I once heard an Englishman muse, as only an Englishman might, that surfing must be like having a cup of tea with God. It‘s as good, or bad, an attempt as any at describing the buzz of surfing. Racing below the liquid hoop of a tubing wave, hoping for salvation or at least survival, is close enough to the ultimate cuppa. And it seems that everyone today wants a taste of that cup. Surf culture is now truly worldwide, with wave riders doing it from Norway to Antarctica, and along every coast from Gisborne to the Galapagos Islands and back again.|
It‘s no surprise that surf schools are a growth industry in many countries. Cool, dude. Pumping. Awesome. Wicked. This surf Esperanto seems sufficient dialect for the mixture of Swedes, New Zealanders, Brazilians, Australians and Americans I met on a fourday LearntoSurf bus trip that runs from Sydney to Byron Bay in northern New South Wales.
If this were a film, it might be Road Trip meets Endless Summer, with a side serving of American Pie. But what really counts is the quality of instruction. The dudesfrom MojoSurf, Nat, Dan and Kim all affable, young, bronzed Aussies tirelessly coach their charges in the basics of paddling, catching waves and standing.
Everyone makes progress under their encouragement. By the final day we are all up and riding on broken waves, with a few even cruising gleefully across unbroken swells. Cool, dudes.
New Zealand has some brilliant surf. Raglan, for instance, is famed as a goofyfoot(riding with right foot forward) heaven. When the big lefts roll down Raglan Point it‘s like seeing a dozen drainpipes tumbling off a truck. To a surfer, this is indeed awesome. But when it‘s pumping, this is no place to learn. Beginners are instantly told where to go, in very explicit language, should they drop inon a wave another surfer is already riding.
Surfing and wanderlust seem to be inseparable bedfellows. Every surfer at some time wants to escape the crowds, the cold water or just the predictability of their home break to find the Holy Grail wave somewhere over the exotic horizon. Thus, specialist companies send surfers to the distant, reefbreak corners of the globe.
Seethroughwas not an adequate term. My first wave in the Maldives was so transparent that almost no water seemed to cover the coral reef below me. Tearing my focus away from this disturbing illusion and reapplying it to the wave looping above me, I was soon into the rhythm of climbing and dropping across the hollow face. One hundred metres later I pulled over the back of the wave, stoked.
I made a quick inventory of my surroundings. A low island seemed to be a mere comma of palms and coral amid an epic sea, and blue pulses of swell rolled down both its flanks.
A dhoni boat bobbed in the channel. Nothing was stirring, except for half a dozen paddlers heading back out for the next set in surfersparadise.
Visions like this lure surfers to extreme shores throughout the World. For instance, Siargao Island, off the eastern coast of the Philippines, is famous for a break called Cloud Nine, a wicked, pitching tube that‘s definitely not for beginners. Or there is the world‘s longest lefthand point surf at Chicama, 614 kilometres
north of Lima, Peru, which boasts an incredible halfkilometre ride.
Australia‘s eastern coast seems like the stretch version of Surf City. There‘s a vast range of breaks, from the gnarly, deathwish waves of Tasmania‘s Shipstern Bluff to fabled righthand points like Bells, Angourie, Byron, Coolangatta, Burleigh and Noosa. Most of them are to be avoided in summer because of their perfection and thus overpopularity.
Hawaii is the home of modern surfing, although manicrepressive missionaries once tried to stamp it out. Watch, but don‘t necessarily join the action on Oahu‘s North Shore when the ground swells detonate at Waimea, Pipeline and Sunset, or when hell men on towinboards carom across massive 15 metre walls at Jaws on Maui. For less terminal thrills, consider surfing Waikiki, with its easy, rolling swells, or better, nearby Ala Moana, where one can still get truly, madly, deeply barrelled.
Samoa is devoutly Christian, so there‘s no surfing on Sundays. Just pray for waves on Monday. Salani reef on the southern coast of Upolu Island delivers a short, sharp blow to the adrenals, either covering surfers in brief glory or trashing them. Savai‘i Island has offshore breaks on both its northern and southern coasts, but like most Samoan reefs, they require a boat to reach them.
Tahiti, Tonga, Bali, Papua New Guinea and further the pulse goes on. At Da Nang in Vietnam I witnessed the refutation of mad Colonel Kilgore‘s assertion in the movie Apocalypse Now that charlie don‘t surf.
A fisherman paddled straight out through the waves in a round, wicker coracle that looked like an impossibly unstable, oversized thimble. He had only one oar and he stood up all the way. After fishing for an hour, he surfed nonchalantly back to shore, still bonedry. Charlie, apparently, does surf.