Last updated on May 15, 2023
As my round the world trip picked up speed and headed into parts of the world with erratic internet access, I started to lose the thread of the story, jumping ahead to share updates of my current travels. But that left some truly wonderful experiences unshared! So we head back in time today to the east coast of Australia for a flashback to my questionably successful attempts learning how to surf.
Our time machine has landed us to a sunny, windy day in the surfing town of Byron Bay. After getting my fill of diving in Cairns, taking a gorgeous boat ride to the Whitsundays, and four-wheel driving on the world’s largest sand island, it was time for another adventurous activity: learning to surf.
What is Surf Camp Like in Byron Bay?
Other travelers warned me that, as a complete newbie, I only needed two days of exhausting lessons before I would beg for a break, my muscles not up to the strenuous task. Heeding their advice, I signed up for a two-day class with Mojo Surf to give me a taste of surfing without the body-aching pain I would feel from the seven-day courses they also offered.
Byron Bay is a hippy coastal town soaked in the alternative lifestyle. An eccentric nudist community, Nimbin, is just a short ride outside of town and every third backpacker you meet sports a wetsuit sunburn and sun-bleached dreads. The vibe is fun, laid-back, and it turned out to be the perfect backdrop to my painstaking hours of surf lessons. The Mojo Surf van pulled up in front of my hostel and within minutes the ten of us were cruising a coastal road parallel to the rolling ocean waters.
Although I had packed a short-sleeved rash-guard, our instructors also passed out full-sleeved rashies that would protect our arms from both sun and potential sand-burns on our skin. The sun in Australia is even stronger than my hometown, so I also slathered myself in sunscreen while our instructor unloaded the van. Dan was a cliché surfer dude—long, sun-bleached hair, darkly tanned skin, and a groovy, far-out personality designed to perfectly accompany the look. He had such a positive outlook on life and he seemed to love his job, so he made the day that much brighter. Plus, he truly lives for the surf, he oozed enthusiasm from every pore, so I couldn’t have had a better teacher for the two-day course.
Learning the Surfing Motions
My first lesson of the day was unexpected: long boards are heavy! There was no way I could carry it under my arm like the guys in our group, so the women and I hoisted the boards onto our heads before trotting to the beach. Mine plunked into the sand ungracefully, but no one paid me any mind. We made a semi-circle with the boards as the group assembled on shore for a safety talk. Instructor Dan explained the tidal patterns for the day, how wind would effect us, how to handle rip currents, and safety precautions to keep our boards from hurting each other once we were in the water.
Then we did a dry-run and practiced the moves on the sand—long, deep scooping motions with the arms and then you jump up as quick as lightening. Before I could felt truly ready, Instructor Dave shooed us down the beach, assuring us that the best way to learn was actually on the waves. My first thought: “Holy crap I’m not ready yet!” But that doesn’t cut it in surf school and our three instructors fanned out into the water to help us practice our technique.
Trying to Stand on the Surf Board in Water
Surfing is hard work! I bit it over and over again, eating water, sand, shells and even some stringy seaweed. And just when I would start to feel accomplished because I would get half-way up before tipping over, I looked back to see the instructor holding onto the back of the board for me!
My main issue was jumping up from the paddle position into knees-bent surf position quickly and with my weight centered. By the end the first day, board burn scored both of my knees but I could successfully make it up onto the board as long as the instructor was also holding it upright. Which was still quite the accomplishment since learning the rhythm of standing is one of the trickiest parts.
Solo Surfing in Byron Bay
Our second day was both better and worse. The training wheels had come off and our instructors were less eager to hold the back of our boards for us. Crap. That meant I had to not only pick my own waves, but paddle and then jump up all by myself!
It did not go well throughout the morning.
Learning How to Fall
By lunch time, I was freaked out from a scary fall where I picked a wave that was far too large, I fell off tumbled into the water. By this point, I had fallen before but this wave was huge and it tossed me like in a rag-doll in a washing machine for what felt like minutes (really only seconds).
The seconds dragged on though, and bent and braced my arms over my head to protect my neck if I hit the bottom, just as they had taught us the day before. The whole time though, I just prayed that my board wouldn’t hit me in the face while the wave tumbled me.
I surfaced coughing up liters of water and dragging the board cord tied to my ankle and slugging my way onto the beach to take a break. My teacher’s response: “Woah, narley fall dude … but wait, what are you doing up here, get back in the water — there’s still ten minutes before lunch!”
He wouldn’t let me psych myself out from the fall, so I signed and returned to the water, giving it a half-hearted attempt before our lunch break. After lunch, I am proud to say that I made it upright on the board! And on my own, too. I won’t go so far as to lie and say that I can get up on the board consistently, but I was at least standing up each time, although not yet coasting very far once I was up. Baby steps.
It was hugely exhilarating to stand up on the board as it coasted toward the shoreline. There’s a power you feel when you conquer something difficult, and I’m hooked. While I will never be the best surfer in the world, it is a whole lot of fun, bloody knees, sore muscles and all—and I do kind of wish I had another day or two of camp. Those backpackers were wrong, I could have surely managed more days since I was feeling motivated and freshly accomplished by the end of the second day.
You can bet that the next surfing opportunity I get, I am there for more lessons without a second thought! My Australia photo gallery has many more pictures of me eating it into the waves. :)
Quick Tips: Learning to Surf in Byron’s Bay
Where to Take Surf Lessons
I used Mojo Surf after endlessly researching my options. I needed a budget option with good reviews, and they fit the bill nicely.
Where to Sleep in Byron’s Bay
I stayed at the Arts Factory Lodge in the dorms and it was a good spot from which to explore the city—basic but clean and has a great traveler vibe. If I return as a couple, I would likely stay in the Bayshore Bungalows, which are mid-range prices and more private than the hostels.
Australia Travel Guide
I have a free Australia Travel Guide here, collecting all of the tips from my two months in country, with links and lists of the companies I loved during my trip. I also used the Australia Lonely Planet religiously during my backpacking trip and it is, by far, the most comprehensive guide to the country.
9 thoughts on “A Little Adventure… Surfing Waves and Eating Water in Byron Bay, Australia”
I like this place! I love the idea and wish there was a place like this in Astoria, Queens. I am a surfer and found a “real surfer bar” in Point Break NYC. I am kinda jealous ;0PIts filled with surfers, people who like surfers, people who like the beach and people who don't want to live close to town. I really like this place. You know what they have these real Proctor and Channel One surfboards on the wall. It's nice for coming any day of the week and eating a late brunch. The food was outstanding. The brunch and sides were prefect and tasty. It is a perfect “escape” from city living. It is probably one of the only places where you can get a nice frozen pina colada or margarita. The service was on hit. They came up and checked on us so many times and made sure everything was up to par. It gets very active and the bartenders keep everybody having a good time. The bartender was very accommodating. He was nice enough to make a drink, that wasn't on the menu, for me :0) Did I mention the bartenders are nice eye candy. It was amazing to see their “das boot” which is shaped like a boot filled with beer. Don’t get me wrong, I am not drunk…it’s an actual boot shaped beer container ready to be emptied. Try it ..You will love it!! Oh. How can I forget, they even have a wheel o' shots where you just have to spin it and have to drink whatever shot it lands on!! Now call that bar creativity at its best!!! And when I spill a tray full of shots on myself, the bartender so kindly remakes them for me? Good music, too, and the decor helped us weather an otherwise overcast and rainy day. You know that old song “Brandy”? It goes, “Brandy, you're a fine girl, what a good wife you would be. But my life, my lover, my lady is the sea.” I believe Brandy works here. No reason, I just do. And that song happens to be a guilty pleasure of mine, so that's a plus in my book. You can simply waltz over to this colorful and warm establishment, enjoy some drinks with friends, and walk home. The bar is right at the center, so you can walk to either side for drinks, and the bartenders are friendly and at your service. There is a variety of seating, good music, and friendly neighborhood people to make your time more enjoyable. Not pretentious, very cozy, I think Point Break is a fabulous place to spend some time with friends.
Thanks for the tip! Sounds like a really fun place to try out. :-)
Thanks for the tip! Sounds like a really fun place to try out. :-)
That’s so awesome!!!!!
I know right! How bad-ass do I seem ;-) There aren’t any after shots up though of the bloody knees and huge bruises I sustained. But I soooo want to do it again; if I ever move back to Cali it’s a definite.
You know – surfing is one of those things I’d like to be able to say I could do – but having watching Snakes on a Plane, if Samuel L Jackson can’t do it – what hope does a mere mortal like myself have?
That’s not a good reason – that’s Hollywood! You dont even have to be good at it to have fun just trying :-)
Yeah! congratulations, nothing like getting up on that board for the first time! We surfed in Bali, and it is really tough. I was freaked out a couple of times too. Those falls can be brutal. But you did it !!!!
It is just so freaky the first time you really go under and tumble! Thanks for the congrats :-) I was so very proud of myself to make it up before the camp ended.
As for you – diving in Bali – that just sounds amazing…like how could there even be a prettier place to try it?!