Week One of Surf Camp
January 18th – 24th
My first week at Surf Camp Australia was an absolute blast. I had originally signed up for a four day adventure, but quickly upgraded to the 14 day package after being given the option.
Four days in Gerroa
Last Monday around 30 backpackers caught a two hour bus from Sydney to Gerroa, a tiny beachfront village with a permanent population of around 500. Gerroa is the home of Seven Mile Beach (yes, the name explains it quite well). Due to the nice temperatures, decent waves and a complete lack of other surfers, Surf Camp Australia decided that this would be the perfect place to train beginning surfers.
The camp itself sits on the edge of a trailer park for holidaymakers (vacationers), and consists of a handful of cabins all opening up to a central courtyard area with hammocks and picnic tables. A big TV shows surfing DVDs all day long, and a speaker system with an iPod jack is available for people to put on their favorite tunes.
Of the 30 or so people at the camp, the memorable ones included around 10 Danes, five Dutch, four Swedes, four Canadians, an Australian dad and his two teenaged kids, and a few American girls from San Diego. Everyone spoke English, but the bigger groups of Europeans tended to stick together and chat with each other in their own languages, especially once beers entered the equation.
In the four days in Gerroa, there were only three things to do (officially):
– Surfing: Two hour surf lessons twice daily, always preceded by beach yoga. By the end of the camp we learned how to catch waves, stand up, move our weight around to pick up speed, and make turns. We got to try surfing on boards of different materials and lengths, which made things tricky. As soon as I’d get decent with a longer foam board, I’d be given a shorter epoxy board at my next lesson and experience some epic failure.
– Eating: Cereal and toast for breakfast, and decent prepared meals for lunches and dinners (sandwiches, pasta, chicken, steak, etc.). Always enough food for seconds, and sometimes thirds. It takes a ridiculous amount of food to keep 40 kilojoule-burning machines well fed (or “calorie-burning”, if you prefer). I’m not sure I’ve ever been in a situation where I’m stuffing myself at sitting, and then starving at the next one. All of the food was prepared by volunteers who cook in exchange for being allowed to live at surf camp as long as they want.
– Sleeping: Like a baby.
The unofficial fourth activity would be:
– Hurting (yourself and others): The Australian sun is a big asshole. I didn’t put any sunblock on the tops of my feet on the very first day, and I’ve been paying for it ever since. My wetsuit had a patch of rough material that gave me a nasty rash on my neck. Plus an assortment of cuts, scrapes, and bruises from making stupid mistakes, and running over other surfers in the water. Pleasure and pain. Funny and sad.
– We broke out into smaller groups for lessons. My group was called “Vicious Razor Crabs”. The girls from San Diego were on “Whales’ Vaginas”.
– “Fashionable” cloth flip-flops were not meant for the life aquatic. Thanks for shredding my sunburned feet, you Simple jerks.
– Anytime someone would plug in their iPod to play some music, one of the Danes would end up swapping it out to play some of their terrible techno music. Eventually I found some stuff that they didn’t object to: Vampire Weekend, Bob Marley, and The Best of Bootie 2009 (an awesome mashup collection — check it out).
– Despite being the only person who actually knew how to play dominos prior to camp, I managed to teach a lot of people how to play, and then lost every game.
After our last surf in Gerroa we headed back to Sydney for an end-of-camp party at Scubar. Most people were only one the four day trip, so they were able to party all night and then go sleep in a comfortable hostel bed. For the rest of us on the longer trips, we got to drink for three hours and then feign sobriety and board a Greyhound bus to sit still for 11 hours.
Around 10am the next day we arrived in Yamba — our home for the next three days!
Three days in Yamba
The original four day surf camp had over 30 people involved. For the rest of our fourteen day trip, we’re down to:
– The Swedish girls: Alex, Lisa, Lena and Josephine
– Liz from Germany
– Ian from Tasmania
– “Chris-o”, our guide
Yamba was a rather quiet beachside town until a few years ago, when it was voted to be the #1 place to live in New South Wales, and the #2 place in all of Australia.
It’s easy to understand why — the place is beautiful, and since it’s on a peninsula it has multiple beaches to choose from, all facing different directions. If the waves are pumping at one beach, one of the others may have moderate waves and yet another may be completely still. There’s always a beach option that’ll work for you, whether you want to sunbathe, swim, or surf.
A giant clock on the main stretch of downtown says “Yamba Time” and was stuck at 1:35 for our entire three days. Perhaps it was broken, but I’d like to believe that Yamba is a magical place where it always feels like 1:35pm.
We stayed at the Yamba YHA, which is an amazing, brand new hostel. Highly recommended. Chris-o had the keys to the hostel van, so we were usually able to load up the surfboards and cruise the various beaches looking for the best one to surf at. Driving sure beats walking — especially when we were waking up at 5am for some dawn patrol sunrise surfing.
The waves weren’t too good in Yamba. I had a lot of trouble catching any for the first two days, but I think I’m out of my slump after lots of praying to Huey, the surf god. All I had to do was sacrifice one of my friends — my board got away from me at one point on a big wave and hit Liz in the knee, taking her out of commission for 30 minutes. Oops. Not as bad as the time I sledded into a girl at winter church camp 14 years ago and turned her face into a bloody mess, but still…
The highlight of Yamba was “Shane-o’s Ten Dollar Tour”. Shane owns the hostel, and likes to show people around Yamba. We spent four hours driving around looking at some of Yamba’s prettiest views and offbeat attractions:
– Nature reserves
– Freshwater springs with cliff jumping (10+ meter jump!)
– Feeding the pelicans
– Feeding the “piranhas” (not actually piranhas)
– Chris had his wallet and phone stolen out of the hostel room. Ian had $70 taken from his wallet. One of the other guys in our room disappeared from the hostel without checking out the same morning. Sketchy. Nothing of mine appears to have been stolen
– Vodka slushies + fishing. We didn’t have any bait. Epic failure when we tried to use bread and salami.
– Dolphins everywhere. Curious, too. They came right up to us as we surfed, and hung around the entire time we fished.
– I still haven’t figured out what the Aussie understanding of the word “sushi” is. Every time I order it I get something unexpected. Not necessarily *bad*, just strange, and not what I thought I’d be getting.
– I’m still losing at dominos.
– Heaps is the new hella. Example: “This blog post is heaps long.”
– All-time means excellent. Example: “The steak, bacon and cheese pie I had for brekky was all-time.”
– Top tucker is great food. Example: “Ian’s pan-fried snapper looked like top tucker.”
– Frothing means excited for. Example: “Oi man, I’m frothing for a drink right now!”
– One of the Swedish girls trying to ask me what time it was: “How much is the clock?”. Adorable.
– We’re teaching the Swedes to curse like sailors. In return, I can now say “shit sandwich” in Swedish.