[This installment is Part II of a three-part series on photographer Ryan “Chachi” Craig’s maiden trip to Australia in early 2017. Read Chachi’s Gold Coast travelogue here.]
Flying over Sydney while the sun was setting, I was surprised at how beautiful the cityscape was. The Opera House and Sydney Bridge were backlit in orange hues with the ocean just beyond downtown. I decided to go to Sydney because I had a friend whom I could crash with, the former editor of the Australian bodyboarding magazine, Riptide. Going to Sydney was never high on my priority list, but it is a nice central location to use as a home base. Aside from that, I was excited to be in one spot for more than a few days; the Solomon Islands adventure had just wrapped up, and we were consistently on the move during that trip.
My first days in Sydney were spent staring at the charts, looking at all the options and at how realistic it was to reach these places. My fingers were crossed that Cape Solander (Ours) would break, or even Shark Island, one of my favorite locations and a wave that stolen my attention for years growing up as a bodyboarder. Unfortunately, the ocean hesitated to stir, and the start of fall would be very slow. An introduction to Justen "Jughead" Allport led me to the Central Coast of NSW, where I finally saw a few of the famed Australian slabs. After witnessing the best surf I had seen firsthand in Oz, I was told it was a shit day by most standards.
Up until this point, I was aimlessly cruising about Sydney in a rental car trying to get the lay of the land. There are an abundance of setups that have potential — too many, in fact, many coves with slabs and productive beachbreaks. Without knowing any local pros in the area, I didn't have an insider’s knowledge on the spots that were firing. A handful of days into my Sydney stint, and I hadn't even pulled out my camera: where were all the good waves?
I just happened to see an Instagram post of LA’s Noah Collins tagging the Sydney Bridge, and phoned him to see what his plans were. Over the next 10 days, Noah became my travel muse, and it was through the following sessions and trips that I discovered some key points from the Central Coast:
With the right swell angles and groomed sandbars, Sydney has just as good of waves as any major city in the world. There are numerous bays that face multiple directions with no shortage of reef slabs north and south of the city. I always watched the WSL competition in Manly and thought that was what was on offer. Drive to the north, and it's wedges and world class beachies (Narrabeen). Drive just outside of the city to the south, and you can watch Ours exploding on a shelf mere feet from where you park. As far as access to the rest of New South Wales, Sydney is extremely central and convenient for road-trips both north and south.
Sydney is super expensive, similar to hanging out in NYC or SF, as far as dining is concerned. Meter parking at Bondi is something ridiculous, like $5 an hour, and there're barely enough spots for the amount of people. The city is super-plush and cutting-edge in many regards, though. From the city providing composting bins for residents to numerous workout stations spread throughout the coastal areas (similar to Rio De Janeiro), there's a lot of cool things happening. An hour before sunrise, Bondi is packed with people practicing yoga and weight training, using the beach and grass as their gyms. Tourism is massive around the Sydney Bridge and Opera House, but it's absolutely worth taking an Uber down that way for an afternoon of people-watching on a nice day.
All I could really think about before heading to Sydney was witnessing some serious attitudes, like what I’d read in all the profile pieces I'd seen of the Bra Boys. Maroubra Beach is a stone’s throw away, and I figured that a lot of surfers were focused on locking down their spots and giving everyone else hell. Perhaps that's the case at certain waves on certain days, but overall, the vibes seemed positive. Obviously, there are exceptions everywhere, but I liked the general stoke people showed others when catching good waves.
Within Sydney proper, the massive bay really splits up the coast in a disorienting manner. A series of bridges and tunnels takes a little while to navigate in heavy traffic; it's hardly as easy as driving down The Great Highway in San Francisco looking for peaks at Ocean Beach. North of Sydney on the way up to the Central Coast, the coastal access remains somewhat difficult except within the cities themselves.
THE CENTRAL COAST:
The geology of the coastline seems to change at random, and you suddenly enter this slab world. A lot of the waves are “imperfect” here, lacking that Indo-style, long and predictable bottom, but they pack some serious punch. Waves that were often long considered bodyboard-only are now tamed by a local crew, with guys like Justen Allport leading the way. Waves with rock shelves, virtually exposed, were packed with surfers of all ability levels. There was even a nine-year-old boy getting pushed into some bombs by his dad. Coming from the watered-down waves of California (most spots, for most of the year), I was shocked to see such a reckless approach to surfing near dry reef, but everyone fared fine.