My local is Bondi. Love it or loathe it…one of the things you’ll have to deal with sooner or later if you surf Bondi are crowds. I try to get out of town most weekends to avoid them. Last weekend I’ve stayed local and it just reminded me of how busy it actually gets. Sometimes, it still gets to me but over the years I’ve learnt to cope with it – either by avoiding them altogether or just dealing with them one way or another.
First step to avoiding lots of people in the surf is knowing when it’s going to be busy. And you know it’s going to be busy in Bondi when…
…it’s the first day of waves after a flatspell
…it’s the first day of surfable waves after a week of storms and too big of a swell
…Uge from Aquabumps says one of the days is going to be good. E.g. he writes in his Tuesday newsletter: tomorrow is going to be the best day of the week…you can guarantee millions of people in the water on the Wednesday even if turns out to be shit.
…it’s a sunny weekend. There does not even need to be a wave. If it’s a nice weekend you’ll have a crowd sitting out there even when it’s close to flat – It’s true! I’ve seen it.
Well, this is stating the obvious but you know it is really freaking busy when…
…you don’t have enough space to duck dive
…when there are 5 people paddling for every wave
…when you have to fear for your life trying to paddle back out to the line up (even if you paddle wide)
…when every person you have ever met surfing is in the line up
…when riding a wave turns into a slalom trying to dodge other surfers
Now it’s too late, you’ve ignored all the busy warnings and you find yourself amongst hundreds of people. How are you still going to catch a wave? Or how can you escape the crowds altogether?
…don’t sit where everyone else is i.e. there are usually 3 breaks in Bondi with some spots busier than others. People are like sheep and tend to go where everyone else is. Don’t do that. Especially, if you are just learning to surf you don’t need to surf where the best bank is. It’s more important to catch as many waves as possible. Just surf where there is a wave breaking and save yourself some grief.
…catch the small waves on the inside while everyone else is waiting for the big set. That means you have to sit a bit closer to the shore than everyone else and you usually see a couple of smart people doing just that. So just follow them. Having said that, before you do that you better make sure you have your duck-diving under control because inevitably you’ll get some of the bigger sets on your head. In general, that strategy is not for the fainthearted. You might catch more waves on the inside but when there is a normal set coming through. You’ll have about 20 people paddling towards you in the attempt to catch the wave.
…alternatively, you can sit on either side of the crowds and catch the bigger sets that are coming through (i.e. everyone’s too far on the inside to take off). Admittedly, this strategy requires quite a bit of patience and does not always pay off.
…get a longboard and catch the waves from further out than anyone else. This is a good strategy on smaller days but not so much recommended when it’s bigger.
…surf ‘off peak’ times. Know your shifts. Early mornings are busy most days. 6.00-7.30 especially, all the office slaves usually have to get out by 7.30 to make it to work in time …then there is usually half an hour window before the backpackers wake up and the surf gets crowded again. That’s my favourite time. (Tip: getting a scooter was the best thing I ever did to maximise my surfing time…it shaves off half an hour off your commute to the city = longer time in the water). Monday mornings are usually good too. Friday mornings are usually super busy. Also, find out local comp dates on the weekends and surf out of town when they are on (For Bondi: Girl Boardriders every first Saturday of the month, I think longboarders are on 3rd Sunday of the month and not so sure about the Bondi Boardriders but you’ll figure it out when you see a little judging tent in the South corner)
I hate to be a party pooper but you need to be extra careful when it’s busy… here are some safety tips for your own and the other’s benefits
…it’s more important than ever to paddle wide when it’s crowded. You don’t want to get run over and you don’t want to be in the way.
… don’t go out if it’s too big for you. But definitely don’t go out if it’s too big for you and crowded. You turn into a missile and are a danger to yourself and others.
…learn how to duck-dive or to do a proper turtle roll at least. It happens to the best of us that you lose your board but don’t EVER let go of your board in crowded surf. I’ve had five stitches in my head and countless of mean bruises because of other boards flying around my ears. Not fair.
…look who’s in front of you BEFORE you take off. I’ve seen beginners take off on massive close-outs with surfers just in front of them. That’s a recipe for disaster…
AND don’t forget to smile…it’s easy to get cranky when it’s busy and it’s hard to catch a wave (I’ve been there…). Sorry, but if you can’t handle crowds, don’t surf Bondi. It’s a city beach after all and you’ll always have more people surf here than most beaches. And on the upside, getting used to crowds, only prepares you for the world’s best breaks. Being comfortable in a busy line-up will get you a long way on popular breaks like Bali, Superbank or Hawaii, you name it…..