Adrenaline pumped through my veins as I closed the hatchback of my Subaru. The time had come. In the driver’s seat, I pulled out my graffiti-covered map of the coast: all the best and potential surf breaks I’d encounter marked out in an eclectic mix of symbols. I had one month and the plan was to surf as many breaks as possible from Sydney to Bells Beach and back. I was travelling and surfing alone and hoped to free camp to stay under budget. First stop, The Farm.
🌊 S 3-6ft 💨 NW Tide: All
The farm was once an actual farm. It was also a hidden gem where surfers paid the farmer fifteen cents for entry onto his property to access one of the best breaks in the Shoalhaven. All that is long gone though, and I cringed as I wove through the new estates, which now surround Killalea State Park.
Always crowded, even on a weekday, I grabbed my board and headed north. It’s a long hike to the north end, so many don’t know its secrets. Like how it is often half the size and has no rights for natural footers, but it does produce perfect small lefts which are always fun. Especially since you have every wave to yourself! An ideal way to start my journey.
Seven Mile Beach
🌊 SE 4-7ft 💨 NW Tide: All
Fifteen minutes after my surf I reached the hill overlooking Seven Mile Beach – an iconic East Coast beach with a perfect peak for every type of surfer stretching for seven miles. Who would have thought? – I could see glassy lefts running for miles (not literally); ideal conditions for learners, long boarders and SUP riders with a bustling line-up to match. A kilometre further south, I pulled into National Parks, a separate peak, to find the same awesomely formed small-sized waves just begging to be ridden, and only two surfers out. Bliss, this is where I’d sleep tonight.
🌊 N 2-6ft 💨 NW-NE Tide: All
A not-so-secret haven for Ulladulla locals down the infamous Pot Holes Road in Meroo National Park and the perfect place to non-officially free camp. To my surprise, the road was freshly graded and I felt like I was on a highway, with the traffic to match, which was slightly devastating. Without checking the surf, I made my way down the trail to the beach to get the first glimpse of the waves.
With multiple banks to choose from, I was in luck, as my favourite bank (best at high tide) was firing with only a couple of surfers sitting on it. The benefits of local knowledge.
🌊 SE 6-8ft 💨 W Tide: All
Sheltered from a howling southerly, I was stoked to find a clean wave the first time I ventured into the small town on a separate solo surf adventure. It was here that I first experienced discrimination for being a girl surfer. I persisted in the line-up and eventually gained respect – well, more like they all gave me a break once the leading tool got out of the water.
This trip I was nervous, as again I was a girl travelling alone. With no howling southerly, Jamison’s Point on the southern side of Potato Point was breaking. This time not one guy blinked an eye when I joined them in the line-up. Ten kilometres from the main road these breaks never draw a crowd. Not only are the waves, clean and well formed, but you can camp on the headland in the Eurobodalla National Park with wallabies and emus to keep you company.
🌊 E 5-8ft 💨 W Tide: Mid tide
Fresh from an early at Potato Point and epic camp breakfast, I reached the Narooma Breakwall to find the car park overflowing. I crossed my fingers hoping all the cars were for the harbour and not the surf. It wasn’t at its finest, but there was still some three-foot clean waves rolling through. I switched into my surfing bikini and paddled out just as the line-up emptied to include no one but me.
For an hour I paddled into wave after wave. Exhausted, I dragged my body up the sand and was approached by a spectator from Melbourne. “You were mesmerising out there,” he told me before asking me out to lunch. I couldn’t help but laugh. Mesmerising—that’s a first!
🌊 NE 4-6ft 💨 W Tide: All
Often when on surf trips alone, I text or call home before I paddle out. On this occasion I wished I texted as my mum recounted the story of the local swimmer who was mauled by a shark at this very beach never to be found. Thanks, Mum!
Regardless, I ran down the sand track halfway up the beach to join three guys surfing a nice bank. I snagged a few good rides before paddling back out in the murky waters to find the others had gone.
That’s when it happened. I psyched myself out. News headlines flashed through my mind “Jaws Strikes Again! Gurfer Dies During Solo Surf.” Annoyed at myself, I trudged out of the water to wait for other surfers to appear. They didn’t, and I watched the waves disappear with the incoming tide.
Merimbula Bar & Pambula River Mouth
🌊 SW, S 3-6ft 💨 NW, NE Tide: low-mid 🌊 NE 3-5ft 💨 SW, S Tide: low-mid
Lucking out at Tathra, it was time to move on. Apparently, the Merimbula Bar fires in larger south and south-west swells. Similarly, the Pambula River Mouth is supposed to be awesome in three-five foot north-east swells. However, both have resembled a lake every time I pass through and this time was no different. Time to keep on driving…
🌊 S 3-6ft 💨 NW Tide: All
Luck is my middle name. Not technically, but I felt oozing with the stuff after the campground host said he had a cancellation and I could stay the night; it’s near impossible to get a site during peak season. To top it off he said the infamous break would be working tomorrow. I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face. This would be my third crack at getting a wave at Saltwater Creek and it seemed luck was on my side.
At dawn, I woke like a two year old on Christmas Day. The camp host was right: the swell had picked up overnight, but the beach resembled a washing machine and not the perfect right-hander breaking for miles I’d heard so much about from other vanpackers. With a third failed attempt to surf this break, I’ve reconsidered … maybe I’m not so lucky.
Woolamai, Phillip Island
🌊 SW, S 2-6ft 💨 NE Tide: All (except dead low)
We’ve all seen the shots of Nikki van Dyke ripping at Magic Lands (her home break), located at the north end of Cape Woolamai Beach. More often than not, you’ll end up surfing at the Clubhouse, which is where I found myself battling against incredibly strong currents. The locals, comprised mainly of gurfers, had the spot nailed down, shredding wave after wave. With my arms ready to evacuate my body, I left the water with barely a wave to my name.
TIP: In bigger swells and onshore winds, sneak over to Shelley Beach at Cat Bay where you’ll find some nice clean waves on the different reefs across all tides; just be ready for a long paddle out!
🌊 SW 2-20ft NW, N, W Tide: All
After a week on Phillip Island there were reports of perfect conditions and swell at Bells Beach in the coming days. I was super pumped and rushed to catch the ferry from the Mornington Peninsula to Queenscliff. This would be the year I finally get to surf Bells! Every time I’ve visited, there hasn’t been even an inkling of a swell or the Ripcurl pro was in the water.
My first glimpse of the beautiful Bells waves rolling in through the bowl with only a handful of surfers out had me busting to get out there. Then I realised they were in jerseys. It was a competition. I’d timed my trip perfectly to not surf Bells again, as the Subway Summer Series was in town for the weekend.
I watched the groms carve up my dream waves for an hour then climbed back into my car, devastated. I was headed to Bells Beach Backpackers in Torquay, which conveniently has a secure section for vanpackers out back—so no need to worry about serial killers coming across my vehicle with me inside in the middle of the night.
With no luck surfing Bells, but a lot of fun waves at other local breaks it was time to head home. The coast road or inland highway? Definitely the coast.