“One of the greatest things about the sport of surfing is that you need only three things: your body, a surf-board and a wave.”
Last week while my friends and family were slugging away at the daily grind, I had the pleasure of kicking back in one of the most beautiful coastal spots in Queensland—Noosa.
Located 90 minutes north of Brisbane, it has glorious beaches, lush green hinterland, a coastal national park and is mostly warm and sunny all year round. It’s also just a little bit posh (hello Hugo Boss on Hastings Street).
Like many kids growing up in Australia, I have spent hundreds of summer holidays racing across the hot sand of Queensland’s golden beaches with sea-sprayed hair and sand seemingly from head to toe.
As a youngster I collected sea shells, storing them safely (and rather uncomfortably I’m guessing) in my swimmers.
As I grew older and more confident I splashed around in the waves like a seizure-prone seal before upgrading to the occasional stint of body surfing.
I’ve worn zinc of all colours smeared across my nose and cheeks, been stung by bluebottles* and learnt first-hand the hazards of wearing a bikini in the surf. And each day ended with a new dusting of freckles across my nose and a sandy trip home.
I first discovered my inner-Gidget with surfing lessons in Waikiki, Hawaii, when I was 15 years old. Because the waves were tiny (almost non-existent), I managed to stand up a few times—even surviving a mid-wave collision with another learner surfer.
Last Wednesday, after a 15 year hiatus and thanks to a gift voucher from www.RedBalloon.com.au, I found myself back on a long board for a two-hour lesson with Learn to Surf Noosa—a surfing and stand up paddle boarding school run by ex-world pro-am championship surfer Merrick Davis.
As an added bonus, I dragged Ross along for the adventure, certain that I—the born and bred Aussie—would be so much better at surfing than an Englishman!
My instructor Grant Davis (Merrick’s brother) has been riding the waves for more than 30 years, having discovered his love of the surf as a youngster living in Manly, New South Wales.
In the mid-90s, Grant hit the professional circuit with Merrick, before setting up shop by launching his own online surf store, www.SunandSurfproducts.com as well as teaching and coaching his much-loved sport on Noosa’s Main Beach.
After a carrying our longboards to the shore, Grant gave us a safety briefing, he covered everything from sun safety to the ways of the ocean, how rips work and the best way to get out of one (swim sideways across the rip, don’t try to swim back to shore as you’ll tire yourself out) and what to do if we feel like we’re in trouble (arm in the air – but don’t look like you’re waving).
We learnt the official terms for each area of our boards (front=nose, sides=rails, back=tail, fins=fins) and then we were ready to test out our skills … on the sand.
Ross was left in the capable hands of Frenchman Stefan while Grant had the not-so-envious task of teaching me to surf. Thankfully I had vowed to myself not to make any Point Break/Patrick Swayze references.
Grant was a great instructor; we started off with the basics of how to get on to the board and where to position myself (towards the back, with my toes just near the end) to the best way to paddle and what to do if I fall off.
We practiced standing up—with my recently learnt yoga moves being put to good use—and after a few practice runs, I attached my leg rope and we hit the waves.
Noosa’s Main Beach is a good place to learn to surf because it has waist deep water and because of its north-facing aspect it mostly boasts has gentle waves which range from one to three metres.
Much to Grant’s surprise I managed to get up and ride my first wave back to shore. I was a natural. Or so we thought.
Then reality set in and I started thinking too hard about what I was doing instead of just going with it. I fell off three times in a row and each time I came up with a face full of salty water and laughter dancing across my lips as I tried to fix up my bikini bottoms and paddle back out.
The lesson was challenging and enjoyable; I’ll be honest—I’m no Layne Beachley.
Like the Yoda of surf instructors, Grant explained to me that surfing is a ‘feeling’ and, what’s weird, is I kind of understand what he means; there is a freedom and exhilaration that comes with riding a wave.
A chronic over-thinker, being on the surfboard was one of the few times I’ve been able to clear my mind and focus solely on the task at hand.
For those couple of hours, all of my attention was on enjoying each moment; looking for a good wave, remembering to paddle and then getting up on the board—feet apart, knees bent, looking forward and using my arms for balance—and then enjoying the rush. And the almost inevitable splash that followed.
Two hours later, Ross and I were exhausted, sandy and thirsty but most of all we were both feeling pretty impressed with ourselves. And as we carried our boards back to the truck, we were also debating who was the better board rider (and I still think it was me!).
I also vowed not to wait another 15 years to get back on a board!
* The Bluebottle, or Portuguese Man o’ War, is a common, if unwelcome, summer visitor to Australian beaches. At the mercy of the wind, they are sometimes blown into shallow waters and often wash up onto the beach. Bluebottles can deliver a painful sting even when washed up dead on the beach.