Words & Photos Scott McKercher
It’s September in Australia which signifies two things as a “West” Australian. One: It’s the climax of the footy season. Finals time where everyone who are a little bit nuts about the game, become even more fanatical. Two: it’s the wind n’ wave season up North.
In Western Australia there’s two teams and if you’re a supporter of the team who didn’t make the finals, you just have to get out of town as the media frenzy becomes sickening as do the supporters of the cross-town rivals.
It’s ‘Up North’ season for windsurfers. Which is a dual edged sword being a Stand Up Paddler. What’s happening is: Offshore winds become nuclear in the morning, as do the Sea Breeze’s in the afternoon, which in turn clears the camp out of surfers. Thus, when the swells hit and the winds take a break, one very tasty left hander becomes accessible to SUP, where at other times of the year a paddle wouldn’t be tolerated in the line up. It’s a bit of a drive, but it’s all part of the allure. September still has pretty foul weather in my beloved home town of Margaret River, getting hit by low pressure storm fronts producing rain and onshore winds. 16 hours north however, it’s sunny, offshore, with groomed lines of swell marching up the coast and detonating onto the limestone reefs.
It’s a pilgrimage to our Mecca so to speak, which me and my mate Mike have been doing since 1988, with the Natural beauty of the desert remaining relatively unscathed from development. The phone booth was a shocking development, as was the availability of internet, which ruined the un-contact-ability whilst here, but considering some change seen in other locations it’s doing pretty good.(I’ve just realized it’s out 30th year anniversary). No wonder this year was going to be special.
They’ve just made an addition to the shop to make it a bit bigger, which was a bit of shock, but in the global scale of things we were reflecting how lucky we’ve been to enjoy this pristine piece of coastline for the entirety of our lives. Both our set ups have evolved over the years, from our first trip when Mike pretty much came up with a bag of Potatoes and had to barter his way out of starvation. For years we got flogged in tents with brown dirt in our beds and food, until at some point we evolved into camper trailers and Caravans and couldn’t believe we didn’t take the leap years before.
Every year Galvo’s camp has become more intricate with new additions that make a relatively simple camper trailer into a desert Loungeroom oasis with faux grass, lounge chairs and beds in the living room.
My 1977 York is bordering on vintage in the caravan world and looks tiny, which it in fact kind of is, but some polished wooden floor boards, updated cabinetry and a double bed and there’s some Tardis, Taj Mahal qualities that makes it feel like a Castle in the Sand. Especially like right now when it’s 25 knots offshore and the van is gently rocking where a tent would be flapping to pieces.
What makes it so special here? Nothing. But it’s the nothing that’s everything. There’s the desert, the red dirt and the ocean doing its thing. Which is mesmerizing.
As mentioned, there’s is a camp shop nowadays, but it only provides some basic essentials if you run out of food and water and want to extend a couple of days. But basically, you have to bring everything in with the nearest town being 2 hours on a bumpy track.
So before heading in, a hefty shop is in order for all provisions. Food, wood (Fires are the bush TV and gathering points) Beer, extra petrol, water etc etc. But once you turn off onto the dirt track, that’s it. Your phone and wallet are no longer those essential items you are always searching for. They get put away and it’s a beautiful thing.
There is a phone and they even provide internet at extortionate prices, but this is a place where you come to escape the matrix. Never before has it been more imperative to seek detachment from the modern day of social media and the trappings of Facebook Instagram, Youtube reality TV and basically the internet and television all together.
It’s about getting back to reality. And when you get here it’s like a massive out breath, with the land teaching you what a crock of shite that whole reality is. There has been a few critical things I’ve had to stay in touch with the outside world with, but to actually try and think about or even do work is really hard. Especially when Shane comes around with the backgammon board ready to settle in over a multiple cup of coffee saga.
The camp itself sit’s right by the ocean and is the focus of all day every day. Depending on what the tides and or wind are doing it’s either time to drive up to the wave, or time to sit around camp and ponder when you’re about to head up. Or whether to surf the little right and left that’s right out the front of camp.
Here it’s about sitting under the annex shading from the relentless sun drinking a cuppa and staring at the ocean. Watching the whales on their southerly run with their calves jumping joyfully as they have done for an eternity. EATING is a large focus of events. You have to plan with what gets defrosted and manage what perishable foods need to be eaten first, with a lot of daily discourse about what’s on the menu tonight. Appreciation is so much greater as well. One because of where you are, and two because predominantly you’ve been surfing and sailing for hours a day and your body is craving the fuel.
Apart from the camping and romantic delusions about getting asway from it all. The wave is the reason why we keep coming back year after year. It’s absolutely amazing, beautiful and terrifying.
Up until a certain size it’s just a long playful wave. Nothing really that amazing. But it’s fun.
When it gets to the 4ft mark it slowly starts to break properly and starts to throw barrel sections on the bubble. When it gets to 6 ft you start to second guess yourself and the heart rate really gets going. When it gets to 8ft? Well, this is reserved for the hell men and pro’s.
To take it on at that size you have to have serious gonads because there’s two possible options. You’re going to get the wave, or punishment of your life. From the safety of the carpark or reflecting on drone footage after the fact, you can mind surf it and convince yourself that it looks doable. You walk along the limestone cliffs, paddle out through the coral lagoon where you start up high, instantly get dragged down the line and then sets on the head. Where once you get through you have a long paddle up the line and see everything a lot differently to when you were standing in the carpark.
You see the water sucking up the face and the violence of the barrel. You see how critical the take off’s are from the hell men that live for it, cringing as their rails rarely hold a line through the bubble sections, making it through impossible tubes as the size of your own testes shrivel. You put yourself in the line up, but down the line hoping for someone to eat it or miss one to allow you in relatively easy down the line, but that rarely happens so end up in the que for when it’s your turn. Then when it is and the inevitable comment from the fellla sitting on your shoulder, “You going” And you stomach up the courage to say “Yep”, there’s no turning back. You start stroking as it starts to loom behind, with most prones hoping you eat shit☺ paddling hard having to commit. Complacency is not a positive attribute that’s for sure. A while back I can remember thinking on a moderate day after getting a few that I had it wired. Not long after that thought I was bungy jumping out of the lip staring at the limestone reef through the bubbles at the base of the wave as I was falling.
Thankfully I only got rag dolled and didn’t hit the reef, but I only had half of the board attached to my legrope afterwards. (you see a lot of broken boards on the bigger days here.)
This Trip seemed pre destined to be Golden
Thus far, each trip I’ve done with young Wes Fry has been gifted with perfect conditions. Having to be semi flexible with planning around swells and commitments we pretty much had to lock it in and hope for the best. When I got my food bill of $307 dollars my eye brow raised a little as it’s been an auspicious recurring number throughout my life and this time it proved itself once again. Back to back to back swells prior to Wes getting up the first week and when he arrived, the camp emptied as the winds started to pick up.
To put it into perspective. A couple of weeks previously we heard there was 20-30 blokes out. ON this particular perfect 6ft day…..There were 4. There were a lot more cars in the car park, with many a punter looking out lustfully wishing they had the cojones to tackle it, but an already solid, increasing swell, on a low to mid tide with a 20 knot offshore, it’s kind of understandable.
When it’s like this, even on land there’s a tension in the air. An impending drama of those wanting to go out, about to go out, those that have come in, with either the look of fear in their eyes, or the calm swagger of a gunslinger having just been barreled off their nut.
Then there were the four young pro’s who stuck it out through the winds in their swags and scored the day of days doing laps up the track to the carpark as their pile of broken boards mounted. Young bodies that can be keelhauled over the reef and come up unscathed, where older bodies imagine the limb bending and whiplash their calcified joints just couldn’t endure. Where the previous week the swell had backed up every day, this last swell had one last brutal push. The evening was still had 8 foot bombs and by the morning it had diminished to half of that. There were still plenty of fun ones but the edgy feeling was out of the camp and car park.The longer boards came out for some fun sessions and then the next day things calmed right down. The howling offshores ceased in the night and morning and the little wave right out the front of camp became an option and a surreal tranquility enveloped us all as the winds completely abated to balmy glass offs. Galvo loves the little camp wave. You don’t have to get in the car, you can just sit back with your coffee pondering until the tide/wind/crowd stars align. Which was pretty much constantly as I think the boys had 4 or 5 sessions. I had a couple amongst a couple more death battles with Shane on the backgammon board. (and filming)
Is you have to leave and the blessedness all comes crashing down as you dismantle your camp and all that’s left is the red dirt of where a palace once stood. Well most do anyways. Kimmie and Steve are retirees who came a few years ago in their little A van. Tried to leave, got to town, re stocked, turned around and came straight back. They then came back the following year and spent 8 months. This year they came in March and will be there till Novemeber. They can’t city life anymore and returning back to Sydney just isn’t an option. Kimmie is the most frothing sixty something you will ever meet. She only learnt to SUP a few years ago and keeps pushing the boundaries of what size board she can ride.
She’s can’t stand even to miss one day and loathes having to go into town on supply runs, with the most chilled out infectious energy you could possibly imagine. Hubby Steve sticks to prone surfing but has just learnt to windsurf and being an ex-world champ hang glider has gotten into foiling. I know what I hope to be doing when I get to their age. Or why wait?
Cory’s also sets up camp for a few months, but the onset of the school holidays means it’s time for him to pack up and return to drawing houses. The peace and tranquility we just experienced was about to be shattered by the camp being fully booked with kids hooning around on bikes. I can only imagine how hard it is for these long term dwellers to re adjust to the normal world, as for being only 10 days I still haven’t popped back into shape, longing for simpler times without technology already.
Unfortunately on the drive back we listened with much disappointment the Eagles win their preliminary final and the papers and social feeds are awash with Eagles Hysteria.
It’s definitely time to Log out again. SUP International