Tag Archives: surfcamp

Wasting away in UnCoolangatta

Surf Camp – Coolangatta
January 28th – February 1st


This place sucks. I am excited to leave.


OK, I’ll elaborate: there is nothing to do in Coolangatta, and in a bad way. “But Adam, there was nothing to do in Yamba, and you loved it there!” — Yamba is charming because it was willing to admit and embrace its sleepy surf town vibe. Coolangatta tries to be the coolest kid in school, and fails rather miserably.


Too many depressing surf shops. A few interesting looking music venues that are never actually open. Restaurants that are open for lunch but closed when I try to show up for dinner. Rain when I want to go to the beach. The much larger and busier Surfers Paradise is an easy bus ride up the coast, and would probably have been a much better place to stay.

The Coolangatta Sands Hotel hostel (weird, I know — hotel here may describe a place to eat and drink, and not a traditional hotel. Plenty of hotels here don’t offer lodging. Here we have a hotel which offers hostel accommodation — hence “Hotel hostel”) is brand new, and has air conditioning in the rooms and a nice balcony with swanky sun beds — but THERE IS NOTHING TO DO. We were supposed to be surfing, but the waves are non-existent. They’re supposed to be fantastic when they’re on. Boo.


This city is full of old people, who come to the hotel for the early bird specials and to stuff coins into the pokies in the back room. Every old person seems to have the same plan: (a) gamble, (b) gamble, (c) gamble, (d) die. I have seen the same silver fox of a man here every lunchtime and dinnertime, and the asshole won the giant crab I was also betting for during Friday night crab racing. [I actually see him walking into the hotel while I am typing this on the balcony.]

Also, I’ve had a bit of the flu the entire time I’ve been here. This probably isn’t doing Coolangatta any favors during my review — just sayin’.




Surf camp is officially over. We made the best of our final days by going to a nearby park and drinking a lot of goon. The whole 14-day experience was a lot of fun overall, but by the end I was getting bored of eating meals and hanging out with the same people every single day. I suppose that’s one of the risks to committing to a lengthy guided tour with a bunch of strangers!

A few weeks as a lone wolf should help balance things out. Next stop: Hobart, Tasmania! Alone! I would have left here on the 31st, but it was a few hundred dollars cheaper to endure a few more days of boredom.


– The manager here, Adam, asked me if I’d be interested in staying on for an extra two weeks as a part-time cleaner in return for free lodging. No way, buddy!

– I think I’ve now been in Australia for longer than my entire Spring 2008 vacation. And I haven’t even started my adventure!

– There are a ton of Mexican restaurants here. They all look horrible.

– After surf camp ended I had one night as the only occupant of a four-bed dorm room. Privacy is heavenly.

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Happy Australia Day!

Surf Camp – Byron Bay January 25th – 28th


Having access to the hostel van in Yamba really spoiled us. In Byron Bay we had to trek about 30 minutes each way to Tallow Beach, in the sun, carrying 8’6″ surfboards. Ouch.

We had big waves on the first day, and not much to speak of for the rest of our stay. Lame. I’m getting a bit frustrated with how dependent surfing is on the weather. Hopefully Coolangatta has better surf for us to close out our trip.

Byron Bay is home to the easternmost point in all of Australia, and features an odd mix of poor backpackers, dirty hippies, and well-off yuppies. Most backpackers I talked to went on day trips to Nimbin, where the hardcore hippies live, and marijuana rains from the heavens. Seeing the stoned looks on the faces of everyone disembarking the Nimbin shuttle bus was highly amusing.


Australia Day was on Tuesday. It’s the same concept as the 4th of July, but without any of the pride associated with fighting back against your oppressor. To celebrate we painted our faces with green and yellow, went surfing, and then spent the day drinking in the pool with everyone else in the hostel.



This country seems rather liberal about drinking in public. Occasionally you’ll see signs indicating alcohol-free zones, but for the most part nobody will say anything if you walk down the street with a beer in your hand. The hostel has signs indicating that alcohol is only to be consumed on the premises between 4-10pm, but on Australia Day this was relaxed. Lots of beer cans were at the bottom of the pool before noon. The goon bags started being passed around shortly thereafter. It was quite the national holiday.

Despite drinking being incredibly popular here, alcohol is VERY expensive due to some big taxes. In Los Angeles you can often find 12-packs of good beer on sale for $12-15. Here you’re looking at $40-50 for 24-packs when things go on sale. I heard someone describing a $70 24-pack of Peroni as a “great deal”.

Chris-o isn’t coming with us up to Coolangatta — he’s due back at the four day surf camp on Monday morning. Josephine’s beach towel is a giant Swedish flag, so we wrote all of our inside jokes and catchphrases from the past week on it, and gave it to him as a farewell gift.

It’s the middle of Summer, and we keep traveling further north into warmer and more humid parts of the country. I think I’m going to fly to Melbourne soon and tackle the rest of the east coast of the country at a later date, once things start to cool down in the south.


– I showed a well-read Dutch girl my Amazon Kindle, which caused her to lecture me about how I should delete my Ayn Rand books before I read them and become a huge asshole.

Little Creatures Pale Ale is the best Australian beer I have discovered so far.

– Met a Canadian girl named Yoda. Awesome.

– Surfboards and ceiling fans do NOT mix.

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Oi! That wave was heaps good, mate!

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.

Random stuff:

– 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:




– Beaches
– 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.


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Surf Camp Update

In four days at surf camp I’ve logged 16 hours in the water. I have cuts, scrapes, rashes, bruises, sunburned feet and other random ailments from being out in the sun all day getting pounded by the waves.

That said… I LOVE THIS. All we do is surf, eat and sleep. If we’re not completely wiped out from a long day we might play some cards and have a beer before passing out for the night.

I’m getting better with every two hour session, and the thought of stopping now that the four day camp is over makes me sad… so I upgraded to the 14-day program!

Four Swedish girls, a German girl, an English guy and myself will spend the next 10 days traveling up the east coast of Australia with our Aussie guide — hitting up the best spots for surfing and partying.

Sniff you jerks later!


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