A Farewell Treat
Notes from the Lineup
April 21, 2011
Words and photos by Tim Baker
I may have painted an overly negative impression of my time in Tassie. The truth is, I have loved almost every moment of it, despite the frustrations of tracking down waves amidst the swirling, ever-changing southern elements. It’s all a part of the adventure. And in Tassie, it is still possible to have a true adventure, to feel as if you are beating paths to little-known coastlines, that you are discovering hidden gems, walking over untrammelled ground. It is a wonderfully liberating feeling, a million miles from the mainland masses.
But, there is also a hint of regret, that I haven’t made the most of my time here, a yearning to have my time over again, to pace things a couple of days differently here and there. It seems to me, with careful study and sure judgment, it would be possible to read the weather maps and complete a perfectly-timed lap of the island, scoring waves everywhere you went, following the swell and the rhythmic cycle of offshore winds.
As we make our way up the east coast, I am painfully aware that just a few days earlier this whole stretch of coast was lit up with a stunning east swell and that I have missed it. There are tiny waves peeling down dozens of inviting setups and the idea of scoring them at size is a torment.
It is all so beautiful, though, it would be ungrateful to sulk. We settle into the magnificent national park camp ground at Coles Bay, with water and power and a beachfront position, all for $22 a night. We herd the kids up the long walk to admire the splendor of Wineglass Bay. One sunny day they even swim in the chilly waters at our doorstep. And I take the chance to investigate a couple of beaches to the north that have been recommended to me in hushed tones.
The swell is small but the coast is awesome, miles of empty beach with not a soul around. From a high coastal look out, it appears almost completely flat, a sheet glass ocean sparkling under a brilliant blue dome, the tiniest fringe of whitewater caressing the beach. As I descend the winding dirt road down to the coast, though, it becomes apparent there are some fun peaks to be had. A little cove houses a right at one end, a peak in the middle, and a left at the other end, that resembles small D-bah, with not a soul out. It is an entirely unexpected treat.
Still, it is a slightly eerie sensation paddling out entirely on your own, with not another sign of humanity to be seen. Is there some reason there is no one here? Is there some deadly peril I don’t know about? I stroke into my first wedging right and quickly discover one minor hazard. I kick out of the small closeout and find myself hopelessly entangled in a thick bank of kelp. The stuff wraps about my legs and leash so tightly I can barely wade out of it. Every ride ends in the same grim struggle to free myself from its clutches. I am just about fed up. What is it with this place? If it is not the wrong wind or tide or swell direction, it is the damn kelp. It’s as if Mother Nature is throwing every single trick in her arsenal at me. The little wedging peaks are as fun as hell but paddling back out each time is like pulling teeth.
I eventually give in. There’s a little southerly pulse predicted in a couple of day’s time and I resolve to return then and see if the weed has been dispersed. As I drive out I see a busy gang of National Park workers preparing for a controlled burn, reducing the fuel load to lessen the bushfire risk.
When I return, on a crisp, cool morning a couple of days later, the entire foreshore is smouldering. Little plumes of smoke rise out of the blackened forest here and there, and small flickers of flame are still dancing on fallen logs. Geez, and they tell us not to leave camp fires unattended. The smoke is choking and it’s a surreal drive through the hazy, charred forest down to the beach. The swell is indeed a touch bigger, the weed appears gone and the beachie looks like an inviting skate park of peaks and bowls and ramps. If I was Chippa Wilson, I’d be in heaven. Even as an old cruiser, I still manage to have a ball, pausing out the back to contemplate the apocalyptic scene along the foreshore.
One heavy plume of smoke is rising from the midst of the forest and, as the offshore wind freshens, I begin to wonder what would happen if the fire sprang back to life. At what point would I be well-advised to paddle in, jump in the car and get the hell out of here? Tassie surfing definitely serves up some interesting dilemmas. I’ve never had this particular problem at D-bah, pondering how I might best escape a bushfire in between set waves.
I watch the plume closely in between rides, as it rises above the forest ominously, but the waves are too fun to leave. As it turns out, this will be my last surf in Tassie and a suitably strange one, a see-sawing wrestle between delight and anxiety, exhilaration and frustration. A bit like our entire month here.
- Tim Baker
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