Surfing is to Australian culture what tea, football and getting burnt to a luminous crisp on Bondi are to the British. So to come Down Under and not even attempt to surf would be like going to France and not trying a croissant, or New Zealand and not recklessly flinging yourself from a buttock-tremblingly high cliff. In other words, pretty damn rude. Surfing is as Aussie as mullets, foul-tasting beer and suffixing ‘o’ on anything and everything.
I was given some pertinent surf advice by my old boss, who’d been to Australia. He said, “unless you’re really good, definitely don’t go surfing if you’re trying to impress girls”. Either he knew it was more difficult than it looks or he’d seen me in a wetsuit. However, after a few months of thoroughly unimpressing girls with my dancing, I had nothing left to lose. I had to give it a go…
Arriving hungover at the beach, I’m horrified to see the ocean growling like a hungry multi-mouthed monster. Surely we don’t have to go out in that? I learn the beach was closed the day before, because of the size of the waves and strong rips. A surf lesson doesn’t look hopeful, which makes me very hopeful indeed. So I grab a takeaway tea and relax on the beach with a handful of would-be surfers. But my bliss quickly turns to anxiety when we’re told the lifeguard has given the water a thumbs up (yup, cheers pal). I squeeze into a wetsuit, trying to ignore the fact the bulges are in all the wrong places. Tom, one of our instructors, talks us through the theory. It all sounds nice and simple: wait for a wave, catch it, stand up and pose a bit for the laydeez.
Then we have a go. I paddle away furiously, catch a ‘tube’, jump up in a flash and strike a pose, Beach Boys classic “Surfing USA” playing loudly on my mental iPod. I’m a natural. This is a friggin’ sinch. Now for a go in the water. The sea is still kickin’ up a storm. Waves smash into me, knocking me over, filling my mouth with salty water and, worse still, messing my hair up. I stride forward for what feels like five minutes and turn round to see I’m about five yards from the beach. This is hard work. But Tom comes to the rescue. He drags my board out, spins me around and, after an expectant pause, says “go, go, go” with a gentle push. I paddle away, then feel the board speed up and lift. I raise myself. But as I do, all the instructions abruptly leave my head like a James Bond ejector seat and I throw myself spectacularly straight into the swill. However, I’ve had a taste of the high life and I want more.I try again. And again the same thing happens. And again. And I notice the youngest girl in our group has mastered it already. But then she is Aussie – it’s in her blood.
With Tom’s help, I try again – it’s utterly exhausting work. Every time it’s a different facet that I fumble on: I’m too far forward, I stood up too fast, I had the board upside down. It was so much easier on the sand. And I’m certainly not impressing any of the rather tasty girls in our group – in fact, most of them are standing up now, like old pros.Then, finally, when I’ve almost given up – maybe it’s because I’m no longer concentrating so hard – I get up… and stay up… and keep going… right to the beach. I let out a whoop of joy and I feel like strutting around like Liam Gallagher, going “c’mon!”.
I have a few more goes, but as technique grows, so too does fatigue. Two hours have taken their toll. But I’m happy. It’s a great feeling, finally making the sea my slave. I feel like an Aussie. Though as I stupidly neglected to apply any sunscreen, my lobster-pink face clearly marks me out as a Brit.
Whether you’ve caught the surf bug hook, line and sinker, or are just gagging to give it a go, you’ve got no chance of getting bored on the Gold Coast, which boasts some of the best breaks in the world. Ironically considering its name, Surfers Paradise is actually one of the region’s worst places for seasoned boarders, with the large scale developments having destroyed many of the banks.Its long, straight beach with reliable waves, however, does still make it the ideal place for taking those first few tentative lessons.
Spots worth investigating near to Surfers are the east coast of South Stradbroke Island, just to the north of the city. Broadbeach, heading south from Surfers, also boasts some great little left and right-handers, usually with a small and gentle swell. It’s a good place to learn kitesurfing. Most of the region’s most famous barrels are further south, with Burleigh Heads and Currumbin Alley rated as world-class. The Surfer’s Travel Guide, for example, writes that “Burleigh, like its cousin Kirra further down the road, should appear in the dictionary next to perfection”.With its classy right-handers forming off small boulders by a pretty headland, it becomes clear very quickly why so many of the best boardriders on the planet rave about this area.
The cluster of breaks around the far southern suburb of Coolangatta is not to be missed. It’s for good reason that each February this town becomes the HQ of the Quiksilver Pro, the event which kicks off the world surf tour.
Fingal Beach, Duranbah and Kirra are all serious headline-grabbing breaks, but the bona fide genuine legend is Snapper Rocks, which boasts a 2km “Superbank”. The Surfer’s Travel Guide calls it “the F1 of surf breaks pretty much in the world”. Nuff said.