His Surf Story

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. After a few months of thoroughly unimpressing girls with my dancing, I have nothing left to lose. I have to give it a go…

Arriving hungover in Manly before 9am, I am horrified to see the sea 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, and Manly Surf School are waiting for the lifeguard to declare the beach open or shut. A surf lesson doesn’t look hopeful, which makes me very hopeful indeed. So I grab a takeaway tea, relax on the beach with a handful of would-be surfers and contemplate skiving the rest of the day off work. 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, talked us through the theory and it all sounded nice and simple: wait for a wave, catch it, stand up and pose a bit for the ladeez.

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.

A true Brit

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 in the swill. But I’ve had a taste of the high life, and I wanted 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 – but 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.

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Her Surf Story

Balance isn’t something which comes naturally to me. I still remember riding my first bike with stabilisers long after my mates had mastered being on two wheels.

When it came to trekking in Thailand, I would spend ages wobbling about on the rocks trying to work out the best way to cross a stream. And don’t even get me started about nights out on the beer. I’m pretty legendary for falling over a lot – and usually bringing people down with me.

So when I arrived in Australia and had the chance to go surfing, although I was well up for it, part of me was thinking, ‘what the hell are you doing, you nutter?’ I had a fairly good idea I’d be crap.

But I was willing to give it a go. Well, there wasn’t much to think about, actually. Do I spend the morning stuck in the office with the sun glinting through the blinds? Or do I don a wetsuit, get out there under the rays and hit some waves? I’d have been pretty stupid to refuse that one.

So after jumping on the ferry to Manly, I rolled up at surf school, ready for action.

But it didn’t get off to a good start, as the first dumb-arse thing I managed to do was put my wetsuit on back-to-front – the surfer chick image thang was already in tatters before I even got in the water.

After getting it right second time around, I joined the other wannabe surf dudes on the sand for some warm-up exercises and some words of advice from our instructor.

We were each given a board and lined up on the beach to watch the pros show us how it’s done. It all looked so easy. Just lie on the board, wait for the wave, start paddling then hey, stand up and ride it. Simple, eh?

Well it sounded easy enough when your board is sitting on the sand, but getting out there and trying it out in the water was a different story altogether.

First off, I had to attach the board to my leg with the elastic thingy. Then I had to master walking in time so I didn’t get caught up in said elastic thingy… and that was a mission in itself.

At least once I got in the water, my crazy antics would be hidden from view. Or so I thought.

‘Look out for the pipe!’

It was another ordeal just getting on the goddamn board. Every time I managed to get on it, I’d just fall off the other side. Some of the surf cadets even managed to sit upright on the board while we waited for a wave, but every time I sat up, the front of the board would just come forward and I’d end up disappearing under the water again.

When I’d finally managed to stay on, I’d be facing the beach ready for the wave, and one would come right over me when I least expected it! So I’d end up with a gobful of salt water and have to spend another 10 minutes trying to get back on the board.

At one point, I thought I was even down with the surfing lingo, as my instructor called out, ‘Look out for the pipe!’

I just assumed ‘the pipe’ was a rip or a strong current, but I had to laugh when myself and my board washed up on the shore and I saw a massive rusty pipe nearby.

They say practice makes perfect, and I’d never go as far as to say I was anywhere near perfect by the end of it, but I was a hell of a lot better than when I started.

There were a couple of times when I actually managed to kneel up on the board and I even got one leg up at one point.

Some of the other surf dudes and dudettes were coasting away, riding the waves like they were born to do it, but I always knew it would take me a bit longer to master the art.

It just gives me an excuse to go back and work on my technique.

As if I need an excuse to get in the sun and pretend I’m an extra from Point Break.

The experience: Manly Surf School, Ph: (02) 9977 6977. Classes start at $50 for two hours

While trying to drive across the Simpson Desert, LIZZIE JOYCE and her partner were forced to hitch a ride with some dodgy truckers.

Early one January morning my boyfriend Dan and I set off on our trip across three states, covering 3,000 miles on what would turn out to be the best trip I have ever done, not to mention the most dangerous. We were attempting to cross the Simpson Desert on our way to Alice Springs from Sydney. We were fully prepared and set off in our 4WD loaded with equipment, including 60 litres of water, a double swag, a laser beam,
and an Epirb signal.

After 10 hours of driving, watching the landscape turn from highways and tall buildings to red earth and eternal horizons we glided past an old mining town called Cobar, stopped for a wee and drove on through, thankful that this ‘Hicksville’ town was not our destination. But while driving at an average speed of 120km per hour, the trusty car (which I was assured had “just had a full service and was made for driving across such terrain”) was disintegrating and the entire wheel was about to fall off.

Ugly mothertruckers

Suddenly, the brakes started to fail and smoke started pouring out the front passenger tyre. We were 120km from the last town and with at least 100km to the next, Dan decided we should drive on (without brakes) and see if we could make it to our destination. Luckily it didn’t last long anyway as the car stopped in defiance and we were forced to pull off the road in the middle of nowhere. Within minutes two semi-trailers driving in convoy by brothers, pulled up to offer us help and I’ve never been so glad to see two spectacularly ugly truckers before in my life. Freaky Brother One then began to undress me, with his eyes, almost frothing at the mouth at coming in such close proximity to someone of the opposite sex, while Freaky Brother Two was pretending to be a mechanic and baffling Dan with his bullshit. It was turning into Wolf Creek.

Nothing could be done with the car, and we had no choice but to accept a lift from Freaky Brother One to the nearest roadhouse 13km up the road. But then he said there wouldn’t be enough room in the cab so Dan should travel with his brother and I should hop into his cab by myself. By this point I was close to hysteria and there was no way I would be getting in that lorry by myself.

So we both hopped in with Brother Number Two. Dan settled in the middle of the very spacious cab which had enough room to house a small Albanian family! Relieved to be on our way to a phone box and in relative safety, (even if we were in being driven by an axe wielding maniac I had enough faith that Dan could knock him out if it came to it) I thought it would be plain sailing from here. After a couple of minutes on the road Brother Number One starts becoming agitated – he thinks he has lost his keys as he can’t use the radio to contact his brother. He pulls into the side of the road and asks me to hop out to see if he had left them in the door lock. This forced me into ungraceful acrobatic maneuvers in order to hang myself out the door and reach round to grab the keys, with freaky brother one more than enjoying the view of my ass in the air. The keys were there, so off we set again in stilted silence.

Roadhouse blues

Finally we caught sight of the roadhouse and saw our escape was only minutes away and we made a sharp exit from the freaky brothers. Good riddance!

The roadhouse turned out to be a petrol pump and a shop that was about to close. They had a phone though and we arranged for a tow truck to pick us up and take us back to the nearest town… Cobar (the Hicksville town we drove through scorning) where we would have to wait for the next three days for the car to be repaired. How ironic that the town we were laughing at turned out to be our refuge.

So we skipped the Simpson Desert and took another route to Alice Springs where we arrived two weeks later with the biggest smiles and the best memories!