The other afternoon, my friend Emma, and I drove down the coast to check out a couple of breaks I had heard are really lovely. By the time Em finished work and we got our crap together, time was getting on, and rain clouds had gathered to threaten the afternoon sun. Nonetheless, we persevered and headed south, out of town.
We stopped at the first of our destinations, to a carpark filled with utes and old cars, which I thought probably bode well for the state of the surf. As we walked down the short, sandy track to the beach, a panorama of soft sand, clear water and peeling waves opened up before us. A reef was breaking down the way - a flotilla of bodyboarders enjoying it's fruits - and there was potential at a breakwall at the end of the beach. But the peaks along the beach itself were inviting enough, with more surfers than I had expected out in the water. Hailing from Byron, however, to me anything less than 50 people seems pretty reasonable, so I was keen. Also, I hate surf-checking and know from experience that things are likely to be worse further along and I didn't want to drag non-surfing Em along on an extended and boring trek that ends in (my) frustration. I turned to Em, 'We could keep driving, but then we might get there and there aren't any waves, and I'd hate to do that to you because I know how annoying surf-checking is and that you're keen to get in the water. So shall we stop here? The waves look fun to me!' Em was keen, so we hot-footed it back to the car, chucked on swimmers, I grabbed my longboard and we made our way sea-side.
I decided to surf down the beach a little, where the waves looked cleaner and more consistent. There were more people there too, but more meant about sever or eight, so I figured that was okay. I threw myself into the rip and sailed out through the whitewater. It was an energy efficient idea but... it left me deep on the inside, exactly where I didn't want to be. I needed to paddle across a bit further but what that meant was paddling across the entire lineup of guys. It was an amusing way to arrive, which I acknowledged with a 'So, um, hello everyone', as I passed. I mean, as a chick in one-piece swimmers on a longboard in an all-dude shortboarding lineup, you are already going to stand out, so luckily my comments brought smiles and smirks and let them know I wasn't here to ruin their afternoon. I took my place on the outside and a guy in a blue rashee laughed with me about my not-at-all-subtle arrival. And that's the thing about Newcastle - everyone is so darn nice!
Even when within 5 seconds of arriving, a lovely wave came right to me. Like, right to me. I was in the perfect spot and no-one was close enough to paddle for it from the inside. Stoked. The, as soon as I got back out, it happened again. And people were still nice to me! I got talking to a couple of guys - Tony and Michael - finding out about this spot and hearing about others. There were waves for everyone, so I guess that takes a lot of the pressure off, but again, what lovely people! Then, as when I paddled out, this beautiful set wave came right to me. Michael started to paddle, but I decided he was too deep so I took off, speeding along the clean right-hander almost all the way into the beach. When I got back out Tony was looking around in the water,
You know, there's lots of sharks around here, right? And it just started to smell fishy too.
Oh I hate that! I replied. Noticing the dark shapes of seaweed floating at the bottom of the clear sea.
Yeah, and you know a guy got attacked recently?
My brain clicked. I was getting too many waves. Yeah, I know. Not here though. I smiled at him. I know what you're doing, dude. Talking about sharks. It's not going to work. I'm not going in.
Tony smiled and shrugged. And anyway, I explained, Sharks smell like ammonia, not fish. That's what my marine biologist friend who studies sharks told me.
Really? Ammonia? How do they do that? I thought they smelled like fish?
It was my turn to shrug. I don't know, but that's what she told me.
Another lovely wave came our way. I turned to Tony, Go on then. Tony paddled into the wave (which he would, of course, have done anyway, with or without my theoretical permission) and flicked his way down the watery wall. As he paddled back out, Michael was peering into the water around him. I wish he hadn't started talking about sharks...