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Surf’s Up In Sydney

Getting the best of both worlds in the city Down Under

Written by . Published on January 4th 2012.

Surf’s Up In Sydney

THERE are many things to fear on the Australian coast if you’re a first-time visitor to the country. Deadly snakes and spiders, jellyfish and dangerous ocean rips are only the start. That’s not forgetting the obvious giant-finned creatures that lurk in the waters of New South Wales.

As novices gathered round on an intensely hot but breezy Monday afternoon, it was surprising how quickly a feeling of dread washed over me.

So when I decided to head to the Land Down Under and take on a surfing lesson, I realised there could be many frightening hurdles to jump before I could call myself a pro. But sticking to my New Year’s resolution to unleash my adventurous side, I headed to Manly Surf School for a two-hour taster.

A beginner’s class is exactly that, and won’t involve being thrown into a ferocious swell while you pray you’re not the next meal for Jaws. But if you’re a city slicker who tends to hold onto your creature comforts like me, trying out an adventure sport like surfing, I learned it needn’t be as traumatic as you might have first thought. An introduction to riding the famous Australian waves is surprisingly exhilarating, even if a little challenging at first.


As novices gathered round on an intensely hot but breezy Monday afternoon, it was surprising how quickly a feeling of dread washed over me. My reaction to having to pull on a cold and dripping wet rubber suit was well, a bit pathetic. But as I shivered, and winced at the scraping feeling of sand inside my trouser leg, I realised this was only the start.

We zipped up and dragged on white T-shirts emblazoned with the Manly Surf School logo. At least the instructor could spot us once we were let loose into the ocean – even if we did look like a pack of scared sheep. Some say the white T-shirt also prevents predators mistaking you for a tasty seal. Here’s hoping, I thought.

Once we were suitably kitted out and allocated boards, we were guided through stretching exercises for the arms and legs. This followed with a detailed explanation of ocean ‘rips’.

The instructor, (who, for the sake of the story, we’ll name Brad), began digging out small holes into the wet sand and building up small mounds to represent sand banks under the sea. While still baffled by the thought of controlling a six-foot board in the choppy rollers of Manly Beach, taking in the science of the ocean currents was a little too much to take in. I was grateful however that I knew the basics – don’t try to swim against the rip, let the current take you to the next sandbank and gauge your movement by pinpointing landmarks on the shore. Failing that, put your hands in the air and cry for help.

Then came the exciting bit: how to surf.


While Brad explained it was important to walk before you run, we went through the basics of carrying the board on your hip and getting past the waves by tipping from the back ‘tail’ of the board. You’re also shown how to position the tops of your toes behind the tail of the board, and how to place your hands at chest level if lying down.

The final tip was how to protect your head if you get dragged under the water or get ‘dumped’, gulp). With the Velcro ankle strap firmly in place, we took to the ocean.  Many collided or got ‘dumped’ within the first ten minutes. This wasn’t going to be easy.

On return to the shore we were taken through the next step – the transition from lying to a standing position. Many learners adopted the ‘natural’ stance – leading with their left foot. An unexpected push from someone behind me resulted in my right foot lunging forward by reflex. This, I learned, revealed I should surf with my right foot in front. In surf terms I have a ‘goofy’ stance. Not entirely complimentary is it?

Sunworshippers gawped as we lay face down on our boards and mimicked paddling on the sand. We practiced jumping from a horizontal position to the surfer’s stance, and while jumping up like frogs, many member of the group found themselves in all sorts of wobbly positions. This was a true test of core balance.

We took to the choppy water a second time and as the waves rolled in, I turned myself around and prepared to leap on. Heart beating and face like a deer in the headlights, I jumped and toppled. Several attempts later, my toes had been yanked by the ankle wire enough times to feel like they’d been stung by a deadly bluebottle.


Clenching my jaw through the pain, I eventually glided smoothly to the shore adopting a balanced poise. A small step for a surf pro but a giant leap for a novice like me. I felt immensely proud.

After two hours of determined exertion, a look of exhaustion swept across the group. But after dragging our boards back to the shore, this was replaced by whoops and high-fiving.

As I peeled off my sandy wetsuit, I assessed my bruised toe. I had a real surfer’s injury – surely that’s something to brag about.

A few hours later and we clinked together our glasses of pina colada over the sparkling lights of Darling Harbour and two things dawned on me. Number one: I’d managed to forget my creature comforts unleash the 2012 adventurer within me. Number two: I’d achieved it in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

To book a lesson at Manly Surf School log on to: www.manlysurfschool.com or call: (61) (2) 9977 6977



More Information

Where to stay

Marriott Sydney Harbour Circular Quay 
Trendy and newly refurbished five star city hotel where many rooms give a bird’s eye view over the Harbour Bridge and Opera house. Try Icons Brasserie for seafood buffet or modern Australian cuisine, or the stylish Macquarie Lounge for cocktails and coffee. 

 For ultimate indulgence and to ease those aching muscles, try a hot stone massage in the Level Four Health Club and Day Spa. You will not regret it.

For B&Bs and guesthouses along the New South Wales coastline  go to www.visitnsw.com


Sydney’s best waterside dining and drinks

Cruise Bar, Circular Quay 
For bar style or a la carte dining overlooking the opera house. www.cruisebar.com.au

Loft Bar, King Street Wharf 
The PIna Colada is to die for. www.theloftsydney.com

Bungalow 8, Darling Harbour 
Fun and sophisticated Pan Asian cuisine with harbour front Tiki surroundings. www.bungalow8sydney.com


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