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It Was Seven Years Ago Today: the time I learned to surf in Byron Bay

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” – Andre Gide

What can you say about Byron Bay? Quixotic, transmogrifying, eclectic. Whatever adjectives you can throw at it, and there are many, the experience always leaves an impact. Beautiful Byron just has that magical, indefinable quality about it.

Byron is the ultimate Aussie beach town, seducing those who pass through with an irresistible combination of natural good looks, welcoming ‘mother earth’ values and a laid-back-surfer attitude.

Aboriginal elders will tell you that the land, which sits at the Northern Rivers border of New South Wales with Queensland (and is just an hour’s drive from Gold Coast and Surfers Paradise, the Miami Beach-styled party capital of Australia) that been a sacred healing ground for well over 20,000 years. 

Perhaps this is why many claim it to be the spiritual heart of Australia. Geo-physically the land is traversed by massive veins of obsidian crystal and at the vortex of several major ley lines (those underground energy lines that run around the planet).

Indeed many are drawn to the area to initiate change, this seems to be its raison d’être – transformation  and integration for people to step forward into a new life.

Seven years ago, I had a few days to spare and decided to head to Byron. It was only the second place I’d set foot in in Australia after touching down in Sydney that February 2014.

I’m 117 pounds on a good day. Character-wise, I’m kind of borderline shy/wild. I like to surf and turf, in that order.

Basically, I saw a plethora of surfers and decided I wanted a piece of that. Within 10 minutes of passing by BlackDog Surf School I’d signed up for lessons that afternoon. 

Impromptu, isn’t it?

Tim, our coach, was your typical Aussie surfer dude: tall, lithe, blond flowing locks and a gorgeous golden tan, so it was all the more disconcerting to find out he was a fellow Home Counties boy from England, as were several of our six-strong group.

It was such an exhilarating experience. Tim explained the surf/wind conditions and the location really well before we hit the water and once in the water the coaching was great as well.

Later on, we learnt to paddle and catch our own waves under Tim’s guidance and coaching.

Surfing isn’t just about being able to stand on your surfboard. It’s about understanding the ocean and how a wave works that allows you to ride a wave. Many people misread a wave and think they have locked onto the wave when they haven’t.

Through understanding where the energy pockets are on a wave and the power, speed and formation of the wave you will know when to paddle and when to stand.

I came, I saw, I stood, I delivered. And I kept my wetsuit on throughout. Makes a change.

Sadly, another fellow Brit was not so lucky. Paul Wilcox, 50, and a member of the Byron Bay Swim Club, was swimming in the shallows on the eastern side of Clarke’s Beach, Byron Bay’s main beach, when he was attacked three months after I learned to surf in the very same spot.

Gee, this life’s a funny thing.

Steve Pafford

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