Friday, April 19, 2013

Surfari Weekend

It's THURSDAY afternoon. I'm walking towards the 'Outdoor' section of Big W looking for a new tent and sleeping bag. A few guys from work and myself organized a fishing trip in Torquay for Friday. Torquay is a township in Victoria Australia which is home to world famous Bells beach and birthplace of RipCurl and Quicksilver. I had heard about a RipCurl surfing competition in Bells beach from a girl I met on the train a couple days earlier so knowing I had the weekend off from work I'd have a golden opportunity to check it out. I packed up the new tent and sleeping bag along with a weekends worth of clothes and was set to go.

The guys and I spend all day Friday fishing and only net a pair of fish. It is far from the greatest day of fishing but on the bright side, two fish are better than none. When the guys finally decide to call it a day I have them drop me off at the nearest camp ground. As the sun sets we say our goodbyes. Backpack on,  I march over to the camp ground office to a big sign taped to the window. In bold letters the sign reads 'ALL BOOKED OUT. NO VACANCY'. This is not what I want to see but I'm already here and with my only other ride long gone I come up with a plan B

In a frugal effort to spend as little money as possible this weekend a hotel stay is out of the question. My only other option is to wait until the sun goes down and set up the tent in a shadowed corner of the beach. As the sun gets lower in the sky I make my way to the beach. I crouch behind a hedge as a security patrol car creeps through the park looking for offenders. When the coast is clear, I dart across the parking lot. Right past a giant sign with bright red letters saying NO sleeping, NO camping, NO tents. The sign also goes on to say that perpetrators face prosecution. I disregard the warning and take a narrow wooden staircase down to where the sand and water meet.

 There is a patch of grass at the bottom of the stairs and some bushy trees in the background. I sit down at a near by picnic table where I pull out a book from my backpack. Hoping that I might go unnoticed should the patrol car make another pass. After 45 minutes the sun is down completely and the moon is quickly on the rise. Before long I decide its dark enough to set up camp. As I lay out the tent, I notice some people a few hundred feet away who apparently have the same idea. I assemble the tent and slide it under the cover of one of the aforementioned bushy trees and square my things away. With flashlight in hand I stroll over to my new neighbors hoping to keep things friendly and maybe gather some info. As I walk up I can see they are just setting up camp.

"Do you guys know what the penalty is for getting caught sleeping down here?" (I probably should have came up with a better introduction as I can see the spooked look on the groups faces.)

"No we don't." they reply.

"Okay, well my name is Jordan and I'll be over here if you guys need anything." I say before turning around and returning to the shadows. Fifteen minutes later there is a rapping on my tent.

"Hey we're going to be playing drinking games over here if you want to come play." a voice says.

"Yeah? Cool thanks for the invite." I mutter.

Figuring I have nothing else to lose, I grab the couple of beers the fishing crew left me and a flashlight and climb out of the tent.

I sit down at the picnic table and everyone introduces them selves. Three guys in their early 20's. Two from England and one from Holland  They explain the rules of the games they're playing and share with me some beers from a case they had brought. Its not long before the table starts to resemble a beer bottle graveyard. With a solid buzz going we collectively decide to take a walk up to the local pub. It's a short 10 minute walk. We get there with enough time to each order a drink before we are promptly told the bar is closing. We finish our drinks and make our way to our respective corner of the beach. I thank them for the beers and I stumble into my tent. I'm into my sleeping bag in no time at all and quickly fall asleep.

I am awake before the sun rises. I'm paranoid of copping a potential fine and the risk of getting busted increases with every hour. I daze in and out of consciousness until about 8:30 when I decide to pack up and get moving. As I roll up my sleeping bag and stuff it in it's nylon sack there is a rapping at my tent.

"Hello?" a voice says.

I unzip the tent and pull back the flap. A bald, stocky, park patrolman is standing over my tent.

"How many people ya got in there?" he asks as he leans over to try to get a look inside.

"Just me." I reply.

"Okay, you are not allowed to have a tent set up down here." He says sternly. "Its a $185 fine to camp down here so I'll give you five minutes to break down your tent. You can stay down here for as long as you want just no tent."

"Say no more" I respond. "Thanks for the heads up." Fully appreciating his mercy.

I quickly break down the tent and finish packing up. I make two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast and head back to the official camp ground. My plan is to wait around until the office opens at 9 o'clock and hope that a camp site has come available. I grab a coffee and sit on a bench near the office awaiting the first staff members to open the doors. 9 am rolls around and a staff member appears from around the corner. 'Please let there be an open spot' I think to myself as he approaches the door. I wait a few more minutes for the guy to set up before I head in and start asking questions.

"Good morning!" I exclaim.

"G'day mate, what can I do for you?" he asks.

"I was hoping you would tell me there's and open lot available." I say.

"Let's see if we have anything available." He replies as he searches through the computer system. After a few minutes of searching his voice comes from behind the counter. "Looks like we have a single lot open"

"I'll take it." I blurt out without a second thought. He hands me a map with the open lot highlighted and explains directions to get there."That'll be $32 please."

So excited there is an open spot I practically throw the money at him. As he hands me my change I thumb through the bills to notice he has only charged me half price. He smiles and tells me to "Have a good weekend." On my way out I drop a couple of dollars in a donation jar on the counter as a kind of thanks to the universe.'This is working out perfectly' I think to myself.

When I arrive, I find my lot with more than enough room for the small two person tent and start setting up. By the time the tent is assembled the sun is high in the air and the temperature is rising fast. I change into swim trunks, grab a towel, and make my way down to the surf shop down the road. As I walk through the open doors there is a blonde women in her late 20's behind the counter.

"Good morning" I say to her. "I'd like to hire a surfboard."

"No problem. It's $20 for 2 hours, $30 for 4 hours, $45 for all day." she explains.

"All day please." I say.

I can't believe I am about to spend all day surfing some of the best waves on some of the nicest beaches in the world. I can't be awake, this must be a dream. She hands me a wet suit after sizing me up and sends me to the back to change. I step into the wet suit and pull the zipper up my chest to my throat. I strut confidently out of the changing room to the front of the shop. One look, and the lady shakes her head a begins to laugh. I know her words before she even says them. "Your suit's on backwards. Zipper goes in the back." She chuckles. I smack my forehead, laugh it off, and head back to the changing room.

Wet suit corrected I walk back out shamelessly. "You're not the first person to do that" she says, in a clear attempt to lessen any embarrassment.  "Go ahead and grab that yellow board" she says pointing to a rack of boards at the door. Money paid and release form signed I grab the board and head back to the beach. The sun is shinning and the waves coming in sweet swells as I walk down another wooden stairway to the water, board in hand. I lay out my towel and kick off my flip flops when I find a spot on the beach that looks good. Taking a minute to give thanks for every chain of events I've been apart of that has brought me here. I savor this moment.

A couple minutes go by then I grab the board and charge the water. Having never surfed before I get some tips by studying other near by surfers. I wait for a wave and am immediately swallowed up by it. I try and fall several times trying to find the right balance.I don't get discouraged though knowing that I'm getting better with every attempt. A good for 45 minutes go by of paddling to the break and wiping out before I catch my first wave.

I paddle out once more and wait for my wave. I psych myself up with some encouraging words. "You've got this. Nothin to it but to do it" I say aloud. A solid wave forms. this is it, I can feel it. I turn myself around and paddle like a maniac as the wave rises taking me with it. I jump up onto my feet and ride my first wave all the way into shore. Its an indescribable feeling. I suddenly understand how people give up lively hoods in search of primo waves. There is something soulful about moving with the ocean so smoothly. Swarmed with a new feeling of enlightenment and surrounded by good waves I surf on. 3 hours go buy and my appetite is growing fast so I decide to take a break and grab some lunch.

I ride in one last wave and head back to the shops where I stop in a the local fish and chippery. A flake and order of chips later I'm stuffed. I rest for a half hour to digest before I head back to the beach. I surf for another hour and a half before the weather starts to turn. The waves are getting pretty choppy with the changing of the tide plus I only have the board hired for another hour anyways so I decide to call it a day. I pack up and head back to the surf shop to return the gear. Thoroughly exhausted I peel off the suit and rinse off. I return the board, extend my thanks and walk back to camp. I lay low the rest of the night in anticipation for tomorrows surf competition.

The next morning I'm up early again. I want to get to Bells beach before the crowd and still haven't figured out yet how I'll get there. I consider my options as I grab a coffee and a bite to eat. I could walk(its not too far maybe 5km) but then I also have to carry my backpack. I could hitch hike, surely there would be tons of people headed that direction. Before I make an official decision I ask around. Apparently there is a free shuttle running back and forth all day. Yes! another awesome turn of events. Its only 10 minutes before a bus rolls up. The driver opens the door and looks my way "You headed to Bells?" he shouts. "Hell yeah!" I yell back as I run over to the bus I climb aboard.

It's a short 15 minute drive along a road with some steep hills but I realize trying to walk here would have been a bad choice. We arrive, I grab my backpack and jump off the bus. Hiking over to the ticket booth I notice a bright red sign that reads 'TICKETS: Children $5, Adult $8. CASH ONLY'. I dig in my pockets and pull out the last of my cash. $7 dollars is all have left after breakfast and dropping a couple bucks in the children's hospital donation jar back at the camp site office. As I walk up to the ticket booth I explain my situation. I don't know if the girl behind the counter believed me or just wanted to keep the line moving but either way she took my $7. She handed me a wristband, smiled and pointed me to the beach.

I made it! I work my balance with my backpack as walk down another set of wooden stairs much steeper this time. Thinking the entire way down how much it would suck if I missed a step and tumbled down the next 200 stairs. Escaping a fall I step off the last stairs onto the beach where a crowd is beginning to form. I find a prime spot to sit. It's near some pro photographers with their massive high resolution cameras so I know I can snap a few good shots myself. Camera out, I kick back and enjoy the show.

The best surfers on the planet together in one place, surfing some of the best waves that world famous Bells beach has to offer. 'I could die happy right now' I think to myself jokingly. The competition goes on for a few hours as the shoreline filled with spectators is gradually eaten away by the approaching current. This slowly forces the crowd to retreat back up to the bluffs.

It's getting later in the day and I'm scheduled to work first thing Monday morning so to I decide to start making my way back to Melbourne. The trip home is a breeze. The free shuttle returns and I climb aboard reflecting on the surreal weekend. The shuttle arrives at Geelong(the next town over from Torquay) where I take another bus to the train station. 20 minutes later I'm sitting on thee high speed V-line train cruising back to Melbourne flipping through photos reliving the trip. The adventure of a life time....can't wait for the next one!

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