I have been back from surf camp for 3 days now and I am still seeing waves when I close my eyes! I had a very real dream last night in which I surfed into a small dark cave and I got trapped inside. In my dream, my bikini top had fallen off into the water and I struggled to put it back on and I thought for sure I was going to die. I awoke in a panic and discovered that I had somehow put on my bikini top over my shirt while sleeping! Jenny, the English girl in the bunk below me, told me I woke her with my movements and heavy breathing and she was very worried I might jump off my bunk! Again…not surprising to those who know my sleeping habits! Although my dream was frightening, surf camp was “loads” of fun! The 4-day camp was intense, with 2-2 hour surfing lessons per day; surf movies, and constant surf talk. I had so much fun and I can now officially surf!
The hardest part of surfing was finding the will to put on my wet and very cold, wet suit with temperatures barely 60 degrees in the morning! Apparently the water is much colder (about 60 degrees) where we were than up north on the Gold Coast. I was amazed at the enormous appetite I developed and the amount of food I consumed each day. The staff fed us very well and for dinner most nights I ate 2 snags (sausages), 1 steak or chicken, pasta, potatoes, and salad!
DAY 1 – MONDAY, 11/26/07
The bus departed from Sydney at 8 am and drove us 2 hours south to Seven Mile Beach in Gerroa. Gerroa is a very small beach town located in the country with a population of only 498. Seven Mile Beach is well known as the best “learn to surf” beach in Australia with tame waves and scenic surroundings. The town was so small and the beaches were empty, meaning less people to laugh at me falling off my board!
I was the only American of the 36 of us in the group. Everyone else was European, the majority being Dutch. We stayed in cabins across from the beach with only 4 shared showers and toilets. Each room slept 6 people and I was less than ecstatic to have to share a room with 3 boys and 2 girls. My roommates were all Dutch and they turned out to be really cool especially Yvonne & Sabrina. My favorite Dutch friend is still Evelien!
We began our first surf lesson at 11:30 AM and were split into 2 groups. I was happy to be in the group with the 2 female instructors, Allie and Gee. They were both super energetic and hysterical and made each day very fun. We were all given a 9-foot soft board and were told to ask for a smaller board when we felt confident. We started off each lesson by stretching and running on the beach.
The weather was not great the first day, the high barely reached 70 degrees and it was windy and rainy most of the day. We started off learning a paddling technique and how to push up on the board and simply glided in on our bellies. That was the easy part.
We were told to get out of the water at one point so the instructors could show us what a blue bottle jellyfish looks like. Apparently they had been spotted in the ocean and several had washed up on shore. In Australia and New Zealand, this jellyfish is known as the blue bottle, due to its color and shape when strewn on a beach. Elsewhere in the world it is known as the “Portuguese Man o War”. They are well known for their painful sting, when the toxins from the tentacles are released into the skin as they attach with barbed like hooks. These jellyfish have tentacles that can reach over 35 feet and if they find you they will wrap around your body painfully stinging you until you eventually feel paralyzed in the area you were stung. If anyone has seen “The Heartbreak Kid” with Ben Stiller, this was the jellyfish that wrapped around his back at the end of the movie.
In the afternoon lesson we drew surfboards on the beach and practiced the proper foot positioning to stand on the board. I found this part extremely challenging and I worried I would never be able to stand up properly. As most people know, I am a bit clumsy at times and I blame my freakishly small feet for this. I have tried snowboarding in the past but I could never get the hang of it. I did learn that I am “natural” when it comes to my foot placement, and when I tried to snowboard I was placing my feet in the “goofy” position. I am wondering now if I could snowboard if I had my feet in the proper position? I guess I will have to give snowboarding another try! I did my best the first day, but I ended up falling most every time and drank more salt water than I ever had before!
We were up at 7 am for breakfast and at the beach surfing at 8:30. If was cold and raining all day and I hated the idea of putting on the cold wet, wet suit! Once I got into the water I felt fine and I was surprised at how much fun I had despite the nasty weather. I successfully got up on my board several times and by the end of the day I was surfing! I was not gracefully by any means, and I usually ended up nose-diving into the water. The rush and adrenaline you get when you are finally riding a wave is amazing and worth every ounce of salt water I ate getting to that point!
The surf conditions were poor in the afternoon with on shore winds, a low tide, and plunging waves. We were all getting tossed head first into the water. The instructors pulled us out early and told us we could surf longer the next day as the conditions were too challenging to continue. The highlight of the day was surfing with dolphins! They came in large groups and I was a bit frightened at first as they could be mistaken as sharks from far away. Our instructors assured us they were dolphins and that there has only been one shark sighting as long as they have been teaching the course.
DAY 3 – WEDNESDAY, 11/28/07
We awoke to sunshine and warmer temperatures and I was eager to get back to the beach. I applied extra sunscreen, as the Australian sun is a killer. A sunscreen of SPF 30 is a minimum requirement and you can still get burned. Two out of three Aussies get skin cancer in their lifetime. At the moment my face, hands, and feet are tanner than the rest of my body!
I continued to stand up on my board in the morning but in the afternoon I was feeling exhausted. My body ached and my arms were especially sore. The waves were strong in the afternoon and I found for every 2 steps I took, I got thrown back 5 more by a big wave. I had to take a break and chill on the beach for a while. We were taught how to shuffle your feet across the board in order to balance the board. We each had to do an “Eskimo roll” which is what you do when you are paddling out to sea and a big wave comes your way. You grab your board on the side and flip over on you back until the wave passes. We also learned how to spot the safest place to surf on a beach. Australia has very dangerous rip tides and we learned how to spot a rip and how to get yourself out of one if you are being sucked out to sea. While looking out at sea for the next best wave to surf, we spotted a humpback whale! The splash the whale made was enormous…people pay hundreds of dollars to go whale watching and we got to see one for free!
I have never been a morning person, so I was not happy to be awake at 5:45 am, for a morning surf. The goal was to see the sunrise, but the sun had already risen by the time we arrived at the beach at 6:30 am. Once I got moving I was glad to be awake and I had a great surf! The waves were good and I found that I usually surfed better in the morning sessions. Each day my surfing improved and I learned a few new skills. The instructors taught us how to turn into a wave by simply stretching out your arm and looking toward the direction you want to go. We also learned surfing etiquette, which is a bit intimidating to me. When surfing on a crowded beach like Bondi with many other surfers, there is an order of positioning that determines who takes the next wave. I need to be aware of which way the wave is breaking to determine this and I am afraid I am going to do something to piss off a skilled surfer!
After 4 long days of surfing we all graduated from surf camp! I feel confident that I can hit the waves alone in Sydney. I plan to buy a used board and surf at Bondi Beach as soon as I can! My instructor Allie says she is going to call me when she is in Sydney so we can go surfing together. On Thursday she asked me if I remember asking her on Day 1 “does everyone stand up by day 4”? She was very encouraging and always said “Get on your board mate, this wave is for you!” I wish I would had learned to surf when I was much younger as I have been missing out on such a fun sport!
The bus ride back to Sydney was fun and the driver, Adam, introduced me to Australia hip-hop, and several cool local bands. We all went to Scubar for free pizza and beer to celebrate. Surf camp was a unique and unforgettable experience for me. I left with many new friends, surfing skills; wave, ocean and surfing etiquette, a Rip Curl t-shirt, a taste of Australian surf culture, and a new addition to surfing!
There was a professional photographer on site and I have a ton of cool action shots of me surfing! To see a slideshow of all of my surfing pictures CLICK HERE!