By Anna Hartley
  • Surf’s up

    Surf’s up


This month try-anything-once-action girl goes all gnarly, dude - and tries her hand (and legs) at surfing.

I clear salt water out of my nose for the thousandth time, spit out a mouthful of sand and look around.

My fellow beginners are in varying stages of surf: some unsteadily getting on their feet, some lying flat on their bellies cruising in the whitewash, some wading back out into the line of breakers.

So far I’ve managed to catch a wave, get up on my knees and hop onto my feet for about a quarter of a second before tumbling sideways into the wash.

I’m doing my first ever surfing lesson in Torquay, the home of Australian surfing on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula, and it’s harder than it looks.

Instructor ‘Ant’ is patiently wading back and forth between my seven comrades and I, encouraging us, offering practical tips and shouting things like, “Paddle!”, “Get on your knees now!”, and “Look up!”. We have been at it for about an hour and I’m determined to really ride a wave before the two-hour lesson is up.

Meeting at the Go Ride A Wave shop on Bell Street in the morning, Ant sizes us up and gives us each a full length wetsuit to wriggle into. We slap on 50+ sunscreen and walk a short distance down to the beach to pick up our boards; big friendly yellow ‘G boards’, sometimes nicknamed esky lids for their inelegant but stable properties. So equipped, we head down onto the protected cove of Torquay Surf Beach. I want to run straight into the water but Ant stops us on the sand. 

The first part of a surf lesson is always on dry land, and we go over the basics of surfing: where to point the board (straight towards the shore), where to lie on it (with our toes hanging over the end), when to start paddling (when the wave is three board lengths away, then four more paddles for good measure), how to push ourselves up onto our knees and finally, standing up on the board in a classic gnarly surf-legend pose.

We go over the moves a number of times, and I start humming ‘Surfin’ USA’; my mind filled with images of me effortlessly carving through six foot glassy barrels. Ant breaks into my dream as he comes around to attach my leg rope, “White is right, green is mean,” he says, explaining that we will be sticking to the whitewash today as, at our level, a ‘green’, unbroken wave would push us nose-first into the drink.

Back in the real world, I start trotting down to the water with the others to begin my glittering surf career.

Over the next hour and a half, I go for wave after wave. Ant comes to give a helping hand, pulling me along at the right moment, and I realise how important timing is. After a few more goes on my own, my legs, arms and balance all come together, and I’m standing! I whoop with excitement and do a little dance once I’ve run aground.

After getting up a few more times, I focus my attentions on turning. I lean a little onto my back foot and turn my upper body, pointing my arms where I want to go.

It feels strange to use my arms and not my feet to turn but, sure enough, the board starts weaving back and forth in the wave. I’m totally carving, dude!

There is something truly awesome about feeling the power of a wave under my feet, and I have a small insight into what it must feel like to be an experienced surfer at one with the ocean.

Too soon, I hear the five minute signal, and know I only have a handful of waves left. The last hour has absolutely whizzed past and I grab as much board time as I can.

Dragging my board back into the shore at the end, I’m happy, salty and tired: one truly stoked surf grommet. 


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Fast facts
  • Anna learned to surf thanks to Go Ride A Wave, Torquay, Victoria. Go Ride A Wave operate year round in 12 different locations in Victoria and Queensland. A two-hour lesson costs $65 for adults and $55 for children (17 years and younger) and includes soft learner surfboards, wetsuits and instructions. For more information, visit or call on 1300 132 441. A number of surf schools operate near Perth at locations such as Scarborough Beach, Trigg Beach and Yanchep. Ask Google for more information.