April 2024

Surfin' with Surfaris!


This post is only a week or so late, mostly because we haven’t had a spare moment to write it, we’ve been having too much fun! I have to say that the Surfaris trip was one of the most fun weeks of my life. It meshed so well with my personality – get up early, work hard during the day, party hard all night. If you call surfing working hard. But the way my muscles felt at the end of each day, it sure felt like work.

It all started innocently enough – a 5:30am wake up after Kenna partied the night away, then a 2 hour train ride to get on the surf bus. The kicker was that the bus drove exactly past the house we were staying in about 9:00 am, so we were choked that it couldn’t have picked us up there, and saved us 3 hours of riding trains and buses. Ah well.

Immediately we met a guy I pretty much instantly bonded with – his name was Scott, he was from Canada (Toronto), a programmer, who did his masters in Bioinformatics and recently worked on a project involving text mining biological abstracts (for those who don’t know, I graduated in Bioinformatics and my last project at the university involved text mining abstracts, and Zigtag was a lot of text mining). So we had a few things in common already. Things only got more interesting when Kenna met a girl named Amy from Chicago, and the four of us hung out all the time.

Scott surfing

Scott surfing

So finally after a gruelling 6 hour bus ride, we finally made it to the camp, and immediately grabbed wetsuits and headed out for our first lesson. The first lesson was on a lake called Tea Tree Lake, beside a forest of maleluca trees that produce tea tree oil, so the water was a dark brown color – almost like a cup of earl grey tea! Apparently the presence of so much of that oil meant the lake actually had healing properties…we heard a story about a guy with skin cancer who swam there every day and ended up in remission from it. Crazy.
The lake was also separated from the ocean only by a small sand dune, so this was a perfect place for us to learn a few of the surfing basics, like how to paddle and stand up. I was super impressed with Kenna’s paddling skills – must be all that swimming she does!

So after this short lesson, we paddled down the lake, up across a sand bar, and to the ocean, where we were set loose. Naturally, I wanted to make the most of the trip, so I went hard the first day, and I found I also had a partner in crime in the other Scott. Together we were determined to be surfing pipes by the end of the week.

That first day was ridiculously hard. Our group had about 30 people, and so everyone was banging into each other in the huge waves that were throwing us everywhere like rag dolls. After about an hour or two of this, it was time to go eat dinner. Man were we all hungry after all that work. We were also all wondering a bit if we’d like this surf camp – the waves were so intense and it was such tough work!

P1050018Getting back to the surf camp accomodation, I saw they had a drum kit and amplifiers set up, and a Rhodes piano. Back in high school, we used to idolize the Rhodes piano, so I tried to get it working. It looked like it hadn’t been played yet, and I later learned it belonged to a band that comes in every so often to play. One of the instructors saw me setting it up and sat down at the drums, and we jammed a bit. Scott came up and sang a pretty passable rendition of “Ice, Ice, Baby”.

After an amazing supper, it seemed like the night was going to flop as many people were heading to bed, including our surf instructors. Kenna followed suit, but Scott and I decided to stay up with a few others over a few brewskis and got to know each other. Not a crazy first night, but a cool night spent getting to know a few of the others in our group.

Day two started with a 7:30 a.m wakeup call from Kyle (our surf instructor) for a quick breakfast before hopping on the bus. We headed to a place called Hat Head – the instructors were always very careful about choosing a beach for us pending the wind direction, as this determines whether you will have good waves or not. After getting in the water, we found the conditions a lot better….it was much less intense and not pummeling us as much as the first day. Most people managed to make it up and surf on this day – our instructors were awesome and would ensure we’d be in the right place for a wave and would tell us when to paddle and when to stand up, and would even give us a push if our less-than-Arnold arms couldn’t get us onto the wave ourselves. It was awesome. Of course, Scott and I spent the whole day out in the water, catching waves and killing ourselves having a good time, while most people took breaks. Gotta make the most of it, right?

After an awesome day, and killer sunburns on the backs of our legs from laying on our fronts on the boards all day, it was time to party. I spent the early evening playing beach volleyball, and the instructors took us to the beach this night, where we had a giant bonfire. This is basically what surfers do – and they even brought down some shakers and guitars and we hung out singing songs and drinking (naturally I got on the guitar and jammed out). It was paradise. What was really cool was the blue bioluminescent plankton out in the ocean, causing the white part of the waves to glow. If you rubbed your feet on the sand, it would glow green. Apparently this is a natural defense response from the plankton – basically if something touches them they glow, which attracts other fish, which scares off the fish that was trying to eat it.

Fire tossers at the beach party

Fire tossers at the beach party

Then, the guys pulled out some fire tossers, and started giving us a show! It was awesome. Amy, having been a baton twirler in her youth, even got up and threw it around. Next: limbo time. We found a stick and started limboing. So much fun!

Most people started to clear out around 11:30 or so, but our group, being hardcore, kept going. Finally, we were out of drinks and it was time to head home (plus we weren’t looking forward to the 4 hours of sleep we’d get before another intense day of surfing)….

Day three was the best day of the whole trip. Even though we were super hung over, sunburnt, and exhausted from the first two days of surfing, it was amazing. The wind had switched directions, so we went to another beach, this time with really small, calm waves that were perfect for learning. We spent all morning and everyone was able to get onto a wave every time. It was really fun to get some successful rides, and kind of gave us the confidence that one day, we’d be able to ride waves easily. After some lunch and a snooze, we got back out there, but the wind had shifted and the waves were back to being hard. Naturally, Scott and I spent all afternoon out again, while most people were exhausted from the morning and sat it out. We also got a few minutes to do some cliff diving, as there was a rock jetting out with a perfect vertical.

After surfing, I played beach volleyball again, and more partying ensued. Kenna was absolutely exhausted from the night before, so took a night off, but I couldn’t resist a good party. So, the Canadians (me and Scott) started everybody on a rousing game of sociables before a guest band showed up to entertain us. Well, a band might be a loose term to describe these guys. They were pretty terrible, so it was good everybody was hammered to listen to them. In any case, after the horrible band, one of the little brothers of the instructors got on the mic, I got on the keys and a few other guys on the drums and guitar, and we laid down a groovy beat for the guy rapping on the mic. He was unbelievable, making up pretty coherent rhymes as he went and the crowd really got into it. That was awesome. Finally, with a 11pm noise curfew, we went back to drinking. It was Scott’s birthday the next day, so we celebrated a night early and got him (and everybody else) fairly inebriated. One guy even sipped up spilled rum off a disgusting picnic table. Great party.

Day four: on this day we headed back to Hat Head beach like day 2, and the waves were fairly powerful. Having gone really hard for three days, all of us were exhausted. Just getting behind the waves was starting to tire us out. But, we persisted, and had another great day of surfing.

Scott with the band

Scott with the band

In the evening, there was a real band that came out and played, and while we were eating dinner, a guy came up to me and said “I hear you play keyboards. Feel free to come up and join us when we play.” So, I spent all night long playing along with these three guys: a really excellent drummer, sax player and singer/guitarist. It’s really nice to jam with guys who know their songs down pat, since I can just follow them and they make me sound good. The sax player even inspired Kenna to get back into playing the alto sax when we come home. Awesome. What a great time. The next morning, the singer came through and offered everybody CD’s of his band and gave me an autographed copy, which was pretty awesome.

After the band cleared out, I expected another good party for our last night there, but it seemed everyone had peaked too early and it was pretty tame. We all sat outside telling jokes, but the night ended young. I think the line of the night was, when somebody made fun of us for sounding Canadian (which actually happens a lot – but we swear we don’t have accents!), Kenna said “It doesn’t sound like oot when it comes oot of my mooth.” Jai, one of the instructors, killed himself laughing and was like, “Good one, Canada.” Everyone knew me as “Scotty,” but because “Kenna” actually sounds like “Canada” for short, they just call Kenna Canada. Again, you wouldn’t think this at home (no one in Canada has ever said anything about it), but things change when you are abroad!

Kenna surfing

Kenna surfing

Our last day started early at 7am to maximize our surfing. We headed back to the first beach with Tea Tree Lake. Again the waves were pretty rough, but we were much better at surfing than before. We could actually get up on some waves, and we had a couple good rides. We were all definitely burned out by now, and we spent more time laying on our boards than trying to catch waves.

But the highlight of the day was when a pod of dolphins came to visit, not once but twice. They swam right through the group, and right underneath our boards. Unfortunately, both times, Kenna was off playing in Tea Tree Lake because she was so tired she couldn’t even paddle out past the waves. This is a really big piss off for her, since we’ve tried twice to swim with dolphins, and both times have missed them, and we get it for free and she’s off playing somewhere else. We had actually seen dolphin a few days before, but they were a little ways out, and Kenna missed those too. Ouch. [note from Kenna: I actually didn’t spend THAT much time dinking around, but didn’t go 100% of the day like Scott. I took breaks like NORMAL people, especially the girls (no matter how feminist you are, you can’t deny that men are just way stronger, especially in the arms)…]

Finally, we packed our bags and headed for Byron Bay on the long bus ride, and said goodbye to a lot of great new friends. I’m not sure that trip would have been as good without the people that we met there. The instructors were awesome, and both Kenna and I met some great people. It was just generally a great time, one of the best weeks I’ve ever had. Next post: Byron Bay – home of the hippie weed smokers. We’ve just left now, so it should be coming along shortly.

3 comments to Surfin’ with Surfaris!

  • Meredith

    OMG! You guys! THIS SURF CAMP sounds AMAZING! So jealous. So happy your guys are having the time of your lives! 😀

    Surfed in Maui and it was great but nothing like this!! I would love to do a camp like that!!

    HAVE FUN! BE SAFE! xoxo

  • Marc Chiswell


    you guys are having a great time. Scott, you must have had a great time jammin’ while Canada was glazing over at you and was saying that’s my man!!!!!

  • Jess

    As I write this, I am sitting in the same vantage point that your photos of the band “offshore” was taken! Your surf camp sounds just like mine! Incredible time… minus the harsh waves and all the rain. None the less, I highly recommend this camp!!

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