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