The Worst Beach in the World
Words by Dustin Hollick
Photos by Andrew Chisholm
Justin Gane was once a frequent visitor to Tasmania. I was 22 years old when the great surf cinematographer set up camp two doors down at Andrew Campbell’s house. It was during this stay that he made the passing comment that the beach I love, the beach I now own a house at, the beach I learnt to surf at and the beach that just brought home the Australian School Surfing Title, was in fact the worst beach in all of Australia.
The horrible and awful truth of his words has played on my mind ever since. In winter it is too cold and, if you have work or school commitments, too dark to surf. In summer it’s flat and plagued by howling seabreezes. But I’ve come to appreciate it as a baseline – a place where stranded surfers swear to sell all their surfboards and those lucky enough to get away, return from a Gold Coast flat spell claiming the surf. It’s a place from which there is no place to go but up. But with the right mind set and astounding amounts of patience it can lead to a surfing experience so rewarding you will be kissing the beach in praise to Huey and raving to anyone who will listen on how amazing Tasmania can be.
Last week was one of those. After a three-month hiatus roaming Australia’s East Coast, I returned to the chronic pain that is Clifton Beach. Three surfs a day had become three a month. After a trifecta of dud Shippies swells and a couple of under-sized and over-crowded surfs at The Yard - Tassies other quality set up – I was reeling from wasted time off work; my house was on the market, my sanity gone. Things had hit rock bottom, but my wife persuaded me to roll the dice one more time.
It is a universal phenomenon that when we try too hard things go bad. But hit the cruise button and be a little more giving, and things start to flow. Such was the philosophy on this trip. I checked the weather maps and wrote down the predictions in my diary as the net we would be out of range anyway. Conditions didn’t look brilliant but there was some scope to work with, so we hit the road.
First stop was a nice little righthand reef-break. I camped with my family right behind the break. It’s often crowded these days and as soon as my head hit the pillow, I was woken by the chattering of surfers walking past. “Surely it can’t be morning yet?” I thought, but a time-check revealed it was, in fact, 4.45 AM and already getting light.
Down at the break, six boogers are out already. Perfect sets peel through but it’s very inconsistent. I wait, stretch and try to let go of any feelings of anger or expectation. It is hard, particularly as another six guys paddle out within minutes and a feral-looking video guy finds my hidey-hole in the rocks. Trying to be positive I mention the crew will probably mellow soon. He laughs it off telling me there were forty boogers at the local pub the night before. Anger grows as the wetsuit goes on but subsides as the salt water splashes over my face; it is just so good to be in the water.
Turns out the crew are all cool guys and most are good mates with my younger brothers. I haven’t seen many of them out at this reef before. Then a strange thing happens: they all start going in. Before long I’m sharing pitching four-foot rock shelf barrels with four others. The swell pulses with the tide and we all get some great barrels. My family make it down to the rocks just in time to see me completely blow the take-off on a set wave. As the whitewater picks me up and sends me flying, I have a surreal view looking down on the wave and the near dry reef as the peanut gallery hoots from the rocks. I come up laughing. I love surfing and all the bizarre experiences it brings.
Blissed out from such a fun start to the trip, we spend the next couple of days hanging with friends in amazing locations surfing some fun beach breaks. Although it is summer in Tassie and the air temperature is a comfortable 25 – 30 degrees, the ocean is still way too chilly for my one and four year-old sons. The creeks, on the other hand, are stained with tannin from what is remaining of our majestic forests. And the dark hue of brown is a perfect warming agent.
The swell kicks again on day three and we start to suffer a case of the East Coast blues - great swell, but a horrid northerly wind destroying the surf. My mantra for the trip kicks in: ‘Just let go. If you surf, you surf. No one cares apart from you’.
As we drive towards the destination, the wind starts to turn northeast, then north, then northwest. The options are opening up. From the check spot for a lame beachie, a beach to the north looks like it’s copping twice the swell and, with the fresh change in wind direction, throwing down some serious pits. The rip looks nasty – the one guy out is having a battle - but it is fast and super hollow and maybe one in twenty looks the goods.
I run in to an old mate and father of one of the groms in the car park. I tell him what I have just seen, and that the groms will have to surf alone. He assures me I am tripping and it is just a close out but I am out there. On the walk down I see some bombs breaking but it looks hard and lonely. The guy out the back is Curto, a local charger who says he hasn’t had any good ones yet. I am in luck and get two straight off the bat. My mate sees them from the beach. It’s enough to prompt him to come out. It’s the first time I have surfed waves of consequence with him in years and I am so stoked to see him get some bombs. The waves get better and better as the swell backs off and the wind gets lighter. We share some amazing barrels for over two hours in what I can safely say is one of my best surfs of the year.
Beers ensue that night as we celebrate our good fortune.
The next day a cold front brings a chance to move location. We head west, making sure to take routes we have never driven before and soaking up the beauty of Tassie’s rugged interior.
We arrive to find the swell is big. Shippies big. I have been in this situation before. My wife’s father has a shack over here where we spend Easter, New Years and other occasions with extended family. The swell has a habit of picking up whenever I venture over.\
There are options, but a well-organised, safe, groomed playground is definitely not one of them. Relax, go with the flow, let go and the surf will come. So we spend all day riding around in the bush exploring waterfalls, finding new tracks and having fun. A surf check on the way back to camp reveals what I had expected: a ten-to-twelve foot west swell creating havoc at most breaks but in-between sets show promise for the next day as the swell drops.
Assumptions prove correct. My mate Andy Chiz turns up to shoot photos of surf, bushwalk and dive for seafood too. But first we surf.
There’s plenty of it over the next three days at an epic little right-hander that breaks into the corner of a sheltered bay. It is the perfect set up for a family. We park the four wheelers on either side of the creek, stringing up a tarp between them to provide shade for the kids. For entertainment we dig holes in the shallow sand bottom creek that shapes the machine-like right breaking into it, which in turn form pools for the kids to swim in.
For food we light a fire, set up the bush Barbie and fry up the seafood we collect diving. This is amazing, you know how sometimes you say ‘imagine the Goldy a hundred years ago, it would be amazing’? Well, this is it. Right handers with the power of D’bah line up one after the other, just begging to be hit. A rip pulls you back out the back just in time to catch another wave. The chances of seeing another surfer are very, very remote. During this trip, we don’t see one.
The only hiccup occurs on New Years Eve when Chiza's trusty dog Max freaks out when the locals start letting off firecrackers, and runs for the bush. He is a good looking dog Max, and a great looking meal for locals around these parts. Chiz can’t relax, so we take to the four wheelers to try and locate the scared hound. It’s useless, the bush is so thick around here there is no way we can locate him. On the upside we find a spot with a great view of the amazing light show the west coast of Tassie puts on every night. We spend a few hours counting shooting stars and satellites until one flashes at us, and we get spooked and return to camp, swearing we were just about to get abducted.
Reluctantly we pack up the next morning and head home, back to the worst beach in Australia. Ganey was right, but I’ve come to see it like having the worst house on the best street – while there might be few places worse to surf than Clifton, there are few better than Tassie. As long as it is the base from which to embark on missions like this I am staying put. The house is off the market. We will see how long it lasts.
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