Hanging loose - surfing with Gaz and Rhys / by Marek Charytonowicz

After three days of waiting we finally got the call that our surfing lessons are a go. The water conditions improved and large waves were no longer pounding in the shallows.

We were excited. Byron Bay is well known for its surfing conditions. Here the Coral Sea to the north meets the Tasman Sea in the south. Cape Byron protrudes into the Pacific Ocean and forms the most easterly point of the Australian mainland with a white lighthouse guarding the rocky cliffs. On one side of the peninsula it's got the Tallow Beach with large waves coming straight from the open ocean and causing strong rips - the domain of the skilled surfers. On the other side though, it has The Pass where waves slide alongside gently curved shoreline and travel uninterrupted carrying surfers for a long period of time. This is where learning takes place and it's a beautiful place to do that.

We were picked up by Rhys - tall, rugged, hippie looking guy with piercing slightly creepy blue eyes and very laid back attitude. A few years earlier he won the Australian Masterchef title and now he spends half of the year teaching surfing and the other half cooking on a luxury yacht sailing around Australia. He arrived in an old noisy van with trailer loaded with surfboards and a few more people already inside. 

Fifteen minutes later we were at a parking lot, put on worn out red rasher vests and met Gaz - even more rugged and weathered looking older Australian with bleached blond long hair, dreadlocked in places and a great sense of humour. He was the owner of the surfing school that was his secondary activity after playing golf all the time. He's been surfing all his life and he had a straightforward non bullshit approach to learning. Basically - take the board and just do it. 

We picked the boards and marched to the beach where he gave us a 10 minute introduction to the surfing theory - quoting "you look up at the beach, you surf to the beach, you look down at fish, you swim with the fish" and "name your board, love your board, look at the wave and banana!". Armed with that in depth knowledge and hefty amount cheese of jokes from Gaz, we grabbed out surfboards and headed into the ocean. Very excited and slightly scared of waves breaking in front of us.

The idea was we stay closer to Gaz and Rhys, lie flat on the board and when the right wave comes they will launch us, we'll do a banana and stand up - hopefully surfing the wave to the beach.  Surprisingly this tactics seemed to work - we were standing on boards and surfing the waves!!! 

And what a feeling it was - you put a lot of effort into paddling, your arms turn into heavy blocks and every move hurts, you're flat on the board, you see a wave coming, nobody on it - you're good to go. You turn around, start paddling like crazy and just when you feel it on the end of your board breaking you lift your torso on your hands into a banana shape (this prevents the board from diving down and lifts up the end of it). Suddenly you feel the powerful kick of the water - the wave takes the board and sends you forward really fast. You jump up to standing position, look at the beach and.... you're surfing! 

And despite the fact that this is just a basic type - no turns, tunnels, jumps - the feeling is amazing, only you, water and a simple board, nothing more. Im nothing more than a beginner but I can feel that this makes you get to know water like no other sport. You're so close and personal with the wave and you forget about the world around you for a moment. A truly amazing feeling. 

We did three classes overall across the next week. Each time we were getting slightly better and were given a bit more freedom - to start paddling and try to catch our own waves. Each time it was great fun, we were leaving bruised, tired, wet and happy! We wanted to learn more, start turning, start feeling we can control the board. We loved it and we were looking forward to trying it later on during the journey. Perhaps the waves of Bali would be good for us!