For most people who visit Tasmania it's instant love. Even just looking at photos, there is something mesmerising and mysterious about the place. I find it intriguing that this island was once connected above sea level to the other shore, locally referred to as "the mainland". Tasmania's landscape lends itself to a rawness and beauty that begs you to explore.
If you've lived there for any number of years, there's always a love/hate relationship. The uncrowded waves, friendly community and breath taking scenery will captivate your heart and soul, but the pace of life, the long winters and the fact the island is a small fish bowl can kinda make you itchy to leave.
When I moved back to Tasmania after living in Sydney and NYC, I needed some time to unwind and find my island-pace groove again. I happened to fall into the winter of the southerly swell that saw the 12 kilometres of costal points working nearly every other week. There are only a handful of long boarders on the Island and about 20 girls that surf (only a slight exaggeration). I often get strange looks when I paddle into the line up on my mall and, on a regular basis, old sea dogs tell me that I didn’t learn to ride the mall here; I just smile and nod.
I have always wanted to capture the mystery and beauty of females surfing Tasmania on film, and so I thought what better way to rekindle my soul with my magical island home and help find my groove again than to set out on a such journey.
A solid swell was brewing off southern Tasmania, straight from chilly Antarctica. What I needed to find first were a few kindred spirits and adventurous women to join me taking on Tassie surf in Winter - what would prove to be an unforgettable trip.
Dara Pendfold was the obvious wahine to call, she has lead the way for female surfing in Tasmania, and was one of the first women to charge the monster wave called “Shipsterns Bluff” (locally called "Shippies"). Dara is considered one of the best female surfers on the Island. (She definitely gives the top boys a run for their money.)
Chrystal Fitzgerald was my other choice. She grew up in Hawaii and now lives in Byron Bay and loves everything Aussie surf, most of all she's an avid beach lover and true adventurer, well known for her adventurous spirit and courageous soul (definite requirements for Tassie waters in Winter), so I phoned her up and she was super keen to join.
One of my favourite things about Tasmania which might sound odd is the gravel roads, no web cams to check the swell, and the ability to light a fire on the beach. Friends often ask me about surfing Tasmania and should they come down. I tell them "Definitely! All you need is a sense of adventure and a solid few days to commit to the cause ... Of course some thick rubber and knowing how to read a swell chart as well as knowing a few local buddies to text for a report will come in handy".
After reading the swell report Eagle Hawk Beach, on Tassie's south-east peninsula, was looking like the only option for our first wave. We arranged to meet up with local surf photographer Stuart Gibson and stumbled across a nice SE swell and some soft offshore winds. We scored a rare wave at a place called Tessellated Pavements - these pavements are some of the best example of tessellation in the world (a natural feature created by sea waves on limestone). We wandered across the historical rocks as the sun rose over the little 2ft right hand reef break. The reef broke into Eagle Hawk Beach increasing to a 4ft beach break.
After surfing and laughing our way through the morning, as you would expect, we were frozen through and hungry. We found a little hideaway on the beach under the cliffs where we could set up a camp fire to thaw out. I cooked us up some salt water pizza over the warm coals, and as the waves rolled through, we sipped our hot chocolates (surprisingly with our shoes off) and took a moment to soak up the beautiful landscape and be thankful for the day.
On the drive home I got a text saying that the local Points would be working tomorrow. A point swell comes directly from the south, aka Antarctica, and it includes cold weather and snow. Local up-and-coming photographer Nick Green meet us at first light. We scored some ice cold snowy mountain point peelers at Lauderdale, and as the sun rose it coloured the sky with a dusky pink wintery haze. The the little wave went for about 2k down the point and it kept us entertained for hours that day.
The Tassie swell just kept on giving for our Winter Surf Adventure, and it was beautiful Bruny Island that was looking promising the next day - although you can never be 100% sure and the Bruny surf is a bit if a trek. However, as tired and sore as we were, Chrystal - in her true adventure seeking style- was really keen, so we got up early and headed south, caught the 20min ferry across to Bruny and after the drive across 'the neck' found ourselves on South Bruny in front of 4ft right handers breaking into a river mouth with only three guys out.
We started a fire on the rocks and suited up for some uncrowded waves surrounded by the most spectacular landscape - Bruny Island lays claim to the tallest sea cliffs in the Southern Hemisphere! After all the surfers had had their fill and headed back in, I sat out in the water a few miles from the fire to take a moment in the quiet magic until I started to feel a little scared by the empty cold blue line up. The thought of other things swimming around me caused me to paddle in ... that and the fact my arms felt like they would fall off at any moment.
Most people who think of surfing automatically imagine warm water, white sandy beaches, and possibly hula girls. It's true that I have never surfed in a bikini in Tasmania, the water has a deepness to its dark blue that can un-nerve you, you normally always need wool towel to keep warm when you're done, and the sun feels somewhat colder; but the line up is mostly full of your buddies who will support you in the sea and in your life's adventures, and the ability to brave conditions because your frothing with your friends is worth every ice cream headache I have ever had.
After a week full of surfing, laughing and eating yummy food, Dara sends me a message, “We share a common liking or should I say love for the ocean Sarah… sometimes I don’t know what I would do without being able to be the person I am when I get to escape to the ocean and behave the way I do out there!!". Perfectly summed up, if I do say so myself.
It sure is a joy - we surf to escape, have a laugh and enjoy the ocean. Surprisingly, despite the cold, Tasmania is a rare place full of this and I'm so grateful this adventure got me to rekindle my romance with the Island and its sea ... It seemed to be one of those magical times that the swell, weather and friendships alined perfectly to create one unforgettable salty adventure…