I rose quick, double checking my bag was packed with swimmers, sunscreen and a towel before running out the door. This was going to be an epic day for sure.
The sun was streaming through the window as I drove out to the airport. The sky was clear and blue. A great day for flying.
But I wasn’t going overseas. Or even interstate.
I was driving out to Tullamarine for a surf.
I met my friend Xani at the gates of Urbnsurf for our learn-to-surf class. Both of us had surfed before; her in Bali, me in my hometown Newcastle, so it wasn’t new to us, but what was brand new to us was Australia’s first surfable wave park. Open in 2020, Urbnsurf is a wave pool like no other. Split into right and left sections, the central cylinder churns the water into perfect waves that shoot out at the point where surfers wait eagerly in the line-up to catch one. From the shore it looked intimidating, but as we collected our boards and wetsuits our nerves turned to excitement.
We joined our group of five who were bubbling with mixed emotions just as much as we were. One of our group was a birthday girl keen for a party wave with her friend. But first – the basics. Our instructor talked us through the different techniques to pop-up onto the board. After a few tries on yoga mats in the sun, it was time to get in the water.
As beginners, we were going to play in the bays, the small white waves that a surfer out the back had already carved up. Our coach helped us get into position and take off, but it took a few wipeouts to finally get to our feet. When I stood up, my grin was as big as the longboard I was riding! I am sure you could see my smile if you were looking down from one of the planes flying above. Surfing, even just in white water, was the most ecstatic feeling. We made the most of every set, with our Softtech softboards really easy to manoeuvre. Being an ocean swimmer I thought my paddling technique was strong, but even my arms grew weak after an hour in the water.
Returning our boards and taking photographic evidence of our time there, Xani and I ended up in the hot tub, watching the surfers paddling the rip out to the point to surf the next hour of waves.
That afternoon I stuck around for the Girls Go UrbnSurf event. I had been nervous to attend alone, but when I was greeted with so many enthusiastic women all my worries disappeared. I knew I was with my people. We slipped into our wetsuits, me for a second time that day, and once we’d done a few yoga stretches together, off we went out into the water. This event had a full female takeover of the park, left and right, out the back and in the bays. The first wave I caught I was up on my feet! I couldn’t believe it! The beginners class really did help! It was definitely my favourite wave of the day.
Cheers of encouragement were heard from all around the park with women scoring waves left and right, all with smiles on their faces. Just sharing in that joy made me paddle out again and again. But after both the learn-to-surf class and another hour in the water, my arms eventually gave in, so after catching one last wave I returned my board and took a hot shower in the changing rooms. I let the heat and my happiness ooze into my joints and muscles.
I had women to chat to at every turn, on the shore, out in the waves, on the lawn and in the changing rooms. Making our way to the Three Blue Ducks restaurant for drinks and canapes, I managed to catch a conversation with pro surfer Isabella Nichols. She was so down-to-earth and speaking about surfing as her job was just so inspiring. Her routine – 2 hours morning surf, then gym, physio, sport psychologist, then another surf in the afternoon – made it sound like a pretty epic job to me. And on top of all that she’s studying to be a mechanical engineer, to build more surf parks like Urbnsurf in the southern hemisphere!
Another highlight was the Q&A panel with Isabella Nichols, Coolum board riders Brisa Canina, Livy Corvisy and the writer of Surf Life Gill Hutchison. They described their favourite places to surf (Noosa mostly!) and gave some stoke advice about just getting out there, never feeling judged in the water, embracing the bruised ego, and keeping at it.
Looking out into the ocean of women I thought how far we’d come. When I was young, none of my friends wanted to surf. Mum threw me into a girls surfing retreat on my own one weekend, but all of the women were much older than me. And with surfing for sport at school I was way too intimidated to go out there with the boys.
But now, with all the women I met at Urbnsurf, I know I will always have a friend in the water.