The transits to reach Philippines

Somehow I managed to survive two months in Northern Thailand, completely extracted from any sniff of a surf scene. It was a pretty beautiful place. I had initially planned on a six month stay to work on my online business. But for the first time since learning to surf, I completely lost my muscle tone in my paddle arms which was a very bizarre feeling. I so badly needed that extraction. To see the world through different eyes. But it was long enough. Tracking somewhat close islands for a chance of a wave, began to take over the time I should have been working on my online stuff. And then I did it. I booked four flights en route to Philippines. In particular Cloud Nine surf break. Boardless.  I like to talk about going on a surf trip prepared. Well this was going to be different.

Kuala Lumpur (KL)

Heading through KL is a pretty common route for surfers wishing to get a slice of Cloud9. I like KL as it’s been a transit point for multiple Indo, Mentawai and Malaysian trips. It’s familiar and I know where things are.

KL offers many options accommodation wise (affordable backpacker dorms to luxury hotels) and public transport is reliable and regular. Services are available by way of taxi,how to get to cloud9 train and bus direct from the airport. There’s two airports so make sure you get the right one. All Air Asia flights leave from KLIA2.

The city of KL itself is pretty bad and pollution
rules. It’s  rare to see blue sky through the thick smog that permanently coats the city.

Poverty is real, as it’s a common stop for refugees that have fled Myanmar (Burma) who stay illegally in slum-like conditions, waiting for the next option to flee the city. Usually by road and then sea.

Most with falsehoods on reaching the shores of Australia. The land of milk and honey.

As I found out, the Australian Government funds search and rescue operations in Malaysia by helicopter. They also carry out Police raids and water patrol units to hunt out refugees and send them back to where they came.

I spent three weeks throughout Malaysia in 2014 and the general vibe of the locals wasKuala Lumpur not great. They came across as quite unwelcoming. Perhaps the Australian Government’s influence is part of the reason why.

If you have an overnight in KL it’s worth checking out China Town in the city. Scores of markets line the streets, similar to the markets in Bali (Kuta).

As usual, be prepared to bargain for prices. You can get cheap clothes, sunnies, watches and bags. There is also an array of amazing food and fresh tropical fruit at low cost.

Transit through Cebu

OK so I must admit I didn’t quite do my research about Cebu. I just pictured a little island in the middle of a turquoise blue ocean, palm trees and beachside markets. Some of the atolls, reefs and islands we flew over were incredibly beautiful but by the time the plane flew over the island of Cebu, I realised it wasn’t anything how I had imagined. I had a one night layover here.

Grabbing the nearest taxi outside the small airport, I was in for a bit of a ride. From the driver, I had the usual “where you from, where’s your boyfriend, you had no one pick you up at airport?” type questions which you get used to when travelling alone as a female!

I was then quick to notice he was off-chops (drug induced) through his mannerisms and erratic energy.

At one Cebu travel point crossing a large bridge, where it was clearly sign posted that there was roadworks up ahead and the lane ended, he went straight through the signs, which smashed the rear of the taxi.

He burst out laughing and I said “taxi’s too big to fit through!” and his reply while throwing his hands in the air was “oh nah miss you’re just so beautiful it make me swerve all over the road!”.

The remaining trip involved him texting at every chance while swerving all over the road, running red lights and making up random and lengthy arrival times when I would get to my hotel.

I was pretty worried that he was actually taking me back to his house but so relieved when I recognised the sign for my hotel.

Stray goats roamed the city streets on miscellaneous missions, oblivious to the poverty that surrounded them. Kids barely old enough to walk, equally as oblivious as they clung tightly to their brother’s shirts, while mounting the back of rusted bicycles.

It wasn’t until I was safely in my hotel room, that I looked up “Cebu local news” on my laptop, that I realised just how bad it was. Bold text splashed the page, showing the past three days of events:

College student raped, killed in Cebu home. Man faces murder charges for daughter’s death. Lovers found dead in Cebu hotel. Boxing champ stabbed multiple times in domestic dispute.

Many were targeted Western attacks.

Luckily, downstairs from my hotel room was a small convenience store. I stocked up on asurfing cloud9 healthy array of white bread rolls, peanut butter, canned tuna and instant milo. Pretty much anything I could grab quick enough to then spend the duration of my time safely locked away in my hotel room.

I felt a million miles from Cloud Nine surf. Through tired eyes, I was surprisingly able to get a restful night’s sleep.

That morning I returned to the store to buy a local sim card.  While at the counter, I heard a kid whistling past the open shop door and glanced up to see a cheerful smile, dead chicken casually dangling from his clutching hand. I couldn’t help but smile back at him as our two worlds’ collided.

Past his small ripped t-shirt shoulder, something caught my eye on the other side of the busy street. A heavy looking, long and limp object in a white bag was being loaded onto the back of a pickup truck. Others that passed by, did not so much as blink an eye as they went about their day. I doubt I did either, as I struggled to hide my dinner-plate eyes. begging-1683496_1280

I honestly couldn’t be more happy to pack my bags and get the hell out of there.

It seemed my newly built hotel ($5.75 a night) was in a rough part of town. Their website did a great job at selling it to me.

I had to stand on the side of the road for a very long fifteen minutes praying for a cab to  pass by. Every passing car slowed to stare at my lonesome presence.

When a cab finally arrived, my bracelet got stuck on my lace shirt and I couldn’t lift my hand out to flag him down. It was like a nightmare unfolding before my eyes. Thank goodness a local guy came just in time to hail the cab for me. This ride was not as bumpy as the last.

Finally to Siargao

In the safety of the airport I could relax a little. I had two families come up to me and ask for photos in broken English. The kids giggled as their eyes curiously glanced over my hair, face and clothes as if they had never seen a Westerner before. Philippines kids

Once the plane passed over rusted tin roofs, visions opened to a vast ocean, full of every shade of blue imaginable.

Coming into Siargao is absolutely stunning, with a lush island rich in palm trees and jungles, peculiar shaped mountains and wide canyons. I could not wait to explore.

It was everything I hoped and more. Perhaps my excitement was exacerbated because my two months in Thailand without an ocean felt like an eternity.

Basic bamboo shelters lined the paved road, underneath thick canopies of palm trees dancing in the ocean breeze. The locals come equipped with that naturally laid-back island energy and are stoked living their simple lifestyles.

I was lucky to arrive when the swell was 6ft and barrelling at cloud nine surf spot. However I had to wait for the swell to back off as I could see just how challenging the takeoff was.

Top Tips for this Journey

Avoid the overnight in Cebu if possible!

-It really isn’t a safe place to be hanging out. The more I spoke to expats in Siargao, the worse the stories became.

It is possible to link your flights and get from KL to Siargao in one day with Air Asia from Cloud 9 boardwalkKL to Cebu. Then choose Cebu Pacific for the Cebu to Siargao leg.

Bring cash as there’s only one ATM 

-Best to get cash out before heading over as there’s only one ATM on the island and it’s regularly out of order. Never been happier with my purchase of my money bag that was strapped firmly around my waist under my t-shirt!

Watch your valuables in your hotel or shack

-I heard theft is very common here. Be sensible where you stash your cash, laptops, phones etc.

Take your own boards

-On the off chance you’re on a surf trip without boards (laughs). You already know tosurfing Philippines bring your own boards in your specific dimensions. Board hire is around 200 peso per hour ($6AUD) or 500 peso per day ($15AUD). Expensive. To buy a board here will set you back 12,000 peso ($370AUD). Cloud nine surf also has a high potential for breaking those boards in half.

Sunscreen and zinc

-Also very expensive here, about 520 peso (over $15AUD) for a small tube. Again experienced surfers know to bring their own.

Always be on alert

-Philippines is a dangerous country there’s no doubt about it. The use of meth is very common in many regions. The longer I stay here the more stories I hear of attacks on locals (mostly in transit to Siargao). Many attacks are in a bid to get money to fund their meth habits.

The threat of typhoon is very real

The slightest drop of rain will see your flight from Siargao back out to Cebu cancelled. The authorities simply don’t take the risk. If you can afford the luxury I would not booksurfing Cloud9 your international trip home until you are out of Siargao. Or better still make it a coupleI saw many surfers missing their next leg

Other than the general warnings, it truly is a stunning part of the world and one that blew my expectations right out of the water. I spent four weeks living in a very basic bamboo shack around the corner from Cloud Nine surf.

More in-depth rundown coming soon!

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Mentawai Islands

If you’re a princess kind of surfer who must wear delicate designer bikinis and only paddles out to be “seen” by the men,  I highly recommend staying home as this place is not for the faint-hearted. If I could associate one word with Mentawai my first pick would be “wild”. Think jungle meet waterfall, meet crystal clear lagoon and waves that will absolutely blow your mind type perfection. If you’re a surfer, this is the one part of the world you definitely should not leave untouched.

Stay at home princesses

Just getting to the outer islands can become a treacherous and very tedious adventure, depending on your style of travel. For me I opted heading over to work at a surf camp, which turned into an accidental-lets fall in love at first sight with owner of camp- have craziest period of my life to date type of travel.

Totally unplanned. Totally let’s drop everything I thought I knew about life. Totally and utterly unforgettable.

Doing it rough

Over the period of two months in these islands, my mock itineraries included being the 10361064_10152102063020168_2727645846378015545_nonly Westerner sleeping top to tail amidst hundreds of local Indonesians on the floor of a rusted out boat.

The very same port to port journey in which a boat of similar description capsized in rough seas killing seven locals that same evening.

I sat for 12 hours in a tiny fishing village wondering if a boat home was ever going to arrive. I found myself being transported in dug-out canoes built to strictly transport supplies to the camp.

The scariest of all was stepping foot onto the same supply boat racing out through a narrow reef passage into the biggest, roughest stretch of ocean I have ever seen before, drenched to the bone and terrified if I would make it out alive.

vs doing it in luxury

Now, enough of the crazy stories.  The majority of surfers that visit the Mentawais opt for a more comfortable experience for their short period of time in paradise. There’s thirty or so charter boats from budget to luxury that buzz around the chain of islands.

You’ll also find a select number of land camps to choose from- most in which offer a safe and enjoyable ride from the mainland (to avoid the crazy alternatives that I found myself taking). The Mentawaisocean house feature the “no rules, anything goes” type lifestyle where you can truly live with no restrictions that you find back home.

Some surfers take this too far and end up living out there too long and completely losing their minds or going “troppo” as they say.

An amazing experience

Being a chick in the Mentawai rocks. Guys give you massive credit and respect in the lineup as they’re stoked to have a female join them in some heavy waves. Your surfing ability will improve faster than you can imagine, with mechanical barrels galore and long green walls that seem to peel forever.

When you’re not surfing  you can go brave the dense jungle, practice your Indo on locals in the small villages, pick fresh tropical fruit from the trees, explore outer islands and reefs,  snorkel & spearfish, gaze at picture perfect sunsets or pretty much anything your heart desires. But remember- no barbie dolls in these neck of the woods.

exploration

The Status Quo

There’s a common theory that at the age of 28 a big transitional period in most people’s lives take place. You might get a panic or anxiety or that “old” feeling perhaps as you get closer to the big 30. The life structure that just worked throughout your 20’s mightn’t feel so fitting. It can also be a time of great pressure if you haven’t quite found what you’re looking for in terms of career satisfaction or relationship status.

From an astrological and numerological perspective it is said the physical body goes through seven year cycles and 28041_10151118702540168_796332908_nthe emotional and personal body nine years. If you were to research more into this, you will see it is quite a powerful transition that can either be treated with respect and used as an inner compass, or resisted against and be seen as your own enemy.

Ever since I left high school I never had any intent to take on any further education. While I loved school and received good grades I just wanted to get out into the world and learn and study from just ‘living’.

Even though I was stuck in a city for the first six years of my working life, I wasn’t overly fussed with what kind of work I was doing. As long as it meant I was able to set sail on the weekend and embark on a two day action-packed adventure to find the best waves on offer. While I accidentally carved myself a career along the way as a legal secretary in between travel, eight years have now gone by.

With what feels like a passing of extended surf trips overseas (for seasons at a time), I’ve taken this year as more of a year of grounding and quiet. I had only ever heard of the “28 year theory” briefly while I was travelling in Tahiti last year, and have since not paid any attention to it.

To say this year has been easy would only be one half of the truth. Somehow I have found myself a little lost, even lonely in the post travel realm. Friends have moved away, married up and started families. Confusion mounts and laps at my feet as to the once warm feeling of a true ‘home’.

Over the past year I’ve also considered my position in society as a giver, a contributor and what I truly have to offer in this lifetime. I seem to always have had the opportunity to help clients daily at work, through horrific motor vehicle injuries or encounters with the 10301118_10152556715340168_4391682234274403263_nwrong side of crime, have always put time aside for volunteer work at nursing homes and spent many trips away assisting at orphanages, however lately I’ve labelled myself selfish to pursue the never-ending wave of perfection.

I’ve re-evaluated just how many hours, days, years I’ve spent in the ocean deeply encapsulated in that pursuit. Sadly I’ve been so hard on myself I’ve actually spent less and less time doing what I love but never quite found that substitute for happiness. In that ‘hardness I’ve also re-evaluated my career path, which has always worked in terms of stability and closeness to the ocean and a healthy lifestyle, but that true lack of passion for the work seems to surface more and more often of late.

Over the past few months I’ve also found myself attracting those that pour their everything into their work, where their satisfaction lives, their purpose in this life. What I’ve come to realise is that while that is their story, it doesn’t necessarily have to be mine.

Giving myself some much needed time out from my own hardness, I’ve discovered a message that keeps rising up from inside- with passion comes a deep love and a desire for life itself. When you extract passion, the days seem dull and lacking in colour and you can rather unconsciously begin to give up hope.

To me I’ve always seen surfing as a relationship withhappy days surfer girl the ocean. This has remained my view as I see others have close relationships with their partners, their true loves. I see mine as a close relationship with my lover the ocean. Both are in a way self-fulfilling but makes us (through that love) better, softer, more compassionate humans.

The moral of this story is never give up doing what you love because of the pressures of the outside world.

If you’ve already found your passion in life, there’s no need to find it elsewhere because of the “status quo”. Simply pursue it with all of your heart and live in that happiness and joy.

So are you a good surfer?

I don’t know. Well I mean, I’m just not quite sure how to answer your question, it’s so damn broad, can you narrow it down a little? Can I do it for you? It’s kind of like asking an artist if they are a good artist, by whose standards are we talking? Surfing is an art, no wait, it’s like dancing. How about, dancing meets art meets nature. It’s a personal thing in that sensegirls surfing and a form of unique self-expression. To call yourself good, to me, is how well do you know what you’re playing with? How much attention do you really, truly pay to the ocean and her creations. Do you feel as comfortable or as content surfing 2ft as you do 12? Do you draw on every ounce of your experience to pull yourself out of life threatening moments at sea? Do you understand just how very small and insignificant you are against her power? What’s more important, getting air and hacking every section of a wave apart, or style? To me it’s style, because without that you’re not really anything out there.

Let’s put all the corporate crap aside. The surf labels, the clothing, the comps, the crowds, the image, the display home with decoy plastic surfboards resting on the verandah, every brand new car ad with surfboards on rooftops but no ocean in sight. This corporate image, just take it all away out of my sight. I want to get right into the soul, the essence, the spirit, the freedom, the disconnection from land and all it possesses, the nitty gritty, the core, the heart, the crux. Now, you’ve got an ocean to yourself, it’s by no means perfect but it doesn’t matter. Actually it is perfect because you find so much magic in the fact this ocean stretch is all yours and anything can come your way. The waves are sending you into a trace-like state, a deep meditation, something not many can experience in a lifetime.

The sounds of society and all the action on land is drowned out by crashing waves, blue meets blue upon the horizon line, there’s so much peace all around you, just for you, this gift from god or whoever it is up there, I onlysoul surfing girls know him as Huey. So what are you going to do here with all this magic? There’s no one to impress, no worry about self-image, judgements, what brand your wetsuit is, who your shaper is, how much you spent on your haircut, no need to battle for waves, it’s just pure, you and the ocean. It’s time to dance, it’s time to slow things right down, so much so that when you take off on that wave it’s almost like you can see every droplet of water, every section of that wave as a perfect creation, every part of that lip as it strikes a chord with the wind, the shape, the colour, the patterns- this is the dance floor, the canvas. Draw some lines, gouge that tail into the green wall, watch the spray as it’s sent skywards only to be pulled back by gravity and back to where it came from. The energy is just so mind boggling when you find yourself in these moments of solitude. I still struggle to answer that question you asked me. Never mind, it’s not important anyway.

More Shark Tales

With recent occurrences of shark attacks on the rise on the East Coast of Australia, I guarantee there are many surfers out there who are reminded of any close calls they have had in the past. See my close encounter here. Aside from this pretty close call, I have had an even more terrifying experience where I was almost knocked off my board by some creature (seal or shark) which still remains unknown to me.

I was still within my first year of surfing and I had a trip back home to the South Island of New Zealand. I had been out surfing a couple of sessions during the day up the coast (shorter than usual thanks to the freezing water temp of 13 degrees) and I had just pulled up at my local spot. It was heading towards dusk in the middle of summer so it was around 9.30pm at night. A girl Laura who I had met only a few times was suiting up in a thick 5/4 and we noticed one another from across the carpark. “What are you doing it’s pumping let’s get out there!” She yelled out enthusiastically. “Are you serious it’s going to be dark soon?!” I replied. “Yeah, and? C’mon they’ve got spotlights off the pier we can surf all night if we want to!”. She did have a point and I hadn’t surfed at night before. “Alright you got me, let’s get out there!” I yelled to her as I jumped out of my car.

After uncomfortably putting on my wet wetsuit in a freezing cold offshore wind we headed down to the water’s edge together. We could see there were already two other body boarders out there and figured they probably had the same idea as us. The bank was really shallow and stretched further out to sea than normal. By the time we made it out the back, darkness was well and truly upon us, although we could see so much brightness on the bottom of the ocean from the spotlights hitting the sand bank.

The waves were only two foot but were peeling perfectly along the shallow bank and Laura and I had fun switching between our longboard and shortboard. I had just jumped on her longboard when I noticed a shadow not too far from us. “Guys I thinkaustralia shark attack it’s a shark”. Everyone laughed it off, not believing me and made jokes about no sharks being around in these waters. Suddenly something struck hard in the centre of my board from below and nearly knocked me off into the water. “Holy shit, shaaaaark, shaaaark, paddle in, go, go,go!” I yelled in absolute fear. Everyone started to panic as they could see what had happened and paddled as fast as they could towards the shore. BANG. I’m struck again in the centre of my board but this time I manage to cling on for life and continue paddling in. Luckily the sand was shallow and we were able to get in pretty fast on the whitewash. I was full of adrenaline and fear and by the time we made it to shore my body felt numb all over. When I caught my breath I was able to tell everyone exactly what had happened.

I still don’t know to this day what it was that struck me but I’ll never forget that feeling of being struck by something wild from nature.

Licking Death

The sound of skull crunching on jagged reef is something I never want to hear again in my lifetime. After surfacing from beneath after my first wave of the session, I recall not having enough time to get on my board, let alone duck dive the next wave of the set. Standing in waist deep water, I make a split second decision to throw my board and attempt to dive under the wall of water, which stands terrifyingly tall on the shallow reef beneath my feet. The lip suddenly strikes on top of my head and violently forces me under the surface, slamming my skull against the reef. I’ll never forget that shattering sound.

Coming up in immense pain, my lungs are grateful that the ocean produces no further waves in that set. I gently run my fingers over my skull, expecting the absolute worst but miraculously my head isn’t split open. I begin to paddle back out, fairly un-dazed but can feel a painful lump beginning to swell on the top of my head. Just before I can reach the safety of the lineup, I find myself caught on the wrong side of yet another solid set.

I can’t believe my luck as I’ve barely had a chance to regain my breath after getting caught on the inside. I try not to panic at the sight of a solid train of waves ahead but before I know it, I’m caught underneath the lip of the first wave of the set. Once again I’m tumbled and recklessly strewn across the shallow reef by the powerful surges of whitewash. I throw my arms overhead, frightened to strike my skull again, but luckily I only feel the pain of the sharp reef slashing the soft skin on my legs and tops of feet. I once again resurface short of breath, hardly even having enough strength to scramble onto my board before riding the next solid wall of whitewash in.

I spent the next 16 hours sleeping, with what I suspected was heavy concussion. Having suffered concussion from a surfing accident years prior, I knew the symptoms but had not experienced them at this acute level. Unfortunately I was travelling alone on a remote island in the Philippines, which only amplified my biggest fear -that the medical services would be too limited to assist me, should the worst circumstances unfold.

After trying to bring myself out of bed multiple times, I eventually muster enough energy to slowly get up and attempt to locate some sort of food for my now rumbling stomach. I 10437396_10152147182080168_7686054597373259183_n.jpgcarefully scale down the timber stairs on the second level of my loft-style bamboo hut, to avoid any kind of head rush after lying in bed so long. Reaching the bottom of the stairs, I quietly say hello to some local Filipino girls braiding each other’s hair in a nearby hut. I suddenly feel light headed and take a seat on nearby wooden stairs, but before I can get there I collapse onto the dirt ground.

My neighbour Matt happens to arrive home from a surf at the exact time I fall and rushes over to pick me off the ground. The local girls gasp in shock and also rush over to help. I recall Matt saying my name over and over until a point I never heard his voice again. I completely lose my vision and hearing, drifting in and out of consciousness, taking a good five minutes to regain both senses. Matt continually poured water over my arms and legs and encouraged me to take small sips once I was able to hold my own head up.  I’m later told that my skin had turned a pale white, my lips blue and that I was sweating profusely while my head swayed from side to side between my bucked knees.

When I become strong enough to walk I was rushed onto the back of Matt’s motorbike, with one of the local girls Lualhati sitting tightly behind me to ensure I didn’t fall off the back in my weakened state. I had trouble keeping my head held up on my own and Lualhati constantly had to keep me awake over the hour long journey to hospital. The times I did manage to open my eyes seemed like some kind of surreal dream. My senses were strangely heightened, taking in the strong scent of smoke filled villages, wild buffalo grazing in rice terraces and the sound of local kids giggling while running after the motorbike in excitement.

I slowly walk into the hospital with assistance and approach a local lady sitting behind an old wooden desk. Matt begins to explain the state that I was in, however without so much as blinking an eye she said the hospital was for local admission only and that there was no doctor there who could help me. From here nothing much made any sense. Local girls who followed us on a separate bike tried to convince the woman that I needed urgent medical attention and had nowhere else to go.

Finally she caved in to their desperate demands and called a “doctor” on the phone, but not without letting out a heavy sigh. After some time another woman entered the room and enquired of the situation to the lady behind the desk. She disinterestedly glanced over to me and asked me what pain killers I was taking. Luckily I had bought the packet of tablets with me.

Handing it over she lazily read the dosage and rolled the packet between her fingers, taking a long pause before speaking once again. “Well you can catch a boat for two hours to the next island and they have a hospital there, but doctors don’t work on Sundays”. I thought as it was Saturday night it was too dangerous to make the rough trip over there in my unknown state, only to wait another 24surf girl dreaming hours to be examined. The only other option was to catch a plane in the morning to another island, but I had no idea if I was even fit to fly, not wanting to risk it especially with a head injury and pressure within the cabin.

I was prescribed a strong pain killer “Tramadol” and sent on my way with no examination or further questions asked. I suspected she was not a doctor at all.

We left the hospital and disgruntledly climbed back on the bike, driving to the nearest village where the local girls guided us to the pharmacy. Rusted iron bars guarded the windows of a small timber building where I presented my handwritten script to an old Filipino guy with a tobacco pipe hanging lazily from his lips.

Terrified would be an understatement. So many times when we’re critically ill we leave our lives in the hands of a doctor, but today my life was in god’s hands. It simply wasn’t mine or anyone else’s decision whether I was going to make it or not, I just had to keep faith that I would make it through alive. This would be one of the biggest tests of inner strength I had ever encountered.

The joy of travelling solo took a major turn that night as I rolled around in bed in pools of sweat, heavily hallucinating and regretting my stubborn decision to not have someone watch over me that night. The tropical heat blanketed the island and the electricity continually cut in and out, forcing my small fan to be rendered worthless.

I had given up using my mosquito net weeks prior, as it seemed to catch more blood filled mosquitoes than repel them. Instead the strong scent of burning coils engulfed the room, preventing any fresh air from entering through the open door. Dehydration refused to leave me untouched and it seemed no matter how much water I skulled, my throat burned like a near deathscorching desert.

At one stage through broken sleep I was woken to a stabbing pain at the most tender point where I struck my head, causing me to grasp tightly onto the sweat drenched bed sheets, which once again left me scared for my life. Images of my family and friends’ faces flashed through my memory, causing tears to fall heavily down my cheeks, wondering if I would ever see them again. I feared suffering a clot on my brain and bleeding to death that night and struggled to force the worst thoughts from my mind.

As my flight out of the island was only three days away, I decided the best option was to stay and get as much rest as possible and pray that my condition would improve. It was a long journey home with three connecting flights. I remained in bed for those three days as I felt I didn’t have enough energy to come up with a plan.

My sleep was constantly broken by nightmares and hallucinations. One afternoon I managed to get up to buy some food at a resort close by. I connected to the internet and decided to do some research on the painkillers I was prescribed. Just as I had washed down my evening dose with a glass of water, the words stood out like nothing else on the screen in front of me.

Do not take this medication if you have experienced any head injury as the risk of seizure greatly increases”.

I was so angry and ripped the prescription note out of my pocket, reading the signature panel to see the woman at the hospital wasn’t even a doctor, simply an administration clerk. I figured I would have been better off not even visiting that dreadful hospital.

As the plane’s wheels left the runway I closed my eyes and focused on maintaining a calm breath. All I could think about was the taste of blood trickling down the back of my throat and the air hostesses in a panic trying to save me. Luckily the flight was only one hour to the next island and I had no medical complications aside from a mild headache and delirious from my ongoing concussion. A five hour lay-over remained at the next airport, located in one of Philippine’s top crime cities. I was happy not to leave the airport due to witnessing a body bag being loaded into a car on my overnight stay on my way over to the island.

A thought suddenly passed through my blurry mind as I made my way through customs, remembering that I had overstayed my visa by one day. I wasn’t concerned as I had been told by other surfers that all I needed to do was pay a $15AUD a day late fee. Approaching

customs office

the immigration desk the officer scanned over my passport, with the stamp hovering close to the page before hesitating. “Excuse me ma’am I can see here that you have overstayed your visa by one day, are you aware that even a fraction of a day counts as one month over the date?”. I acted surprised and casually asked him what I could do to fix it. He replied that he needed to speak to his supervisor.

By this stage my head was already pounding with a severe migraine but it became much worse at the sound of those words. An aggressive looking woman in immigration uniform appeared from a nearby door and signalled for me to step into her office. She asked me why I hadn’t left the country before my visa expired and I begin to describe the medical state I was in.

She immediately cut me off and told me I’m to immediately pay one month of overstay fee which was $120AUD. I began defending myself but she said our conversation was now over and that I could leave.  With no cash on me I ran to find the nearest ATM, scared of missing my flight as I was already running late. I find two ATMs side by side within the airport but both are out of order. Running out of the airport into the thick humidity I locate another ATM that allows me to withdraw cash.

I feel I am dangerously close to collapsing and once again the worst possible thoughts enter my head. Having to tediously cross the customs’ check-points again I have about ten minutes before my flight boards. I return to the custom’s office where the hardened woman I dealt with previously takes her time before serving me.

Finally she begins filling out paperwork and it’s at this point I begin to break down as I see her smiling at her great accomplishment. Tears fill my eyes as I hand over some of the last of my money to allow me to book my international flight home. I think about what makes this woman so hard, just how many murders she has witnessed in her backyard and what she has dealt with in her lifetime, losing loved ones to violent drug entanglements.

My tears become heavier as I feel more alone than ever, tears turn into loud sobs but all she can do is smile as she signs off the documents. I want to yell and scream at her and say the worst things that could come to mind but fear she wouldn’t allow me to board the plane. She arrogantly hands me the paperwork and once again I run, the worst possible thing to do with a concussion, to the boarding gate where my plane awaits.

The four hour flight back to mainland Malaysia passes as quickly as any flight I could ever tropical destinationsremember. I sleep the entire way as I’m exhausted through sickness, stress and immense worry. Arriving at the airport my first mission is to book my international ticket home.

I didn’t risk booking this previously as domestic flights out of the island are frequently cancelled at the slightest threat of a typhoon. I had also naively relied on a consistent freelance writing job to cover my monthly expenses but the contract suddenly ended shortly before I was due to leave the island. I clearly wasn’t in any state to continue writing for other clients and I realised that I had only left enough money in my account to book that flight home, pay for departure taxes and a couple of cheap meals on the side.

Being comfortable travelling without any kind of luxury this didn’t faze me one bit, but I was certainly taking a considerable risk. The biggest risk of all was that I let my travel insurance lapse for the last two weeks of my trip, which I had never before allowed in my years of travelling.

With no savings left and after unexpectedly handing a large amount of money over to immigration, I simply didn’t have enough money to scrape through and purchase my ticket. To add to the seemingly never-ending hurdles and road blocks to get home safely, it just happened that the airline site had been down and my mum had tried desperately to book and pay for the only flight home for the past four hours before surrendering to bed.

I walked directly to the airline desk describing my deteriorating medical condition, a story which once again fell on deaf ears. I began to realise that my life held absolutely no value to locals in these third world countries. The assistant refused to book my flight where I only had handwritten details of mum’s credit card with no physical card in sight. With a growing line of travellers impatiently sighing out loud behind me, I simply didn’t hold enough energy to stay and plead with the assistant. I instead left the desk and rolled out my yoga mat on the ground nearby a check-in counter.

I pulled out my laptop and spent the next five frustrating hours trying to book that flight and asked multiple friends around the globe to attempt to make the booking, hoping the website would somehow work for them. Just when I feared I would never make it home to proper medical facilities and as I approached the sixth dreadful hour, the booking miraculously went through.

It came as one of the biggest reliefs I’ve ever experienced in my life. It was after midnight before I was able to search the airport for a suitable place to sleep prior to my early morning check-in. I once again rolled out my yoga mat, wrapped myself in a sarong, placed in my ear-plugs and drifted off to a much needed sleep.

I don’t recall ever being so excited to return home after a long overseas trip. I was able to sleep on and off for the majority of the eight-hour flight and each time I woke, a deep feeling of excitement arose within, continually checking my watch to see how far we were from touching down. My good friend greeted me at the airport with a warm hug and a hot pizza, a great relief after only enough coins for a cup of noodles on the flight. It was amazing to feel the warmth of a hot shower after one month of a cold tap running over a large bucket with scoop. After two days of encounters with authorities that had no regard nor value for my life, I was so relieved to feel the love and care of a close friend.

The emergency clinic was full of patients but after presenting to the triage nurse, I was taken in for examination almost immediately by a very handsome doctor. I began to tell my story and instead of being cut off as I was now accustomed to, he was intrigued by mysurfing accident tale of survival, eagerly awaiting my next words. I was taken through thorough medical examinations, eye tests, balance tests and an ECG.

The doctor strongly advised against a CT scan due to the high levels of radiation but was happy to tell me that he believed I hadn’t caused any permanent damage to my brain. I was over the moon with the results and almost skipped out of the examination room.

As I left the clinic I asked my friend, who just happened to be flying out the next morning to the Bahamas for six months, if she needed someone to look after her car. I had sold mine before my overseas adventure and had already surrendered to the thought of a further day on public transport just to get home. “Actually that could work perfect, just pay the insurance and it’s all yours”.

There I was leaving my friend’s house in her car, finally on my way home to the loving arms of my worried mum. I scratched around in the glove box and found my friend had some of my favourite CDs from reggae festivals we had been to over the years. I turned the volume up to the maximum level and don’t think I stopped smiling the whole two-hour drive home, in fact I couldn’t wipe my smile for days.

Although I took a good month to fully recover from my injury, I could never be more grateful for making it through the whole ordeal stronger than ever. I was never bought up religious but understand many aspects of the spiritual realm and my faith was entirely restored after this experience, which was truly the most terrifying time of my life. The worst that my thoughts surmounted to was that I would be a brain-dead vegetable and never be able to see my friends and family again. I feel I’ve been given a second chance at life and cannot wait to return to my love of surfing.

 

Dreaming or Reality?

Close to three days of tedious, but thrilling solo travel from airport to airport, port to port, island to island. The weather didn’t offer the most comforting arrival, for she decided to let the swells rise and the winds roar across the open ocean, whipping up bucketloads of water to soak everything within the age-old wooden boat I was travelling in. Passing jagged reefs and palm trees bent backwards in the strong winds, I could only imagine the island paradise it would be under blue skies and calm winds.

The Indonesian “captain” of the boat eyed off a narrow passage in the reef and began to steer the long wooden boat towards shore. I could just make out the thatched roof of the surf camp nestled at the foot of a dense jungle, my vision blurred by the constant onslaught of salt water burning my eyes. Six foot tall, muscular, tanned and covered in tats, he stood at the shore eagerly awaiting my arrival. With the engine cutting off just before reaching the broken coral shore, he rushed towards the boat and was waist deep in water, dragging the boat to finally touch the safety of land. “Sorry about the weather”, he said in a thick Argentinian accent with a big grin. “All part of the adventure isn’t it?” I replied letting out a burst of laughter.

Waking delirious from a deep sleep in the middle of the night, I noticed a myriad of light in the atmosphere and loud thunder out to sea. The full moon illuminated the sky, the golden paradiselight glistened off the ocean surface at the foot of my bed. I had been set up in a bamboo hut at the end of a coral bay, with the ocean lapping at the foot of the hut. Bolts of lightning broke unforgivingly into the ocean at the horizon line. I could feel a strong wind pick up and pass through the open window and realised the storm front was rapidly heading towards the island. I got up and literally “battened down the hatches” as there was no window to the hut simply a wooden hatch. The wind grew stronger by the minute and I felt as though the hut could lift right off its base and carry me into the dark jungle behind, never to be seen again.

The last dream I recall before waking that morning was so intensely vivid it felt so real as to transpire. I dreamt I was living in a timber shack on a tropical island, waking and opening the door to see absolutely perfect waves and an equally as dreamy man walking up the beach towards me with a hottropical paradise cup of coffee. It was then that I actually opened my eyes and woke up amazed at the dream I had just had. I was still delirious from travelling and for a moment I forgot where I was. I then realised I was in a timber hut and remembered the storm the night before and how I closed the timber hatch, therefore I was in lying in a darkened room. I rose to open the door to allow light in and I couldn’t believe my eyes. The moon was setting over the ocean, the surf was absolutely pumping, a perfect left-hander peeling off directly in front of the hut and a deep blue sky above. I cast my eyes up the coral bay and there he was walking up the beach with a cup of coffee “good morning beautiful”.

I’ve always been one to experience vivid dreams but I had never experienced a dream so intense as the first night I spent on this island. It was such a powerful merge of dream and reality, I had a hard time distinguishing which was which. In fact this was just the beginning of many twists on reality. I’m not sure what it came down to, but my only guess is that when you take yourself away from “society” and live so free on a remote island, indulging in the finest acts of freedom you begin to experience time at a heightened level. Kind of like being inside the barrel. Scientists still haven’t been able to explain the amazing phenomenon, where multiple surfers over the decades describe time standing still when they are deep in the heart of the barrel. Each day over the two months I spent at this island felt as though I was gifted with two days in one. Time was actually extended. I spent my days painting underneath the palm trees, surfing waves beyond perfection, diving and weaving throughout ribbed coral gardens, exploring dense jungles and racing by motorbike through remote villages.

island life freedomWhile it’s hard for the average person to ever experience this kind of feeling in their lifetime, due to work, financial and family commitments, if at some point you can escape “reality” for a couple of months to dive deep into your passions in a remote country, you will never forget in your lifetime the magic of those moments and how you cheated the ticking clock that so many of us abide by each and every day.

girl diving

Waves at the foot of Thailand?

Two months straight spent in the remote Mentawai Islands in Northern Indonesia is such an incredible amount of time to bask in waves beyond perfection. Time itself becomes an illusion and having no rules to be dictated by makes life taste so sweet. However I was certainly ready to escape back into the “real world” for a break and to re-appreciate life in the islands. Mum was flying over from Australia to spend three weeks with me throughout Malaysia and Bali.

I found myself mostly inland in Malaysia, exploring ancient cities far away from the world of surfing and learning surfing Malaysiaabout colourful cultures.

After researching a small island off the coast of Malaysia, I spontaneously booked mum and I some cheap flights and we were on our way. Hiring a car we drove around the island in a day, finding monkeys in forests, waterfalls and beautiful untouched beaches.

One morning I woke early and went to find a beach we could both enjoy for the day. Winding through the beach roads under jungle canopies, I found myself down the end of a sandy road, where the ocean opened up to a chain of lush islands and limestone cliffs in the distance.

As I got closer I saw some swell in the shore break. I couldn’t believe my eyes, I never knew waves to be in Malaysia but there was a good 2ft of swell!

Racing back to our unit, I told mum the exciting news as she woke with sleepy eyes. I said we had to go straight back to the beach I had discovered so I could try to find a surfboard of sorts.

Aren’t we meant to return the car and check out in a couple of hours?” she asked with concern. “It doesn’t matter they seem pretty cruisy around here, c’mon you have no idea how exciting this is!”, I replied as I pictured myself on the cover of Tracks Magazine surfing at the foot of Thailand with the green islands as a backdrop.

I started grabbing things I thought mum would need for a lovely day at the beach, sunblock, bathers, towel and placed them next to her in bed. “Pleaaase c’mon I’ll buy you lunch if we can go now”. Reluctantly she got out of bed rolling her eyes with a small grin.

We pulled up at the end of the road and I bolted off to try find a surfboard. “Wait I need you to put some sunscreen on my back”, mum asked. I turned around mid-run with my hair flying in the breeze, feeling like a puppy with its tongue hanging out of the car window at 100km speed, “Back soon!” I replied.

I had trouble containing my excitement as I raced from timber beach shack to timber beach shack eyeing off the stack of assorted tourists toys, wakeboards and blow up rafts, but no surfboards. I checked two timber shacks and at the last one I spotted a grommet’s shortboard under the pile of other boards.

By this stage my heart was racing out of my chest as I shuffled the board out of the pile. The only people on the surfing in Malaysiabeach at this stage were a few Muslim women bearing entirely black hijabs, their eyes the only part of skin revealed.

They stood in the sand with hands resting on hips and curious eyes glued at the site of this blonde girl running around with a surfboard.

I frantically tried to find the owner of the board and asked the first Malay guy I saw. “Selamat Pagi, I really, really want to go surfing on this board, do you know whose it is?”. I asked. “Pagi, uhh this is my brothers, he is not here yet, I can’t let you use it until I check with him is ok” He replied.

Oh please I know how to surf I won’t break it, here I have money”. I said as I pulled some Ringgit out of my pocket, some notes flying loose in the sand. “I want to check with him that it is ok first”, he responded. I kept pulling more notes out of my pocket until he couldn’t resist.

Handing the notes to him and thanking him profusely, I skipped off down the beach, waving to mum with a big grin as she sat on the beach awkwardly trying to lather sunscreen on her back. Shit I forgot.

Making a detour I ran up to her, “Can you believe it, I got a surfboard!”. I yelled excitedly. “That’s nice honey, can you please put some sunscreen on me, it’s baking hot already, I’m going to get so burnt”. I squirted out far too much sunscreen and loosely massaged the cream into her back, leaving a white coating over her skin, before grabbing the board and bolting into the ocean. “Won’t be long!” I yelled back to her.

Even after surfing two months of solid conditions, I think I was almost more excited to be surfing this tiny shore break in a country where I never knew waves existed.

“My first wave I was able to race far down the beach, straight past the woman in their black hijabs with the Malaysian flag flying high in the background. It was such a surreal feeling as the woman watched on although they had never seen a girl surfing before, and they probably hadn’t”

I surfed for half an hour before a parasailing boat turned up ready for a busy day entertaining tourists. The boat launched right next to where I was surfing and I had to be careful not to be caught up in the ropes. I shorebreak watched as they completed a full lap of the bay, perhaps about 5km long before returning to the same spot and picking up the next tourist.

As the boat launched it created a lot of wake and if I timed it with a set it added another half of a foot to the wave.

The young Malay guys that were the guides started to notice what I was up to and would laugh each time they launched out and high above my head into the sky.

One guy in particular would give me a shaka on each lap and yell out “yeaaah surfer girl!” with a huge grin. A couple of hours into the session mum started pacing up and down the beach and signalling for me to come in. Like a cheeky young grommet I held my finger up to tell her ‘one more wave!’.

Of course I could have spent all day out there but I may have had to take mum to hospital with third-degree burns from sitting in the hot Malaysian sun.

Wild Island Escape

They had been tracking the swell off the coast of Africa for two weeks. A slow moving, season defining system making its way across the Indian Ocean- our little island’s home wide open to accept its almighty power. Waking blurry eyed after a restless night sleep, the light was yet to show on the horizon to bring another day. Making my way to the hut barefooted, I gasp as I stub my toe heavily on a large chunk of coral. Limping off in pain I gaze across the green grass, the light from the porch revealing several hundred more chunks of coral far up the bank. I’ve not known the water to ever come up this high before. This wasn’t a good sign.

I pour myself a strong cup of coffee and sit quietly, hearing the roar of the ocean towards the darkened sea, the lull between sets softened by the usually loud sounds from the jungle behind me. “It’s not a good day to go”, the voice of the surf camp owner breaks across the room with concern. I respond “I can’t stay, I’m not putting my life in his hands, I just don’t feel safe here with him”.

I’m alone on a remote island densely covered in jungle. All outside guests of the surf camp had left two days prior, leaving just myself and two owners of paradise bikinis
the camp, one of which is my now estranged boyfriend. In a heartbeat he had dictated my own love for him as non-existent. His delusion and insecurity just wouldn’t cut through the truth of how strong my feelings were for him. I’ve seen too much of his aggression to negotiate any possible terms to stay. My time in this tropical paradise has felt like a dream but so quick it can turn into a living nightmare overnight.

My journey ahead (as I find out) requires navigating one of the biggest swells in years in a dugout canoe with outboard for close to three hours, before anxiously waiting twelve hours in a small fishing village for a public boat. This unforeseen wait only adds more time to my already twelve hour overnight boat ride, sleeping top to tail with hundreds of locals. From the mainland I wait six hours for a connecting flight, travel by car for two hours to the small airport where an hour by plane lands me in an international airport. From here I can catch a three hour flight to Bali where I plan to touch down at around 3am- two days from now. The fact I face this journey solo rules out any chance for emotions to break through as they are quickly overruled by hits of adrenaline.

Standing on the shore with a group of local Indonesian workers, my surfboards are firmly strapped in the wooden canoe and wrapped under a large torn tarp. I bear a flimsy poncho, well and truly not up for the task ahead. We wait for the sets to pass before we can escape out to sea, via the narrow reef passage before us. My eyes nervously scan over the dark eyes of the workers who wait in silence, looking equally as fearful as each other. It’s hard to gauge the size of the waves in the stormy conditions but it’s easily fifteen to twenty feet and building rapidly. The entire front section of the camp is flooded out, with coral strewn across every square inch of land. The darkened skies above threaten downpours. Further up the beach my old bamboo hut is starting to give way, as the tide gushes ferociously under its floor and over the embankment, filling the lagoon that lays behind it. With every set the water races up the beach smashing broken coral against my ankles and I’m constantly rushing behind a palm tree for protection. I push the thoughts out of my head that this was the very location the Boxing Day Tsunami tore through only years before.

Twenty minutes pass and there’s still no safe break between the relentless sets. We continue to patiently wait before I hear the voice of the camp owner “Ok go, go, go, go, ocean stormShannon get in, satu, dua, tiga, puush, satu dua, tiga puush”. I scamper into the boat, heart racing out of my chest and adrenaline filling every vein in my body. The group of workers use all of their strength to push the boat off the coral sand. Whitewash races over the edge of the boat instantly soaking everything within. The engine splutters as it attempts to start and we slowly begin to head out towards the rough sea. I glance back towards land with a heavy heart, as I see no sign of the man I thought I was in love with. I pull my hat down over my red ravaged eyes, not wanting to look at the site ahead. Each time we reach the peak of the ocean swell, I cling to the edges of the boat as we drop violently onto the flat water with a loud thud, almost shaking me out into the rough waters. Every few seconds it feels as though someone is holding a large bucket of water and releasing it onto the boat. My intense love for the ocean fades in this moment as fear washes over my body.

I’m relieved as we miraculously make it around the back of the lineup. I glance up and am speechless at the sight of open ocean swell. Scenes from the movie “The Perfect Storm” flash in front of me, I feel the boat climb a very steep section of swell for what feels like eternity in this moment, I continue to hide under my hat. “Uh oh”, I hear from the Indo guy, as he switches the engine off. I shut my eyes tightly and crawl below the broken piece of wood I’m sitting on and brace my knees. We decline down the opposite side of the swell and violently hit the flat surface, as gallons of water are thrown onto us once again. The entire boat gives way to the right side, forcing the edge to catch and sink beneath the surface where we come close to capsizing. The price we pay to ride waves of perfection.

A Shark’s Territory

It was one of those waves that just had a sharky feeling about it. A close friend of mine had let me in on his discovery of a section of the coast that was a swell magnet. He had never seen any other surfer even come down to check the surf, just a bunch of old fisherman trying their luck for “catch of the day”. I must say I was pretty excited when he invited me to come surf it, considering the level of crowds that surfing attracts these days, it seemed like a miracle that there was still a break that remained unridden.

My first experience of the wave

We weaved through cane fields, passing country cottages and Paul joked about finding a girl and settling down in one of the shacks. “What on earth would you do here, you’d go mad with boredom? Wait, I can just picture you chewing on sugar cane and playing the banjo on the porch, swinging on your rocking chair, that house right there!”. I burst out laughing as I pointed to one of the run down houses which coincidently had an old farmer sitting out front on his rocking chair, eyeing off our van as it passed by, surfboards strapped to the roof. “Haha, how did you do that? I just had a flash of the future”, Paul giggled with a look that said he might actually consider the move.

We jumped out of the van and I raced Paul down the sandy track, excited at what all the hype was about. When we left our popular beachside town the swell was a fickle 2ft and the wind had already started to get into it. That didn’t stop fifty surfers from battling each other over the sloppy waves. The swell this day was mostly coming from the south and the charts didn’t even show over 3ft for the whole East Coast, so how did this mysterious break show 4-5ft on the sets?! Both of our eyes nearly fell out of our heads, as we reached the end of the track. We exchanged a glance that didn’t require words. Now Paul was racing me back up the track, as we ran off laughing, I had to push him out of the way to get to the car the quickest. “I knew you had found something here! How could you keep it a secret for such a long time?!” I excitedly screeched as he opened the sliding door to grab the boards. “Well, you know, I had so many surfs here solo I thought I had better share the gems around, but you better not tell anyone else!”. I promised that we would only let our most trusting friends in on the location.

Sitting out the back of the lineup was a pretty surreal feeling. I scanned the ocean as far as I could see north and south. Not one other surfer in the water. The beach was almost as deprived of life, aside from one lonely fisherman and his dog just within sight. There was one feeling I didn’t like about all this, and that was the dark, murky waters that our legs were currently dangling into. The benefits of being a modern day surfer has to be the ability to get a clear aerial view of the breaks online. I knew there was a river running out not too far from where we were. Ultimate shark territory. “I know what you’re thinking, I can read you like a book”. Paul distracted my thoughts. “C’mon when your numbers up, your numbers up. I’ve surfed this spot countless times on my own and I’ve been fine”. He confidently said as his eyes swung to the horizon at a set approaching. We both paddled to get position as the ocean was stacked with a train of waves. I watched Paul take off on the peak and drop vertically down the face, before vanishing out of sight behind a curtain of water. The wave behind broke in the exact spot and I swung my board around with ease and paddled into an equally steep take off, before curving into a bottom turn and racing the lip down the line with Paul hooting in front of me.

Our session lasted a good four hours until we just couldn’t paddle anymore through exhausted arms. The waves we so consistent and I was still baffled that no other surfers had walked down that same sandy track we had hours before.

yamba surfing

A re-visit to the wave

The season of spring had passed since my first surf at this spot. Every other surf that Paul reported on from this break was the same. Overcast sky, murky waters but pumping waves and no crowds. He had just taken off on a trip to Paris and I recall the feeling of “asking for permission” to surf it in his absence. This time another friend of ours and a guy he knew were coming along also. I wasn’t quite as brave as Paul to surf here solo. Of course we had all complied with strict secrecy not to tell anyone about the break! Today was a bit strange as the sky was entirely blue and as we pulled up to the carpark we spotted a 4×4 with surf stickers on the back. “Alright which one of you kooks have been talking?” Michael questioned with dramatised aggression. “Shutup, as if we would want anyone else surfing here, it’s probably a summer spot for the guys that are too pussy to surf in winter”, I responded. Whatever the reason, I’m sure these guys just stumbled upon the break by accident.

We didn’t bother to check the waves but instead took our boards straight down. We had already been driving long enough and were keen to get in the water.  When we got down to the beach we saw not one, but four surfers in a pack together in the water. The water looked crystal clear which took me by surprise. “I thought Paul said no one even touched this wave?” Michael asked. “Yeah well I’ve got some stories to tell him after this surf!”, I responded. Not too phased about the small group of surfers, we headed up the beach which was laid with a few sun-bakers and dogs chasing one another. This certainly wasn’t how I remembered this beach in late winter.

We found a peak and had a pretty big paddle out through a deep gutter and out onto the shallow sandbank that attracted the swell. There was not a breath of wind and looked to be about 2-3ft on the sets. We had each caught a couple of waves before there was a long lull between sets. We straddled our boards all sitting a few metres apart from one another, talking about what we’d been up to the past few months.

I was facing Michael, casually chatting about how many good days of surf there were in spring at my local break, when I noticed an unmistakable shadow lurk directly behind him. “Shit, behind you”, I yelled out. He turned around and in a split second replied, “Go, everyone, paddle in”. I had been in the water with many sharks before, but every one of them had cruised by on their way to find more bite-sized fish. This was a very different situation. For starters the sheer size had to make it a white pointer, its length measuring longer than a small car, but its girth absolutely terrifying. I knew this one wasn’t just passing through and had been sitting there sizing us off for a bite.

I tried to make light-hearted jokes as the three of us frantically paddled, with not much more than our fingertips, across the deep gutter of water. The setup of the sand banks, meant we couldn’t even catch the whitewater in from the breaking waves, as the water was far too deep to attract swell. Buzzing with adrenaline we finally made it across the water and into the shore break where we could ride whitewash in on our boards. We were all so incredibly relieved to touch the sand and we stood with legs that felt like they were made of jelly. “Holy shit that was so close, that thing was right behind me!”, Michael yelled out through lack of breath. “That had to be seconds away from an attack, I don’t know what would’ve happened had I not seen it”, I responded.

We rushed down the beach to signal the other group of surfers in the water what was out there. Another guy came up to us on the beach and had seen the whole thing. That’s when Michael explained that it was probably a lot bigger than what we thought. “You know those fishing shows, when they go to reel a giant fish in off the back of the boat? It looks tiny from above but then they reel it in and it’s a monster. I don’t reckon it was 10ft I think it was more 15!”. 

Surfing under that blue sky and surrounded in crystal clear water, I wondered how many days in murky surf that these giants were lurking around. By the time we drove home that morning, I think the shark had grown another few feet, the more we contemplated the degree of magnification in the water. When I got to a computer I instantly messaged Paul to let him know what went down. His first response was shock and relief that we all made it out alive, but then joked, “that’s what you get surfing MY wave when I’m not there!”.