Friday, May 31, 2013

Taking the road South

St Clair Beach, Dunedin
On Thursday the 28th of March, I ventured south from Christchurch to Dunedin to compete in the annual South Island surf champs, and for whatever else the southern land had to offer...

My wingman for the trip, Dougie, is a colleague of mine at the Sumner Surf School. A Woodend beach local, so proud he even has the coordinates to his home break tattooed on his chest.
Having never travelled with a North Christchurch surfer/rapper I was excited and anxious to see what mischief we were bound for. I met Dougie at lunchtime on Thursday and packed his little Toyota Rav 4 to the brim with boards, wetties and woolly jerseys.

On the way down to Dunedin, Dougie displayed the driving skills he has been honing ever since he started doing doughnuts in his Dad’s Holden aged 8. A police car must have thought we were pro surfers and took a photo of us driving past.

In Dunedin we were put up by two of of our mates from the surf school in Sumner, Nina Young and Alethea Lock, who are studying in Dunedin.
Scarfie party: Leathey, Dougie, Ambrose, Nina and friend
After spending 2 glorious days competing, surfing and partying in and around town we got the report from Michael, another of our colleagues from the surf school (a lot of my friends work at the surf school) telling us the Catlins were looking "all time" He and a mate, Josh were on the way down to sample some deep south power.

With the competition over for me (eliminated in the semi final) I was keen to check out what the Catlins had to offer.
Michael studied in Dunners the last few years so he had a fair idea of where the best waves would be. The rest of the team doubted Michael’s claims of double overhead spitting barrels. With some serious arm-twisting we managed to convince Dougie to come along but parted with the rest of the gang. Boy would they regret that decision.

Catlins goodness
We arrived at Purakaunui Bay (PK if you want to sound like a local) on Sunday afternoon to a building 1.5-2 metre swell.
PK is a raw southern beach break surrounded by 50 metre vertical cliffs giving it a coliseum-like vibe. Sea lions are more common than surfers in these parts and the magnitude of the place leaves the mind wondering what else may be lurking below.
The waves were very unsettled and deceptive, so for every wave we made, we all took five on the head. After a good two-hour pounding all the boys went in just as the sun was going down, however, I decided to wait for one more.
After sitting for a while I spotted a bump on the horizon that was growing rapidly. My heart skipped a beat as I realized it was the wave of the day. I knew all the boys were watching from the beach, so there was no backing out. As I paddled I felt the wave quickly grow and jack up under me, and immediately realised I wasn’t gliding down the face and pulling into the barrel like the image in my head, but was in fact stuck at the lip of the wave and getting launched into mid-air. After a steamrolling I won’t forget for a long time, I staggered up the beach to find the boys in hysterics. With video footage proudly in his hand, Dougie proclaimed it to be the funniest thing he’d ever seen, which says a hell of a lot.

Ambrose - post epically severe beating

We set up camp on the grass in front of the beach. After a tough battle with damp wood (we are no Bear Grylls), Michael and I got a fire going and Josh cooked us an epic feed of nachos.
Meanwhile the undomesticated Dougie continued to tell everyone how hilarious my wipe out was. The night was seen out sipping beers and trading tunes on the guitar with the breaking waves a constant base line. As the rumble of the ocean guided us to sleep, we all silently agreed we wouldn’t be disappointed if the next morning the swell didn’t grow any bigger as predicted.

Campfire in the Catlins
The next morning I was awoken to Dougie outside the tent howling and darting around like a pit-bull on crack. As soon as I poked my head out of the tent I saw what was causing the sudden outburst of emotion. The swell had dropped a little in size, but definitely not in quality.
Though the sun wasn’t up, you could just make out some perfect four-foot, airbrushed A-frames barreling into the bay. A howling southerly offshore made it hard to get out of the sleeping bag, but the sight of perfect waves made it an easy decision. We jumped into our icy wetties and skipped into the surf. For a good two hours we traded waves and pulled into as many tunnels as possible. More often than not the waves would end up consuming us but we all came up stoked from the few seconds of bliss. A handful of the Southern locals joined us, in what was probably playful waves by their standards.
After an epic session we all sported some very smug icy grins.
Josh managed to snap his board, but was still stoked after surfing the best waves we’d all surfed in a long time. After a quick pack up and a few touristy snaps, we began the long trek back to Christchurch.

Balclutha provided our starved tummies with some welcome fuel (the best fish and chip shop ever - trust me). As we neared Christchurch, the stoke of the day gradually began to wear off, knowing we would have to be content with the mushy beach breaks of quake-city for the next while. But we all agreed on one thing: we would be back in the southern land very soon.

Thanks to Seventhwave Wetsuits for keeping me warm in my 3/2 Max in the cool southern waters and to Sadhana Surfboards for making awesome tunnel invaders.

Thanks also to all our Dunedin friends for putting up with us.

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