Sand sticks between your toes with each step you take towards the ocean. The waves tumble noisily and roll against the shore. Several surfers plough through the water tossing their boards over the heads of the breakers. Beside you a giggling teen slides ungraciously off his board then quickly launches himself back into the fray.
This may be the first time you have donned a wetsuit and tucked a short board under your arm, but it won’t be the last. And now that Australia has 11 gazetted National Surfing Reserves, visitors have even more reason to sample this quintessential Australian obsession.
Surfing in Australia is open to all. No-one cares how well you paddle the board or how often you topple into the surf. The only rule, if there is one, is one surfer per wave.
“If you don’t try surfing this year it will just be another year you wish you had,” says Brad Whittaker, beach operations manager for the Cronulla Beaches National Surfing Reserve, just south of Sydney.
“It’s not hard to get out there and have a go,” he says. “Sure there is a wide range of surfing breaks (at Cronulla) for the experienced surfer, but this coast has plenty of options for the new surfers, and you won’t believe the freedom you feel riding a wave.”
Former professional surfer Mark Aprilovic, who has been coaching new surfers for the past 16 years at his Surfing Cronulla Surfschool, endorses this message.
“We’ve taught people from six to 70 to surf. Once you learn how to paddle and the standing technique, it’s not that hard. Anyway wiping out is part of the fun.”
Surf legend Mark (Occy) Occhilupo is a local Cronulla boy who has won 12 elite surfing tour victories and seven world specialty event titles, including the 1999 World Title.
According to Occy, the surfing reserves are “Paramount to protecting the surfing environment and keeping places like Cronulla the way it is – with so much variety for both pro and amateur surfers.”
“I remember thinking, ‘far out, I can’t believe this’, when I started riding waves,” says Occy. “This feeling stays with you.”
“I felt like that too,” says Mark Aprilovic. “Everyone does when they start to feel the water and enjoy this environment – it’s stress release. Like you are reconnecting with nature.”
Getting to the Cronulla Beaches National Surfing Reserve is easy. Trains and buses service the area, and the beach is only a 40-minute drive from the centre of Sydney. Most of Australia’s existing surfing reserves are all a short drive from major arterial highways.
You do not have to be a professional surfer to enjoy these surfing reserves. They are open to anyone who feels the desire to dive into the sea or fling a beach towel across the sand. And you may pick up a few tips from the locals or learn new skills by joining a surfing class offered by one of the reserves' accredited surfing schools.
There are 10,685 beaches along Australia’s 37,000-km coastline. It’s called the 'ribbon of gold' for a good reason because some of the finest beaches in the world embrace this island nation.
It’s not surprising, then, that more than 80 per cent of the Australian population lives within 50 kilometres of the coast. International visitors are similarly attracted to Australia’s surfing breaks and an outdoor experience that is second to none.
“The beaches belong to everyone,” says Brad Farmer, the National Surfing Reserves Chairman.
“Anyone can be a surfer. It’s part of Aussie culture. We wanted to create surfing reserves around the country for everyone to experience surfing. Cronulla is the fifth National Surfing Reserve in Australia and there are 24 more on the way.”
The surfing reserve at Bells Beach, Victoria was established by the State Government in 1973. This was to protect the coastal environment and the beach culture that emerged along this coastal fringe in the 1960s and became so much a part of the Aussie way of life.
Bells Beach is the home to six lauded breaks, as well as the longest running surf contest in the world – The Easter Rip Curl Pro – and the birthplace of the iconic international surfing labels Rip Curl and Quiksilver. Many visitors say it is almost a religious experience to touch the sand or dip a toe in the water.
Australia’s second surfing reserve was dedicated at Angourie in northern New South Wales in 2007. The surfing fraternity considers the right-hand point break at this north coast surfing village to be hallowed territory. On any given day you could be paddling at the back of the break alongside surf legends such as Nat Young and Mark Richards, or American champ Kelly Slater if he happens to be in town.
Lennox Head was the next to make the list. At the heart of the surfing hub of the far north coast of New South Wales, Lennox is renowned for its tough right-hand break off the point.
Crescent Head, also in New South Wales, became a surfing reserve in May 2008. This surfing hot spot was the breeding ground of longboard surfing in the 1950s. Today Crescent Head attracts longboard riders from around the world.
National Surfing Reserves:
- Bells Beach, Victoria –71 kilometres from Melbourne, off the Great Ocean Road. Visit during the Rip Curl Pro at. Learn to surf with Southern Exposure Surf School.
- Angourie, New South Wales – Located less than 30 minutes south of Yamba, northern New South Wales. Enjoy year-round surfing with fewer surfers during the week. Yamba-Angourie Surf School will teach you the basics.
- Lennox Head, New South Wales –15 minutes' drive south of Byron Bay, northern New South Wales. Lennox Head hosts the annual Lennox Longboard Classic in August and the Gromfest junior surfing event in July. Best breaks are between May and August. Kool Katz Learn to Surf School provides instruction.
- Crescent Head, New South Wales – 19 kilometres southeast of Kempsey, on the mid north coast of New South Wales. Malibu board hot spot with the Malibu Classic in May each year. Get ready for the waves with Crescent Head Learn to Surf.
- Cronulla Beaches, New South Wales – 40-minute drive from Sydney. Cronulla Surfschool offers classes for beginners.
- Maroubra Beach, New South Wales - Just 12 kilometres from the centre of Sydney. Maroubra has a long affinity of surfing with Maroubra Surfing Association formed in 1964. Safe Surf Schools is a nationally recognised surf school.
- Mereweather, New South Wales - Situated in Newcastle, Mereweather was the training ground for, 4 time surfing World Champion Mark 'MR' Richards. Surfest Surf School offer lessons at the gentle waves of Nobby's Beach, 3 kilometres north.
- Killalea, New South Wales - Including both 'The Farm' and 'Mystics' breaks, Killalea stretches 8 kilometres along the coast between Shell Harbour to the north and Kiama to the south. Lands Edge Surf School offer lessons at 'The Farm'.
- North Narrabeen, New South Wales - Situated on Sydney's Northern Beaches, 'Northie' is one of Sydney's most consistent breaks and home to a multitude of World Champions. Sydney North Surf School offer lessons all along Sydney's Northern Beaches.
- Margaret River, Western Australia - 267 kilometres south of Perth, Margaret River was declared as the first National Surfing Reserve in Western Australia in March 2010. 'Margs' is one of Australia's most spectacular group of surfing breaks. Margaret River Surf School will get you up and riding
- Kalbarri, Western Australia - A six hour drive north from Perth will land you in the midst of Kalbarri National Park. Home to the iconic lefthander that is Jakes Point, this might be one for the more experienced surfers.
- Manly, New South Wales - Recently added in September 2010, Manly is the birthplace of surfing in Australia with over a 100 year surfing heritage and home to two world surfing champions Barton Lynch and Layne Beachley. Manly Surf School have been giving lessons since 1983.
Did You Know?
Americans played a key role in bringing surfing to Australia. It was Hawaiian Olympic swimming champion Duke Kahanamoku who introduced surfing with demonstrations of boardriding at Cronulla, Freshwater and Manly in the summer 1914-15. He created a sensation, especially when he stood on his head on the board. In 1959 the Californians brought the short mailbu boards to Cronulla Beach and started a surfing revolution.
Author: Gail Liston-Burgess on behalf of Tourism Australia. This article is copyright-free and may be reproduced. Originally published 22 January 2009.