Thursday, December 23, 2010

Surfing in Australia -- Never mind the myths, check out the facts

The mythology of Australian surfing gets both overdone and underdone occasionally. The underdone version would make anyone think all you needed to surf in Australia was a pool cleaner, and the overdone version would have anyone learning ballet rather than surfing.


The beaches
Australia is very well laid out for surfers- Beaches everywhere around the country. Some beaches are great, some are like mazes:

  • Currents: If you’ve always wanted to see South America, Antarctica or Eastern Africa, some currents will be happy to oblige. Keep an eye on these things, and check them out with the locals.
  • Rips: You’ll find all the experienced local surfers have a lot of respect for rips. These things get nasty, and even strong swimmers can get into trouble.
  • Rocks: The Australian coast has a lot of very large coastal rock formations which extend offshore in some pretty unlikely places. You do need some local knowledge for the rocky beaches.
  • Life savers: These guys know what they’re doing, and if you’re in trouble they’ll risk their own lives to help. So pay attention if they say something’s not a good move, they mean it.
  • Popular beaches: Some beaches, like Bondi, are good surf beaches with a sad habit of attracting civilian non-surfers. Play safe, because these big crowds tend to be exactly where you don’t want them to be.
  • Bush beaches: The really wild surf beaches, particularly in Western Australia, are brilliant, but being out in the bush without some backup can be a real problem. You need good communications and to know how to get help when you need it.
  • Beach campsites: Check out any local dangers on land and sea before setting up camp.

The wildlife thing
Like most wild animals, Aussie wildlife has better things to do than get tangled up with humans, but if they get irritated, you could have a real problem.
  • Sharks: Very occasional dangers, but the big guys are potential real trouble. Great Whites, Bull Sharks and Tiger Sharks are the usual culprits. If you hear a shark alarm, take the hint.
  • Saltwater crocs: Northern waters only, not usually a problem if surfing, but dangerous around campsites.
  • Stingers: Queensland and the north. They’re the most venomous animal on Earth. These tiny jellyfish pack a punch and can cause heart failure. Stay well away, and check the water warnings. Learn the first aid techniques and the emergency number.
  • Blue ring octopus: Southern waters. A small, irritable octopus with the bite of a snake. Very dangerous, but not aggressive unless provoked.
  • Sea snakes: Extremely venomous. Bites are so rare they’re almost unknown, but if you get bitten, get help.
  • Fish: Avoid lion fish and the big eels.
  • Coral: Coral cuts always get infected. Don’t get casual about it, get some antibiotics.
  • Water organisms: Some types of algae and other organisms can cause severe irritation. Don’t hang around if you get vision or skin issues, get treatment.
Surfing in Australia, is a national sport because Aussies love it. You can have a ball when you know the ropes.

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