Archive for September, 2013

Triple JThroughout my time in Australia I have been listening to the Triple J radio station, which is run by the ABC network, and have to say it is the best one I have heard in a long, long time.

No adverts. Grown up conversations and chat from the DJs. Most importantly they play great music all day and all night. You will never hear One Direction on this station!

What more can you ask for. For those that listen to radio online you will find there website here. I certainly recommend it.

 

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WP_20130923_008I needed to cheer myself up after Kathleen’s departure and could only think of one thing to do. I had to go surfing!

Cronulla which is Occy’s home break is a short drive from the airport and also catches most of the available swell in the area so I headed down there. There is miles of glorious sand to enjoy under the sun, but the waves have dropped somewhat.

DCIM100GOPROChoosing a tiny peak for myself I paddle out anyway. It is no more than two feet high and breaking over sand so nothing too challenging compared with a lot of the breaks I have bagged.

I am quickly into plenty of rides though and enjoy the fact that the water is so quiet while all the kids are at school and everybody else is at work.

DCIM100GOPROIt doesn’t matter how big the waves are you still have to earn them and I think this picture shows how much I was putting every sinew into my paddling for the small waves.

Either that or it is a serious contender for the world gurning championships!

DCIM100GOPROI wont be back down this way again so am glad to have added Cronulla to my list of breaks surfed on this trip.

Two hours in the water here puts a smile back on my face and I even complete the journey back to North Sydney before rush hour starts avoiding all the traffic across the Harbour Bridge.

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clovellybeach-largeKathleen is flying home today so we decide to head for Bronte where the best waves have been on offer at the Southern Beaches since we arrived. However whilst in search of Bronte beach, we stumble upon Clovelly Bay.

The bay is a glorious natural inlet which has been augmented by an ocean pool, a surf club and man made sun decks either side of the water. It is such a lovely spot we cant resist stopping here, even if it means we forgo a surf together.

RabbitohsBefore getting in the water we are joined at the beach by all the team members of the South Sydney Rabbitohs rugby league team who have come to the beach for yoga, a sea swim and recuperation after a punishing cup quarter final.

The sight of so many buff blokes in their swimwear is doing wonders for the local female population, but sadly myself stripping down to my swim shorts does not appear to have the same effect.

DCIM100GOPROI dive straight in but Kathleen takes a bit of persuading into the water, eventually joining me for a swim. I have the GoPro with me once more and get this great picture of the two of us before we followed the Rabbitohs route to the shore.

It is the last of our time together and we enjoy a fantastic day together before I drive us to the airport, but all the while there was an undercurrent of disappointment for both of us that we are about to go our separate ways.

Kathleen has become so much more than a friend on this trip and waving her off on her flight home leaves me feeling decidedly hollow, with plenty to ponder as I prepare for my own departure from Australia on the first step back towards the UK. Such a shame that the two countries are on opposite sides of the planet!

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WP_20130921_011After chatting with my folks online just after dawn, I went back to bed. Then, following a very lazy Sunday morning with Kathleen, the two of us went down to stretch out on the sand at Coogee Beach.

The beach is packed again today because it is the weekend, but the swell is only barely showing here still.

Bear SurfingI decided to go body surfing in the small but clean waves hitting the beach, but couldn’t tempt Kathleen into the water. For somebody used to the North Atlantic it was great, but for somebody used to the Gold Coast it was freezing.

For some reason we didn’t take any pictures of me body surfing the waves so here is one of a bear surfing instead. It is not a bad representation to be fair, because of how dark my tan is compared to the average Aussie. Apparently I am quite easy to spot amongst the crowd in the water.

I quite enjoyed thrashing my way into the beach, and warming up in the sunshine afterwards is always a pleasure. Another beach for the scrapbook!

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DolphinsWhilst enjoying a hearty breakfast at the hotel, we notice that a pod of dolphins has swum into Coogee Bay to wish me Happy Birthday. We go down to the sand to check them out. It is great way to start the day.

Sadly once I have made my mind up to grab my camera and put on some trunks they swim off without being seeing again, before I get the chance to go out and play with them. Never mind Kathleen and I are both keen to go surfing, so it is time for a little safari of the southern beaches.

WP_20130921_037Our first stop is Bronte, where in all honesty I really should have gone in, because there was a good sized swell hitting the beach, which you see here. 

We did have fun watching the locals launch themselves off the rocks next to the ocean pool though. However everybody timed it right and got out into the break without incident. It is clearly the best way back into the line up after riding one all the way in.

WP_20130921_096We pushed on to Bondi, which is where I really fancied getting wet on my birthday, but the waves were just dumping upon our arrival, so we decided to check out the shops and let the tide turn a bit. Kathleen treated me to a new pair of flip flops because the ones I had bought in Costa Rica had become decidedly unappealing to anybody’s nostrils. Not surprising given I have lived in them for six months but I felt bad about chucking them in the bin all the same.

Back at the shore I still wasn’t tempted to bag this world famous beach, preferring to curl up in the sun with Kathleen. The beach here is world class but the waves really aren’t, although they were powerful enough to catch out more than a few tourists who had to be rescued by the surf lifesaving clubs patrolling the beach. We thought one bloke was going to be obliterated on the rocks at the north end of the bay, but he was very lucky to be picked up by a rogue set and then be deposited complete with lifeguard up on top of them. Barring a few minor cuts and scrapes I think only his pride was hurt, but it could so easily have been a lot worse for him.

WP_20130921_103I was so comfortable stretched out in the sun that I decided to pass on a birthday surf, and didn’t even get my feet wet all day! Some what surprising, even to me I’ll admit.

After a day topping up my already healthy tan we returned to Coogee, and after freshening up had a fantastic meal at a Brazilian barbeque restaurant. It is all you can eat there and they keep walking past with more cuts of the most amazing meat trying to tempt you with another plate full.

After ensuring a healthy number of farmyard animals had died to make my evening worthwhile I finally threw in the towel, and practically rolled out of there absolutely stuffed! Then back to the room for an early-ish night and a movie in bed

time_zonesI had such a great day and through various media received messages from all over the world. Given the number of people I already knew and others I have met from all over the planet they would arrive steadily through the day as the sun rose on the various time zones.

The benefit of being at the starting end of the world’s day meant I also got to have a Skype conversation with my family the following morning for me but while it was still my birthday back in the UK. My 41st was certainly one to remember!

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Return to OzFor the last time I am flying back into Australia. I had hoped for a straight forward journey back, but rather like the film Return to Oz I was in the realms of fantasy. At the airport in Sydney I end up getting collared by the Australian Immigration department, who take me off to a little room to quiz me on why I have been entering and exiting their country so much. When I ask what the problem is, the response is a very aggressive “Why do you have a problem with us asking you a few questions?” My reply that, “I don’t, but I didn’t check my intelligence in with my bags and surely have a right to ask what is going on” is not at all well received.

Apparently the terms of the only visa they were willing to give me upon entering Australia insisting that I do exactly that, because I can only stay for ninety consecutive days each time I visit within the year my visa covers, is not sufficient grounds for them to let me into the country. The result being that I have to show them my blog which strongly suggests I have not been working previously, but I am still forced to sign into my bank accounts online to demonstrate that I have the ability to finance the rest of my stay in the country if I want to be let in. I am also warned about undertaking any TV or Radio interviews in relation to my travels, because that would result in deportation! What a lovely welcome!

BayswaterI receive a far more pleasant greeting from Kathleen who is waiting for me on the other side of customs, after flying down from Lismore to join me for a few days.

The next hurdle is paying for the hire car I have arranged through Bayswater Car Rental for the next ten days. I have done so in order to get to beaches and help get anything I don’t need to the post office so it can be sent home. My extortionate Long Island Ice Tea tab in Fiji has created a cash flow problem (that didn’t look too helpful at immigration), which can only be resolved by waking my sister up in the middle of a school night back in the UK to ask her to transfer funds into one of my accounts. Thankfully she is willing to help despite the hour of day and we can collect the car, which was very cheap deal but absolutely stinks of cigarettes. Groucho Marx must have been the last person to hire it!

Sydney southern beachesThe airport in Sydney is south of the city so to maximise fun time and minimise travel time we are basing ourselves around the southern beaches while Kathleen is in town. There are many breaks that I haven’t surfed in that area too.

We are booked into a room at the Coogee Bay Hotel right on the sea front in Coogee. (By the way when you see hotel in Australia think pub, many do not even have rooms, but almost all will have a bookmakers on site.) The Coogee Bay Hotel is quite a famous venue for seeing gigs and comedians, but we are not going to catch anything while we are here, preferring to just take advantage of the seven bars and two bottle shops which the hotel operates.

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WP_20130917_011After my session at Cloudbreak I get to enjoy one more glorious sunset by the pool bar at Sonaisali before I get up early in order to catch my early morning flight back to Sydney. I don’t however enjoy my bar tab which I have to settle upon checking out. I was only here for four nights but have to stump up nearly 900 Fijian dollars, which is nearly 300 pounds! It included my surf trips and a bit of internet access, but that is taking the piss!

It is a shame because the spirit and friendly welcome you get everywhere in Fiji is without comparison the best I have received anywhere on my travels. The ‘Bula’ spirit is like nothing I have seen anywhere in the world. The locals won’t be pocketing any of that money, and it taints so much of their great hospitality upon departure. Shame.

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Ramon NavarroThe Volcom Pro at Cloudbreak is another of the annual stops on the ASP tour. This wave was my primary reason for wanting to visit Fiji.

The surf here can sometimes be massive too, as this entrant from the Billabong XXL competition can testify to. As a consequence I know I am going to have to be at the top of my game to surf well here.

TavaruaThe rights to surf the waves here used to be owned exclusively by the nearby heart-shaped private island resort of Tavarua. It kept crowds down in the water but inevitably meant that far too many waves went unridden.

However a recent change in the law by the Fijian government has opened up the waves to anybody who can get out to them. Even enthusiastic amateurs like myself.

Cloudbreak Wave 2The waves at Cloudbreak are absolutely cranking upon our arrival with guys dropping into waves that are well overhead, and the standard of surfing is set by two guys landing 360 airs on consecutive waves whilst we secure the boat to an anchor bouy.

On this day I have already surfed twice so take a moment to read the action of the break before getting in. Whilst waiting I am not over the moon to see another one of the sea snakes that had caused so much havoc at Waidroka swimming through the water between me and the line up. I decide to add a rash vest for protection from it and the sun before leaping over the side of the boat, but sadly it was no help at all with all the sea lice that seemed to be stinging me for fun as I paddled through a patch of water they were hanging out in.

DCIM103GOPROOnce past the lice ridden water I decided the only way to go at this break was to paddle straight into the line up and go for it. However when I dug deep for the first wave coming my way, I got to my feet but could not get the board down the face of it. Instead I bobbled along the top of the crest trying to stamp on the nose to get it to drop in.

It didn’t work though and turning round to paddle back out my heart sinks when I see it was the first wave of a monster set and I am about to get a flogging. I am completely caught inside and any efforts at paddling towards the unbroken section will just result in a collision with guys charging the subsequent waves, as you see here. I have no choice but to just take getting hit on the head by the whole set.

UnderwaterThe first wave rips the board out of my arms and drags me bodily backwards towards the reef. The second will only do the same thing so I leave the board trailing behind me and try to dive under the white water.

As this picture demonstrates I am immediately clear on how close to the reef I am when I try to do this. The crystal clear space between the reef and the bottom of the white water is little more than a foot deep so I adopt a Superman pose and try to swim through the available keyhole! I actually manage the manoeuvre quite effectively, and am unharmed despite overhead Cloudbreak washing over me with my face inches from the reef. The success is short lived though because after three waves the surfboard leash is ripped right off my leg by the power of the wave pulling on the board, sending it careering over the reef behind me with the camera still attached to the nose.

Cloudbreak TowerI know I am very unlikely to see either the board or the camera in the same state again but have bigger concerns at the moment because I now have to swim my own way out of trouble and back to the boat, acutely aware that my route will take me back through the last known spot where the Banded Sea Krait was seen. I didn’t panic though and cutting out sideways to the direction the waves are breaking I am quickly through the worst of it. Thankfully one of the Aussies in the water paddles over to allow me a breather hanging off the front of his board and I am soon back on the Fijian Surf boat.

Now we have to take the big boat around the back of the reef and the observation tower on top of it, to try and collect my board which appears to have been washed off the back. All aboard are spread out to minimise the draft of the boat and this video should give you some idea of how little water we had to work with! Amazingly after an hour of manually dragging the boat across the reef we get the board back and there is not a scratch on it or the camera and even more importantly, me! The time to collect the board did cost me the rest of my opportunity to surf here though.

DCIM100GOPROI had really wanted to surf well here, so despite all of the above decide straight away to go back for a second bite at the break the next day. 

After all the fun I had with the reef the day before I opted for wearing my helmet and boots for the second session which is admittedly a tad smaller than the day before.

As you can see I did much better, but the wave itself is unbelievably fast. I dropped into a hand full of waves but couldn’t keep up with the breaking shoulder. Charging it on an 8 foot fun board was a unique experience I’m sure!

DCIM102GOPROCloudbreak is sometimes known as Crowd-break because it can be so busy, but there was little more than a dozen people in the water for this session, and making sure I chose my waves carefully I picked off a few screamers.

However everyone wants a great wave here and somebody couldn’t resist one of the waves I was riding, dropping in right in front of me. I tried to turn up the face and punch through the lip, but only succeeded in falling off when the board was above my head and already going over the falls, soon to be followed by my good self getting rolled over the top. This resulted in the leash getting wrapped around my throat and then being pulled tight as the board got dragged in towards the reef. Getting garrotted by your own surfboard is not an experience I would recommend!

DCIM100GOPROThe result of this was getting caught inside once again and the rest of the set clobbering me in turn. After my previous experience here there was no way I was going to let go of my surfboard today. As a result I had to put up with each wave washing me further across the reef, with me trying to skip across the top of it in my booties.

The Aussies who had earlier christened me ‘The Reef Whisperer’ felt that a new name was in order as a consequence, so for the rest of the session I was known as ‘The Reef Dancer’. You can see my fancy footwork here.

DCIM102GOPROAfter one major flogging I decided to quit while I was ahead. I figured having surfed overhead cloudbreak on a 8 foot board without snapping it, or putting a scratch on myself I had done well enough to be satisfied with the sessions I had enjoyed.

Despite all the issues listed above I can’t believe I have bagged Cloudbreak on my travels. I was so chuffed about it as you can see.

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WilkesA short trip across a deep water channel from Namotu is Wilkes Pass. The right hand reef break there can be world class, and again there were some awesome shoulder high sets peeling off the reef.

Nobody needed any persuasion to jump over the side here because the waves were so good. I haven’t surfed a decent right in ages so I was itching to catch my share of forehand fun.

DCIM101GOPROWe were warned however that the reef high was quite a bit sharper and closer to the surface by the Fijian Surf guides.

I can confirm this by riding a little too long on the first wave I caught. The water is so clear that you can see every contour of the reef below you as you skim across the face of the waves. The reef gets ever closer to the surface with every turn you make along the line of the wave.

DCIM100GOPROI got so close to one wave that a group of Aussie surfers I have met at Sonaisali who were out on the other Fijian Surf boat nicknamed me ‘The Reef Whisperer’. That particular episode cost me a chunk out of one of the fins!

You see me here after surfacing and grabbing the board, paddling like a man possessed to avoid ending up washed right on top of the reef by the following wave.

Nobody wanted to stay in long here though because we were all more interested in Cloudbreak a few miles away.

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Namotu AirAfter my skin-full of Long Island Iced Teas you can imagine how special I was feeling getting up at 7am to meet the surf boat run by Fijian Surf. However after signing a disclaimer saying that I knew I was taking my life in my hands, myself and a number of others set out into the Pacific in search of waves.

Despite being several miles out to sea from the mainland free WiFi was available on the little boat which took us to the break, through which we were able to watch live coverage of the Huxley Pro taking places at Trestles in California. (Airports, hotels, hostels, etc of the world please take note!)

Namotu LeftsNamotu is the boutique island resort which you see above and our skipper suggested that we try a few waves there to warm up.

The lefts breaking off the islands coral reef were amazing and there were only a handful of surfers in the water. Although two of them were on Stand Up Paddle boards and were being rather too greedy about how many waves they were catching.

DCIM101GOPRODespite feeling pretty rough I went straight over the side of the boat and was soon sobering up by osmosis in the tropical water, which was warm enough for surfing in shorts once more. Aside from a strong current along the reef there was nothing else to be worried about.

The take offs were surprisingly mellow and I had quickly dropped down the face of some fun waves which were about shoulder high before snaking all the way along the line.

I had decided to catch one more before returning to the boat and keen to make the most of it, kept riding the wave for far too long. There was coral sticking out of the water around me by the time I bailed off, thankfully managing to hit a spot where there was a slightly deeper pool to fall into. I managed to scrape the board off the reef without any significant damage and paddle back to the boat where everybody soon joined me before we all moved on to the next break.

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