Learning in Byron
Byron Bay, Australia
How long does it take before you become addicted to getting that perfect wave, or truly know what it feels like to have a wave wipe you out? I have to admit, I only started surfing at the beginning of February 2003. I know that it is not a long time, but it was long enough for me to become completely hooked on it. I can’t go near a beach now without looking for the points, the rips, and of course the surf. Surfing is the one thing that I can do to free myself from everything waiting for me back on the beach. I know that it will be a good day, no matter what happens in the water, because at least I am out there.
When I went to Australia I knew that I wanted to start surfing and this country was known for its great surfing. The East Coast of Australia is lined with some of the world’s best surfing spots, and I was determined to go to as many as I could in the three months I was there. I had no idea how good it actually was though until I got into the water. But this trip report is about one of my favorite surf spots around a specific area: Byron Bay.
Byron Bay is a small town about 12 hours north of Sydney by bus, and it is a wonderful change of pace from city life. The atmosphere is laid back and the people are very friendly. It’s great to see the local seventy year old man that works at the newsstand walking down the road talking to the local hippie that works at the body shop around the corner. The town itself has every kind of alternative lifestyle shop you could imagine, and some great nightlife. Every evening is full of people in the streets going out to eat, listen to live music, or dance till 4 am.
You can’t help but notice that surfing is also a central part of the town. Surf shops, companies that offer surf lessons, and tours are on every corner. There are always people walking through the town carrying boards too and from the beach. With all I had heard about the popularity of Byron I was expecting a built up resort town. I thought I would see fast food restaurants and hotels taking up all of the space down to the beach. However, the town has kept out most of the major developments, and it still very much belongs to the people of Byron. Once you get down to the beach there are no buildings around. It is endless stretches of white sandy beach and forest blocking out any of the buildings near the beach. Not that it matters much; no building in Byron is over three or four stories tall.
After taking a few classes from a much laid back, but knowledgeable company, Black Dog Surfing, I found out that the Pass is the main area near Byron to go surfing. The Pass is a short, fifteen minute walk down the beach and it is a solid right hand point break that is great for beginner to intermediate surfers. On big swell days it is good for any skill level though. When the wind was right and the swell was good the waves there were perfect with three to four foot faces at times.
On my second week there I was going to the Pass every day for six or seven hours. The only problem with the Pass is the number of people surfing there. On a slow day there were usually twenty to thirty people in the water, on a good day you could see up to fifty. It can get a bit frustrating to fight for every wave, but the rides were worth it. Attempting to rip it up on the Pass was great because the waves were so good. However, I knew that there had to be something a little more secluded and private, so I made it my goal to find out where these places were.
I spent a lot of my downtime bugging the people at Black Dog surfing, and one afternoon one of the guys asked if I wanted to join him for an early morning surf at a small town called Ballina. It was 20 kilometers south of Byron bay, but it promised to be a great spot with few people.
They picked me up at 5:00am and we got to Ballina just as the sun was coming up. It was beautiful. As we waited for waves you could see the reflection of the bright orange sun that was rising behind us on the waves that would form as they passed us by. It was a great beach break, and the waves had on average five foot faces. The sets were coming in pretty regularly, and every now and then I would catch a seven foot face wave. The best part was other than the four of us, there were only five or six other people on the long stretch of beach. We had all the waves we wanted. The sets were pretty constant and the waves made some good barrels. I got pretty beat up when I tried getting into a barrel, but the other guys with me had some awesome rides. The area is also frequented by dolphins and they have no problem coming right up to your board. It is not uncommon to see dolphins surfing the waves you missed and the pod that we saw that morning was no exception. The waves that did not have any surfers on them were being taken by the dolphins as they came streaking out of the face. Ballina is secluded, beautiful, and the beach break is something not to be missed.
The last really good spot that I experienced was again with the people at Black Dog. It was a point called Broken Head. It was a good surf spot only 7 km south of Byron, and I ended up surfing there more than anywhere else while I was in Byron. A car is a good way to go, but I didn’t have one so I had to rent a bike and take my board with me. The last hill getting to the beach was a killer, but it was worth it.
The main spot to surf at Broken Head is the rocky right hand point, but when the conditions are right the beach breaks are great too. The fifteen times I went there it was pretty secluded, but I heard from locals that when it is really ripping it can get a bit crowded. The average size I saw was five to six foot faces, and I was able to get some great waves there. It was a bit nerve racking going out on my own, but it allowed me to spend as much time as I wanted in the water without any pressure. At Broken Head I was able to catch my first barrel, and while it was only for a second or two before I felt the sand pummeling my face, the feeling was great. I would get back into Byron completely wrecked, but I would already be thinking about the weather and swell that would influence the surfing on the next day. On my last day at Broken Head the sky was clear and the waves were clean and big. I stayed there for about ten hours. I think it was because I dreaded the ride back, but I know it was because of the surfing was too good to leave.
Byron is one of the best spots that I traveled to on the East Coast. Of course, there are many other great spots around Byron for surfing, but I can’t tell you all of them, that would take all the fun out of the adventure of finding them. My advice is to find the full surfing scene, spend enough time there to get to know the place and more importantly the people, you won’t be disappointed.