I was down at North Narrabeen for the first surf of summer the other day. I define this to be the first surf where the water is warm enough that you can eschew a thick rubber wetsuit and wear boardshorts.

I have mixed feelings about surfing in summer. For eight or nine months a year, most beaches are very different places. There is something to be said about the beach in winter, at its harshest. It is empty. There will be maybe 5 cars in the whole carpark. No-one on the sand, except for a few wetsuit-clad surfers making a dash from the car to the water. You exchange curt nods and a 'Gday'. A whining, frigid southerly wind drives stinging sand into your ankles. The dull grey overcast sky hangs above a turbulent grey ocean. The air is colder than the water, so you huddle down on your board trying to keep as much of your body underwater, out of the wind (for extra hardcore points, it will be raining). Or maybe it's dawn, the sand is so cold your feet are burning, and from the shore the water is black. This is a desolate and uninviting beauty; the kind where nature grudgingly allows you to be there, rather than the other way around.

And then one day, maybe just into the start of spring, maybe in December, it will be really hot and sunny. Hot enough, in fact, that you might just leave the wetsuit at home. You drive down to the beach, and you see all these cars along the side of the road. You realize the carpark has overflowed and spilled a kilometre down this road. You find a park and walk back up the road, through the carpark, past the Surf Life Saving Club, and down the path through the dunes in a slight daze, mystified as to where on earth all these people have appeared from. Families with screaming kids. Packs of young guys smoking cigarettes. Groups of schoolkids. Old guys in Speedos. Sunbaking women. Topless sunbaking women. Fat topless sunbaking women. And a whole lot of people with surfboards under their arms. Seemingly zillions of people.

Summer has arrived, literally overnight.

The surf was fun, a northeast swell, about waist-high with a half-second period, slightly bumpy in the north-east sea breeze but still smooth, and populated by:

  • kids on bodyboards (Christmas presents, I'll bet)
  • A surprisingly large amount of middle-aged men on Malibu surfboards or stand-up paddleboards (both of which approach the size of a small boat). They move uncomfortably around the lineup in a sort of unstoppable wobble, scything down the kids on bodyboards, who can't get out of the way quickly enough.
  • An even larger amount of various girls and guys on surfboards of all shapes and sizes, who all look slightly out of place. They are probably from somewhere out west, or tourists from the caravan park, or possibly locals who think summer is 'surfing season'. No matter how much you paddle around, there is always one positioned exactly in your way just when you are about to stand up. You pull off and glare, and they look sheepish and mumble an apology (this must be how the guys from the Boardriders Club feel all the time).
  • A small amount of young professional surfers in town for the World Junior Chamionships, who are ripping it up like anything and take all the waves.
  • A small amount of local guys, who paddle around in a slight daze, mystified as to where on earth all these people have appeared from.

Aaah, surfing in Sydney. This isn't even one of the especially popular or crowded beaches, and the surf isn't even that good. Time to get out of here, get on a road trip down to the south coast. Or the north coast. Anywhere but here, really...

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