Australia: Byron Bay, New South Wales

Posted Posted in Australia, Round The World Trip, United States

Sunrise at Cape Byron: Byron Bay Lighthouse

We woke up at 5:30AM to get to the Byron Bay Lighthouse in time for sunrise.  We drove up the tall hill and parked the car, and then walked the rest of the way to the lighthouse.  Although the gated entrance to the lighthouse was unlocked, we decided to stay outside and avoid the crowds of people who had the same ideas we had.  It was much quieter where we were, just on the other side of the hill from the lighthouse.

Sunrise was lovely, although not terribly spectacular due to the lack of clouds.  But it was very peaceful and pretty.  Around 6:30, once the sky had sufficiently lit up, we decided to walk to the lighthouse and look around.  The lighthouse was built in 1901 and is “one of the most powerful in the southern hemisphere”.  The cape itself – on which the lighthouse sits – is the most easterly point of Australia.  (I’m just a wealth of useless trivia.)

After walking around the lighthouse, we decided that the mozzies were getting the better of us and decided to head back.  I’d worn my running clothes, so Jon headed back in the rental car (which we have to return today) and I ran back to the apartment.  Jon has chronicled the sunrise here, if you’d like to see some pretty pictures.

The Byron Bay Lighthouse at Sunrise

Surf’s Up, Dude!

At 9:00, we went out the corner of our street to meet our ride for our surfing lessons.  We signed up yesterday for the half-day lessons because we both think it would be cool to learn to surf while we’re here.  And what the heck – we don’t have anything else to do while we wait for the truck to get fixed.

So our lessons were through a company called Style Surfing here in Byron Bay.  Gary, one of the owners, picked us up and we met the other two people with whom we were taking lessons.  The other two are a couple from Sydney – Kim and his wife Fiona.  Gary set us up with surfboards and we walked down a path and out onto the beach.  There, we tossed a rugby ball around to warm up our muscles and to get to know each other.  Then Gary had us doing stretches in the sand to limber up.  As we were stretching, he gave us some of the all-important cultural aspects of surfing. For example:

  • Right of way: whoever has the wave has the right of way.  So it’s important that we learn how to brake and to look both ways before catching a wave.
  • Rip Tide: the rips along the shore are a great ‘express train’ out to the waves.  We just find the rip and let it take us out to the ideal spot.
  • Board Wax: it’s important to wax our boards every day.  It’s good for the board and helps with traction.
  • Waves in AM: the best waves are usually in the morning, although it always depends on the tides, current, and wind.
  • Huey: Huey is the God of Surfing.  He is a non-denominational God, and is only used by surfers praying for the perfect wave.

We had ideal conditions today.  Of course, we had no idea if something was ideal or not so I’m just repeating what Gary told us.  But the wind was perfect, the waves were great for our levels, and the beach was relatively unpopulated.  Sounds good to me.

So Gary started our lessons by having us draw surfboards in the sand.  Using our make-believe surfboards, Gary taught us correct feet positioning, balance, and how to hop up onto the board.  Hand positioning is vital for a good surf – you have to make sure your hands are next to your chest and not up by your head.  Too much weight on the front of the board sends the nose under the water.

After practicing a few hop ups on the pseudo-sand-boards, Gary moved us onto the real surfboards.  Now, the boards we’re using are training boards.  They are very long and the sides are softer than that of real boards.  This means that when we lose control and the board whacks us in the head, we won’t have to go to the hospital.  Good thing!  So we lined up on our boards and practiced the hop up procedure on the real things.  The big key is to look up at the shore and not at the surfboard.  Considering the fact that Gary has repeated this about 80 times already, I assume that this is a difficult thing to get used to.

So then we were off to find the perfect wave.  Gary stood in the water and sent us each off one by one, shouting instructions as he pushed us onto the waves.  “Look up!  Knee!  Left Foot!  Right Foot!  Look up!  Low and Loose!”  We got used to this mantra as the morning went on, but it was good to hear his prompts to remind us what to do.

We each had a few wipe-outs while we got used to the feel of the board and the waves, but soon we were surfing!!  So much fun!  The first time I rode a wave all the way to the shore, I shouted “Hey!!  I’m surfing!!!”.  We all got the hang of it pretty quickly, but still had some real winner wipe-outs too.

Heidi Surfing

After an hour or so, we advanced to catching the waves on our own without Gary pushing us out.  This is much hard than it looks, because we have to paddle in perfect time with the wave, catching it just as it breaks.  And sometimes you can find a “dud wave” which doesn’t really do much of anything at all.  There’s a whole science to this, and one I suppose you get used to after doing it for a while.  So we spent a good amount of time hovering off the shore and waiting for the perfect wave.  This waiting often included various admonitions to Huey, the God of Surfing:  “Dude!  Huey!  What are you smoking up there?”  This is all part of the science of finding the perfect wave, and is very important to the process.

By the end of the morning, we were all surfing successfully, but were also completely knackered.  This is exhausting work!  Gary, who has been surfing for 27 years, says he usually takes his board out for an hour or two before turning in.  I can now appreciate the athleticism that goes on in this sport.  Tomorrow, I’m going to hurt in places I didn’t know existed.

At the very end of the lesson, Gary brought a board out and did some surfing with us.  He makes it look so easy!  Here’s a picture of me and Gary surfing together.  He’s giving me instructions as we go out:

Heidi with Gary the Surfing Instructor

Jon took to surfing as if he were born for it.  He looked completely natural hopping up on the board and surfing in on a wave.  And, if I may say so myself, looked like quite the babe.  Not that I’m biased, but it’s too bad New York doesn’t have any place to hang ten!

Dude.  What a Babe!

Post-Surfing Bliss

After the lesson, we said goodbye to Kim and Fiona and went back to the apartment.  It was just noon, so we showered and then went to the return the car we rented yesterday.  Then we hung out in town to run some errands. I was incredibly lethargic from our busy morning and just wanted to curl up with a book, but Jon had other plans.  So we ran our errands and continued on our quest for the perfect Hawaiian Shirt.

We rang Bruce the mechanic and found that he needed one more day, so we don’t have to return to Brissie until Wednesday.  We paid for one more day in the apartment and went to “The Gossip Shop” to get on the Internet and book a sea kayaking trip for tomorrow.  But when we got there, we told Yannika how much fun we had at our surfing lesson.  So Jon and I looked at each other and said, “Forget sea kayaking.  Let’s surf again!”.  And just like that, we signed up for another lesson.

Back at the apartment, I settled in for a much-needed nap.  Too much excitement for one day and my eyes were aching from all the salt water.  At some point while I napped, Jon walked back into town to buy a book and to pick up some movies to watch in the VCR.

We spent the evening in, eating bean burritos and watching “The Way of the Gun” with Benicio Del Toro and Ryan Phillipe.  It was from the same writer of “The Usual Suspects”, which is one of our favorite movies.