A Short Treatise on the Art of Saltwater Wine
PORT MACQUARIE, AUSTRALIA- One of the main things on my agenda for coming to Australia was to learn how to surf, so since it’s been a while since I’ve posted, I’ll spend a little time describing how that’s been going. I’ve taken one or two lessons in the past and rented a board here and there for a little afternoon jaunt, but I’ve found that the approach to surfing is much the same as that of golf- you can be taught the proper framework in which to approach the sport, but once you’ve been given that framework it’s up to you to execute over and over again until you get it right without thinking.
First, a rundown of the kinds of boards used. If it’s your first time, you use a long board, usually in excess of 8 feet long. These offer much less control than short boards, but that’s better for those who are just trying since they catch waves much more easily and of course, less control also means less loss of control. Ideally, a beginner should use a foam long board instead of a fiberglass one- this greatly increases the buoyancy of the board, and means you are less likely to go head over heels when attempting to stand up. Next step is a medium-short board, and these are almost all fiberglass, meaning you should be quite comfortable standing up without immediately falling off when using this board (pictured above). Medium-short boards are around 7 feet long, and a higher degree of precision is required than with a short board- when standing up, there is a much more targeted area where you need to place your feet in order to balance. It takes some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it and are able to work within your margin of error you feel as if you’ve graduated to the next level- you can now catch a wave and direct where you’re headed with it, which is considerably more difficult than it looks. And if you’re what we might call an “expert” surfer, you’re using a short board, around 6 feet or so- but alas, I know absolutely nothing about this sort of thing, so we’ll leave it alone for now.
There are two good surfing beaches here in Port Macquarie, Flynn’s Beach and Town Beach. Both are an acceptable walking distance from the hostel, however this becomes slightly more difficult when carrying a board, so usually someone takes the hostel van out in the afternoon with a group of young travelers eager to “catch some waves, bro”. Take note here: virtually everyone wants to try surfing. It’s just one of those things about Australia. My friend Chris and I have taken to leading these afternoon exhibitions as agents of the hostel, and the other day we found ourselves on the beach with a bunch of people who had never surfed before (usually there are at least a few who have taken a lesson here and there). When someone standing in the circle broke the silence and asked for a lesson, Chris and I exchanged a glance, shrugged and proceeded to show the group the proper techniques, albeit in the spirit of my main man, Kunu. While some may scoff at our methods of instruction, we did manage to get everyone standing up at least once by the end of the day, which is no small feat.
There are two kinds of Australians that most Americans have in their mind: the cowboys of the Outback- think Steve Irwin and Crocodile Dundee, and the titans of the sea, think Ian Thorpe. Thus far, I’ve only spent time experiencing the latter but let me tell you something- Aussies are people fit for the water like no other. Every day around noon, a school bus will pull up to the beach and scores of schoolchildren will unload, changing into their wetsuits and charging into the water with surf boards, body boards, boat body boards, and whatever other wild contraptions these people have invented with which you can surf a wave. The conditions here are nothing like those experienced back home on the East Coast of the US- while we have our fair share of storms and crazy weather, the default warnings here are to keep close to shore unless you are a strong swimmer (the Aussie definition of a strong swimmer, not the NYC definition of a strong swimmer) and stay away from the riptides.
These are announced every few minutes by the fine employees of the Port Macquarie Surf Life Saving Club (PMSLSC), and this is just in the area where you don’t need to worry about crocodiles, don’t really need to worry about jellyfish, and only kind of have to worry about sharks. While I’ve made some decent progress on my goal of being able to surf (see above for your correspondent attempting the ever-elusive one-footed ride), I sure have a long way to go before I measure up to any of the natives. But I’ve still got a few more weeks to give it the good ole ‘merican heave-ho, as I’ll be staying here through the New Year. And don’t worry Mom, I am abiding by the warnings of the PMSLSC, and always, always swimming between the flags.