Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Gold Coast, Surfers Paradise!

Surfing is something Dave and I have always wanted to try. But growing up in a land-locked state makes beach trips few and far between. And, while surfing on the Atlantic Ocean is manageable for the seriously dedicated, its not something either of us readily sought out since the conditions are less than stellar.

So here we are in Paradise. Surfers Paradise, to be exact! And man is it ever! Gorgeous beaches, no jellyfish, warm water, and weather that hovers in the high 70s/low 80s all year long. We're staying with a friend of ours, Adam, who grew up surfing around here and he toured us around all the hot spots. I don't know much about the sport but I could tell how beautiful, even and regular these waves form. They hold professional competitions for Quicksilver and Rip Curl on a set of waves called Rainbow, which are the cream of the crop.

We started our foray into surfing at Kirra Beach, just west of Coolangatta, which is supposedly a great learning area. We borrowed a few boards from Adam and he took us out and showed us the basics, helping us catch a few waves and then he turned us loose so he could head further down the beach to some harder waves.

Adam's "beginner" boards were surprisingly short, though at least one of them was thick enough to be called a Mini Mal, which is a stubby version of a long board. The other board, the one I got stuck with since Dave is taller and heavier than me, was a less aggressive short board, which was easy to catch waves with but impossible to stand up on. We were out there for over an hour, getting pounded by 3-4 foot swells (some learner area!!), severely burning the backs of our legs while waiting for waves. Once Dave and I traded boards I was able to stand up almost immediately, although that must have been beginners luck because it was never easy like that again. Dave, on the other hand, equated the small board I'd given him to "surfing a brick." He had almost no float and did nothing but grow increasingly frustrated. We called it a day shortly thereafter, determined to give it another go the following day. However, Dave's stomach rash (from not wearing a rash guard) and the bruises I got all along my rib cage were enough to encourage us to wait at least another day.

We got back out on the waves after borrowing another beginner board from Adam's sister so that neither of us would have the decided advantage and set out again, our friend Tsz (who we'd met in China and who happened to be in the area) in tow. Dave, again, took the larger of the two boards and we both had much greater success than the first time. We were both able to catch waves much more consistently, though most of Dave's attempts ended in a spectacular face plant from being too far forward on the board. Neither of us was having much luck with standing, though we could both pull ourselves up, wobble uncontrollably and then fall off. Dave fell off once, landed on his butt on top of the board, and rode the rest of the way to the beach!

I was having a difficult time fighting the surge and swells, towing a huge anchor on my foot as I tried to walk through the water, and trying not to get seasick as the turbulent water in the shallows made me disoriented. We took a lunch break and gave it another go, this time at the "whitewash" (3 foot waves do NOT qualify as whitewash in my book!) area of Rainbow. Dave and I traded boards, which I immediately recognized as a mistake. I spent the next half hour trying to wrangle the larger board through the current, trying not to face plant myself (though I had my own spectacular plunge), and attempting to avoid swimmers as the current pushed us amazingly fast down the coast and into areas where surfing isn't allowed. I ended up frustrated and exhausted and could barely haul myself and the board out of the water. I plopped down just outside the water mark and sat watching the other guys as the tide rolled in around me and filled my shorts with sand.

We came back from our long day on the beach and caught the news about all the bait fish that are making their way north along the coast being pursued by thousands of hungry sharks. The news crew had used their helicopter to track the sharks down the coast and take photos and video footage (you can watch it here without commentary or commercials), which was shown over and over for shock value. They'd interviewed a few surfers to get their take about what it was like to be in the water surrounded by a feeding frenzy and one guy was so shaken up that he was hardly coherent. I've looked for the interview online but can't find it yet. But here's one of the photos taken from the new helicopter of a pack of sharks swimming just beyond the breakers south of Brunswick Heads at Tyagarah, which is about 35 miles south of where we've been surfing.

According to the report, sharks are starting to be seen in our area as well! We'd noticed a few news helicopters flying by as we'd been surfing after lunch. It makes sense now that they were tracking the sharks. Glad I didn't know that at the time!!

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