn't bothered me. Most who know me would happily confirm that unlike many Aussies, I am without any great sporting genes. At a push, my lexicon of games might include rough and tumble bouts of Scrabble and an occasional energetic attempt at poker.

But surfing isn't like other sports which seem to engage in miserable actives like physical exertion, sweating, and a lifetime of non-stop training-it's a glamorous pastime. I, like many British kids, who grew up on a staple TV diet of great Aussie soaps like Home and Away , knew that it couldn't be that hard effortlessly avoiding the waves whilst twirling around on a board. And if at any moment I become disillusioned, I could always go to the Diner for a smoothie at half time. I couldn't resist this opportunity to silence my critics with some nippy footwork on the ocean wave.

I suddenly felt a bright orange light hit me and realised that the tent was being taken down around me and I was gazing at the the luminous undersheet. Outside the tent the offers of green tea, coffee or another shot of rum to get me moving were slowly turning into suggestions of a more sinister kind so I wrenched myself out of the sleeping bag and jumped into the ambulance to join the gang of surfies.

We left the campsite of Belongil Fields battling against the stream of traffic before taking the road towards Ballina. The backdrop of the crackly radio was interspersed with chunks of last night's drunken banter being retold at my expense. They obviously found my sporadic declarations of 'fearlessness' and 'a love of action-packed-sports' highly amusing.

The conversation moved on and inevitably turned to surf and it's associated jargon of 'reef breaks', 'swells', 'hold downs', ‘rips' and 'breaks'. I attempted to intervene and floor everyone with my wave knowledge of a '6.2', picked up from a week of eavesdropping in Bondi. Instead of earning myself queudos, however, my contribution was met with ridicule as they pointed out that a '6.2' was the size of a surfboard and that you rarely get waves over six feet at this time of year.

We arrived in the village of Lennox Point and were welcomed by signs along the expansive Seven Mile sandy beach pointing out something which my surfer friends had failed to inform me. This innocent, picturesque village apparently boasts such high surges it provides some of the most challenging surf in Australia, gaining it the status of being an International Surfing Championship venue. Great place for a learner then.

Undeterred I grabbed a wetsuit and began to look for some changing facilities. Unfortunately, we had parked away from such basic facilities to an area which had a better ' groundswell' which in turn meant removing the luxury of being able to take your clothes off in private.

A wet suit is the last thing you want to put on with a severe hangover, especially one a size too small in a makeshift carpark full of male surfers.

After fifteen minutes of stumbling, twisting, pulling and stretching whilst trying to cover myself with a small towel, I managed to get both legs. Ten minutes later, I was practically shoehorned into it by Dave, who, on observing the chest area, concluded that perhaps it was a tad too small.

He handed me a battered surfboard, before walking off and telling to 'Swim out as far as I could and then swim like hell when a wave comes'. I had expected a slightly more comprehensive set of instructions, but embraced the challenge with enthusiasm.

The sea breeze was beginning to freshen me up as I made my way across the glistening sand, fighting the urge to run in a Baywatch manner. The sea was biting as it hit my hands and feet and I decided to swim to prevent them from going numb. Thank God for the skin-tight wetsuit.

I approached my first wave with full gusto as it towered above me in a threatening manner. Within seconds I began to spin uncontrollably and was submerged into blackness, before finally surfacing with a nose full of water and my board floating away. My second, third, fifth, tenth attempts produced pretty much the same result.

I began to loose faith as I watched the crowd of slick surfers saunter into the foam then shoot effortlessly through the ocean. I felt lumbering in comparison, certain that I'd never be able to lie on the board, let alone stand on the thing.

As I observed them more closely it began to dawn on me that perhaps you were meant to turn around when the wave comes, and then 'swim like hell'.

Undeterred by my initial ignorance, I battle on with my new techique, which slowly began to pay off. My next attempt saw success as I turned around in time, and was lifted along the white foam and rode the wave with pride.

The hours past by in a haze, as I practiced with determination, observing the professionals around me and absorbing the beauty of my surroundings, partially skirted in mist.

Eventually - to my even greater astonishment - I catch a wave, stand up on the board and some how manage to coast for a few seconds into the beach.

I feel bruised and battered, my back aches, my knees are grazed and I'm certain I've broken a toe - yet I'm still grinning, buzzing over my minor triumph.

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