Monday, March 05, 2012

Newcastle surf scene?

When I arrived here in Newcastle, indeed even before I arrived, I was told repeatedly that this was a male-dominated, hard-core, localised short-boarding town. That the waves did not lend themselves to anything else, I was told. The couple of chicks I had spoken to told me of unfriendliness and drop-ins, of guys treating them with contempt. I was, understandably, apprehensive.

However, what I have found instead is a growing scene of longboards, eggs, fish and beyond, adding to the established scene of body-boarders, knee-boarders and body-surfers. I have met the most welcoming, friendly and inclusive crew, who have showered me in kindness, maps, invites, company and knowledge, as well as local crew, who are generally stoked to have a chick out in the water with them. People have loved that I love their breaks, that I want to know more about them. Different to Byron, my being new hasn't proved to be a sin or a threat. I found it happening out of the water too; in caf├ęs like One Penny Black and the Bar Beach General Store (on Darby St), shops like Surfhouse and Sanbah Surf, and conversations with the folk who work in these places. Mark Richards' surf shop might have recently closed its doors (at it's dry location at the inland end of Hunter St), but instead you can find a myriad of shops and spaces that are replacing it in a way that reflects the increasingly diverse surfing scene here and the role that surfing plays in Newcastle life.

Please don't mistake me for having stumbled upon some nirvana of wave-riding diversity - absolutely not! The hierarchies are clear, the treatment of women is the same as everywhere (suspicious), and certainly the male shortboarder remains the most common sight in the sea. Longboarding definitely remains marginal to the point that it was often my board, rather than being female that saw me connect with and seek out other non-shortboarders in the water. But there is undeniably more to surfing here than the stereotype that continues to be described by resident surfers (both Novocastrian and newcomers) themselves.

As ever, surfing and surfing culture are shifting and changing and making way for boards, approaches and experiences that are different from the most common. This is all influenced by the particular history, community, culture, coastline and waves of this area, to allow it to emerge as it's own particular brand of, for example, longboarding, but I have rarely been surfing and found myself to have the only longboard in the water. And sure, this has a lot to do with the kinds of waves that I have sought, but I don't think that is a major issue - people aren't going to ride longboards so much on a peaky beach-break, no matter where you are.

But there is something afoot here in Newcastle. Something surfy and subversive and fun. Something driven by the large numbers of students who move here from the mid-North coast, where riding a diverse range of boards is the norm. Something that is connected to broader interests in wave-riding experiences, and being able to enjoy surfing even on the smallest days, when thin, light, thrusters aren't so great. Something connected to broader shifts in Australian surfing culture, but also Newcastle-specific - the crew here aren't in the 'scene' the way that those in Sydney, Byron and Noosa are. I mean, people do have good hair, moustaches, tattoos and nonchalance, but not all at once! Surfing here remains something that you do, as a big part of your life, but it doesn't seem to define people or make them feel more special than the rest of humanity. Surfing here is something you have to work for - looking for waves, understanding breaks and conditions, drawing on knowledge and resources. Surfing here has taught me a lot and given me a new way of looking at the ocean and waves and my place amongst them. I'm stoked to have had the chance to spend a little time here.

7 comments:

  1. I live a little further south on the Central Coast and love Newcastle, not only its surrounding beaches but also the city itself.

    It is a great town full of surprises.

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  2. Garry Hoskins2:52 PM

    Hi Bec me and Julia are loving the Newcastle stuff, you mightn't know but I'm an old Newy boy born and bred, so I'm following it all with great interest. I'll be down there for a few days around the 17th, could catch up maybe get some waves or coffee, give Julia a ring. anyway much love from us and all the crew in the Bay keep up the great work

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  3. Yes! it is so much part of 'something we do' it's woven into the life of the city. The half hour surf stolen at lunch-time, the early with the workers before the next shift gets in at 8 (the students) then there are the surfing mums with their self-made beach creche. And PS thanks for getting me in the water last week!

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  4. I really enjoyed your description of this place, and more importantly how much you are enjoying it. And this made me smile: "I mean, there is good hair, moustaches, tattoos and nonchalance, but not all at once!"

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  5. Thanks for all your comments.

    AS - Yes, I've been surprised and stoked by Newcastle and will forever hold it in great affection. It has been very kind to me these past weeks.

    Garry - Oh sweet! I'm loving your home town, and so glad you like the stories!! But bummer, I'll be gone by the 17th and heading north. I'm driving/camping my way back up, so maybe I'll pass you and Jules on the way. Are you stopping anywhere overnight? I think Jules has my number...

    Gerry - So, so great to see you!!

    And Jamie - You would love it here. There is a growing and energetic art scene that has become an important part of how Newcastle has moved on from some significant changes in its geographical, social and cultural fabric.

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  6. I have been surfing online more than three hours today, yet I never found
    any interesting article like yours. It’s pretty worth enough for me.

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  7. Yes ! I was a nice story .I think i need to share this post with my friends. They also love this topic.
    How to ride a longboard?

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