One thing you find out pretty quickly when driving the whole east coast of Australia is that you will not be able to visit everywhere you want to, even in a five week tour. We were beginning to get a little sick of stopping in places just for one night, and our prolonged time in Airlie Beach had been so relaxing that we decided to be economical with our stops.
At Rockhampton we arrived late and camped illegally again, terrified we would be found, but the desperation not to spend $30 on a site for just a few hours fuelled our criminal activity.
We wouldn’t have stopped there if it wasn’t for someone we had met telling us that there was a free zoo there. Anything free is a must-do in Australia, especially coming from London where entrance to ZSL is around £30. The zoo and attached botanic gardens were beautiful, although we didn’t see many Aussie creatures. The heat was too much for many of the marsupials, who were snoozing out of sight.
From there we travelled down to a place called Agnes Water, where we had been told there was the cheapest surf school in Australia, around £10 for a three hour group session. Upon arrival we booked this immediately to avoid missing out on a space.
Agnes Water was a pretty laid back place, even for east coast Australia. We ended up staying in a place called Cool Bananas hostel. Yep. After being decorated with the mandatory Cool Bananas wristband, we parked our little van up round the back, feeling relieved that we didn’t have to live in constant fear of being turfed out witha $300 fine in the middle of the night – unless we did something really bad.
Arriving at 10am outside the surf shop the next day for our (well, my) first foray into the world of rips, spray and waves, we joined the crowd of about 30 other English and German yoof and were shortly greeted by the founder of Reef 2 Beach surfschool. Mid fifties, this guy’s walnut skin, permanently attached black-out glasses, silver earrings, straggly beard and string vest clinging to his beer belly told stories of a life lived on the beach. Every sentence was punctuated by ‘aright guys?’. Every. Single. Sentence. I wondered if he knew he was doing it. I was interested to learn that my name, along with all the other girls there would be changed to ‘Babe’, and the guys were all renamed ‘Bro’ for the duration of the lesson. Rules were explained like a school trip he’d headed 19,000 times before, and warnings dished out to make us feel like we’d already done wrong. We have found that often outdoorsy activities are run by slightly aloof, know-it-all guides, with a bit of a ‘seen-it-all’, ‘can’t-be-arsed’ attitude. They know their world, their town and their job inside out, and are rather indifferent to the tourists they meet on a daily basis. I always wonder if these types would be so smug at 7:30 on a steel-grey January morning in Streatham trying to board a heaving Southern service to London Victoria; i.e. coping with real life.
No pictures of the surf school sadly (as even a Go Pro would probably not survive an inaugural surfing expedition), but I will try and paint an accurate picture here. We were ordered down to the beach carrying surfboards between two of us and ordered to line them up on the sand, with their fins facing up upon pain of death. We then had a little lesson on dry land, which was quite difficult when the sand was lava-hot. I thought them teaching us to stand properly on the board was quite funny, as surely nobody stands up in their first lesson! Then, like being marched to our deaths we waded cautiously into the sea one by one carrying the boards by our sides, which is easier said than done. Even though we had the baby lightweight fibreglass boards, if you weren’t holding the damn thing in the correct orientation, one wave could bat it into the person behind you, potentially decapitating them. A lot of the time we spent queuing for the three instructors was passed apologising for bruising each other.
I couldn’t believe it when, of the first three first-timer Babes and Bros to have a go, two actually stood up and sailed gracefully into the shallows, jumping neatly off by the shoreline. Great, this won’t be so difficult! Finally reaching the front of the queue, the instructor pushed me off as a wave came up behind me (‘Go for it Babe!’), and I was filled with confidence. When he shouted ‘Up now Babe!’, I tried to remember and put in place the steps we had gone through on the beach. Hands back to level with chest, elbows bent, push up to belly, jump up and land in the middle of the board on both feet with the right slightly ahead and pointing forward, and the left facing slightly out, bend both knees and balance with arms out, all whilst looking at a point in the distance. Do you think it went well for me?
I ended up with sand in almost every orifice, and water in the ones it missed. Choking and spluttering I thought this was it; they would have to call an ambulance. Surely there was some sort of mistake, and something was drastically wrong with my board or, perhaps, the sea. Dragging myself up, choking on briney water, all whilst trying to tug on the cord attached to my foot to prevent the board from escaping and decapitating a child, I heard an exhilarated ‘Wooohooo!’ and saw the two guys who had set off with me gliding past, fist pumping… standing of course.
Fast-forward an hour and a half, and I STILL hadn’t stood up, and now comprised around 40% seawater. Yet I was not disheartened, even though the others (including Dan) were now making standing look easy, and beginning to actually ride waves in style. One of the younger instructors (to whom I was assigned the monika ‘Darlin’’) told me not to ‘over-think it’. So upon his advice I didn’t think about it at all, and forgot to try and stand up. You’ll be glad to hear that eventually I did manage one little, wobbly crouch-stand, for around 3.5 seconds, before falling off spectacularly and bruising my arse again, on my penultimate turn. Victory was so sweet.
I maintain that I am not good at surfing for two reasons: 1) I think too hard about things, and 2) I have the coordination of a newborn foal whose legs are twice as long as normal. Needless to say, I probably won’t be surfing again, but for £10, I’m glad I found out relatively cheaply that we are not suited.
The rest of our time in Agnes Water was spent trying to ease our aching, bruised bodies into compliance. One of the evenings we went with a girl from the hostel to the beach at sunset to do some ‘new moon manifestations’. I think she was the first of many hippies we may meet on this trip. She told us that she believes the moon influences our moods, as the moon controls the tides, i.e. most of the water on earth, and us being 80% water then we must be subject to some superhuman energy. I have of course heard all of this before , but it was fun to go along with believing it whilst sat watching the sun going down with a cold beer or two. It was a way of reflecting on the previous month, and making a resolution for the next. Mine was to be brave and try new things, as well as enjoy the moment rather than wishing it away to the next exciting adventure. We’ll see how that pans out.