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 cafés 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.