The Road

blindboy
Surfpolitik

Driving north on the Pacific Highway, blindboy recalls old memories and enjoys quiet moments upon the beaten track. Photos taken by Aya Shibata.

4_5.jpgIt had been a long time since I drove the length of the Pacific Track. Between cheap airfares and enticing destinations OS I simply couldn't remember the last time I had driven further than Kempsey. If I can't define that gap in terms of years, its length can be determined by my naive assumption that the road must surely, by now, be better. But north of Kempsey, there it is, the same old single lane goat track, defying with complete contempt its formal identification as a highway. The monotony of its single lanes and soft edges broken only occasionally by a few kilometres of dual carriageway, presumably in the most marginal electorates. Clybucca, which might have tempted the most hardened political heart, more or less unchanged.

But it is a road laden with memories, not just of waves ridden, but of the journeys to reach them and the circumstances of our lives. So as the miles rolled past so did the memories; the long straight where the Cortina snapped a piston rod heading south on a late Sunday afternoon with all of us due at work, for the same boss, the next day. The spot north of Coffs Harbour, hitch hiking to the Gold Coast with boards under our arms, where the wheel came off the panel van and disappeared at 60 miles an hour, as it was then, into the bush, never to be found. The spot, not much further on, where my mate spat the dummy, gave up and started hitching the other way. The, now abandoned, service station where some RAAF boys on a spree thought it might be fun to punch out a couple long haired hippies; bad mistake, we weren't hippies.

3_3.jpgAnd the side roads to the villages and towns, all those caravan parks and camp sites, even the spot where my son was conceived. And all the back beaches, like the one we stopped at on the first afternoon to find thick wedging peaks running into a northern corner with only three other surfers. Or the one, a couple of days later, where we surfed tiny perfect peelers alone except for a pod of dolphins competing for the bigger sets. Or the one on the way home, where the single surfer stared us down for having the temerity to paddle out on a beach I first surfed more than forty years ago and where I still know the longest reigning locals.

All the same but all different. Once dirt roads now tarred and ending in neat parking areas where once there were only rough turning circles. Fenced paths through the dunes where once there were mazes of rarely trodden tracks. The desert spaces of old sand mining sites revegetated. Villages grown to towns. Housing estates rolling over once green headlands and paddocks. Cafés instead of milk bars. Winnebagos out numbering utes. More retirement villages than schools. And the points, once surfed with a few friendly locals, now shoulder to shoulder down the line any time they break, but much more entertaining to watch than any pro event as opportunity, achievement and catastrophe interweave in a strange dance.

2_8.jpgAnd the long thick lines of south swell pouring along deserted beaches at unrideable pace into a glorious blue offshore morning as the crowd in the parking area stare in awe, unsure of their options and their capabilities. And the memories of other swells, big easterly peaks pouring into long left walls in the middle of a 20 kilometre beach with no sign of human activity or construction in sight. The long lonely paddle out, duckdiving and drifting so far to the south it took ten minutes to get back to the peak once I had cleared the bank. So many days of surfing by myself but what else can be done? You are a surfer. There are the waves. The chances of anyone else turning up at those places in those days? Almost zero. And even now I suspect, if you know the where and when.

1_17.jpgIt's a long coast with many possibilities, most of them firmly on the radar and in the guide book but there are other spots that depend on the seasonal drift of the sand, spots where local knowledge is the key, spots so far from main roads and towns that few, even if they know they exist, take the time to check. Spots that require long walks to even get a glimpse. And it is always a gamble, the swell, wind and tide open windows of opportunity that can be easily wasted if, at the end of all that travelling, the sand has drifted away from the point or the usually reliable banks have turned to a single long close out from headland to headland.

But it's the game as it must be played now and we should consider ourselves lucky to still have the opportunity to walk over a dune and find beautiful empty waves for it will surely soon be gone forever on this coast. Every beach localised, every headland outside a National Park sub-divided into neat suburban blocks until those who seek greater solitude will have far longer and far worse roads to travel. //blindboy

Comments

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben Tuesday, 13 May 2014 at 11:18am

"achievement and catastrophe interweave in a strange dance" - awesome!

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 Tuesday, 13 May 2014 at 11:47am

Well we should all raise a glass to Nifty Nev Wran for the foresight to make large chunks of the NSW coastline National Park.

Nice piece BB.

top-to-bottom-bells's picture
top-to-bottom-bells's picture
top-to-bottom-bells Tuesday, 13 May 2014 at 2:39pm

Did George negus ever get his way with the dual carriageway? A few years back he wrote articles and produced stories on the stretch of highway near his north coast home. One of them was called Death Highway.

bigtreeman's picture
bigtreeman's picture
bigtreeman Friday, 23 May 2014 at 4:56pm

Work is ongoing from about Arrawarra to Coffs, Coffs to Urunga has been finished for a while now,
George is at The Promised Land near Bellingen, so his little bit of paradise has been fixed.

surfonkeith's picture
surfonkeith's picture
surfonkeith Tuesday, 13 May 2014 at 2:29pm

I'm in this area your talking about. Have done the Kempsey Bypass & finishing a stretch north of Coffs Harbour. Finally started on two sections of hwy upgrade. Fredricton to Euingi, also Nambucca Heads to Urunga. Still a lot more to go. .....all promised to be done by 2016 or so. Laughable.

top-to-bottom-bells's picture
top-to-bottom-bells's picture
top-to-bottom-bells Tuesday, 13 May 2014 at 2:38pm

Wow, so george did get his way! Good going .

Thanks for the info keith.

t-diddy's picture
t-diddy's picture
t-diddy Tuesday, 13 May 2014 at 4:42pm

nice piece! thats a great stretch! still is. my brother lived in newcastle in the late 1970s and when he returned last year he couldn't believe how little the pac hwy had changed. i think its got a few years before it fits your final description but a bit of cynicism might retard the process...preach on!

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain Tuesday, 13 May 2014 at 5:25pm

Nice piece BB and so many memories flooding back to me. I wish I could get those days back. Goodness, I can't imagine what it looks like now in some of the little coastal hamlets we would call home for a few days.

mundies's picture
mundies's picture
mundies Tuesday, 13 May 2014 at 9:21pm

The same line caught my eye Thermalben - "...as opportunity, achievement and catastrophe interweave in a strange dance." Never heard it articulated like that but its spot on. Good article.

simba's picture
simba's picture
simba Wednesday, 14 May 2014 at 6:10am

Beautiful piece BB and life really is all about memories.Well done,summed it up nicely.

bum-parfum's picture
bum-parfum's picture
bum-parfum Thursday, 15 May 2014 at 11:59am

Best surf highways
Bussell Highway>Flinders Highway>Princes Highway>Pacific Highway.

theween's picture
theween's picture
theween Saturday, 24 May 2014 at 6:44pm

Lennox was grinding when I was there 10 yrs ago - has it changed much?

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin Saturday, 24 May 2014 at 7:00pm

Still grinds like Peggy Gordon.

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig Friday, 30 May 2014 at 11:40am

Great article BB and one which many who have ever travelled in search of waves can truly relate to.

Did one of the greatest highways a few weeks ago, far from anyone and hopefully far from what some places have become on the East Coast in recent times. The stories that come back from each trip out there are always of great waves, great people and the simple life. Surf, eat, surf, eat, drink, sleep.

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain Friday, 30 May 2014 at 1:13pm

Surf, eat, surf, eat, drink, sleep, get up for a piss, sleep....

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig Friday, 30 May 2014 at 1:42pm

The only fly in the ointment Zen!