Byron Bay is a surf town and there’s no doubt about it. It’s laidback, it’s youthful, and it’s full of young, carefree, good-looking beach bum types reminiscent of Shaggy from Scooby-Doo. Yes there’s the odd spliff and Hare Krsna rattle on all day, but there’s something about Byron that is really captivating. Perhaps it’s the astoundingly gorgeous beaches, or the perpetually wonderful weather. Or maybe it is the casual attitude that Byron’s super friendly inhabitants gently thrust upon you. Whatever your fancy, surfing is the language of this place and to get under its skin, you have to give it a try.
That’s exactly what we did today. Accompanied by Katherine’s dad, Mike, we fought the current, flailed around a bit, and eventually even rode the waves. The weather was at its usual east coast best, and we were chomping at the bit to get going. None of us have surfed before, and neither Katherine nor I are known for our balance or cat-like reflexes. It was set to be a great day on the beach.
As we hadn’t surfed before, we decided that the best thing for our first time would be to get some lessons. Surf shops in Byron are as common as blonde-dreadlocked beach bums; you will always find one willing you to take you out for a few hours. We chose Black Dog Surf School for its generally high ratings and it didn’t disappoint. 2 instructors took 10 of us into the surf which meant plenty of time for coaching and instruction.
First of all though, you have to get the movements right on the sand. Our instructor, Stu, was a great teacher running through everything we’d need to know to ride our first waves. He broke down all the movements and safety instructions into baby steps in a timely manner.
This allowed us fully understand the body movements and positions we had to employ whilst maximising the practice time we had in the surf. Within 20 minutes, all stretched out, limbered up, and armed with knowledge and a soft, floaty surfboard, we hit the water.
THE HARDEST PART
Australia’s east coast is a surfer’s paradise for a reason; it is windy and with strong wind comes big, rolling, crashing waves. They can be phenomenal to look at, and terrifying to be under, but they’re exhausting to push through. In fact, the biggest struggle in surfing isn’t standing up or even catching and riding the waves; that’s the easy part.
The hard part is persevering through the inexorable onslaught of powerful, crashing waves with the swirling sand ever-changing underneath your feet. You really need some strength in your legs to get you and your board into a surfing position.
(Persevering through Bluebottle Jellyfish stings are also a pretty nasty part of the experience but that’s another story.)
THE FUN PART
This is where it kicks off. You’re lying face down on your board, exhausted from your battle with the waves and the jellies, and then you have to remember everything you were taught in your twenty minutes on the sand.
Hands together under your chest, toes primed, now chest up, now downward dog, now back foot forward, now front foot forward in between your hands, and now stand but don’t wobble or put too much weight on your toes and look forward at all times and don’t look d…
Take 2. Adrenalin rush. You’re determined to get it right. If you can just adapt what you know you did wrong last time, you’ll get it. The wave comes, hands together, chest up, down dog, feet forward, balance, be flexible, look forward. Yes you’re doing it, yes this is gr…
Try again. Face stinging from the belly flop, you push forward through wave after wave. This is my time. This is my moment. I know what to do. Wave, look forward, chest, down dog, feet, balance, stand, balance. It’s happening. It’s actually happening. That wasn’t even that hard. Why does it always look hard? The feeling of riding your first wave is as euphoric as they say and even after you inevitably wipeout again, the smile that has appeared on your face says it all.
Katherine got it first. Of the three of us, she has the best balance, the lowest centre of gravity, and weighs as much as those dastardly jellyfish. It takes some skills, and some muscle memory to get it right, and shamefully on my part, Mike got up next. All the way to shore. This only made me more determined. I got it in the end and it was such great fun.
I know I’ll ache in the morning, but I’ll ache knowing it was worth it. I’m basically a Byron local now.
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