A lifelong surfer delivers an honest account of his day at the URBNSURF wave pool.
I'd learned to surf in the single fin era and was there when thrusters took over.
I'd surfed Bali before the crowds, and savoured the Mentawis when they were still a whispered secret...
I was there to witness history when Occy and Curren went head to head in that famous Bells semi all those years ago....
I've seen decades of world titles won and lost and I've experienced many great surfing moments.
So how do I feel as my plane taxis for takeoff heading to Melbourne for my first wave pool experience?
Perplexed comes to mind.
I’ve got mixed emotions, the way surfing is heading, the Olympics, more crowds, corporate kooks running the show, even the WSL’s overly polished image of our once outlaw sport; it all sits uneasily with me.
And yet here I was about to jet off and taste what surfing might look like in the future.
Is this the brave new world of surfing or just a passing trend?
Only time will tell!
But the only way for me to find out was to test the water.
Arriving at URBNSURF you could see straight away the set up is tailor-made to kick back and enjoy the waves and the day.
The cleverly cut down shipping containers spread around the perimeter had everything you could need. Comfortable seating, shade, board racks, and some lush, soft, green grass and bean bags straight out front (these guys have done their homework). You could easily spend the day there bagging your mates and telling tall stories between surfs just like we did. Before I hit the water I had some important business to attend too. I didn't have a board! I'd decided to travel light, especially as hiring a board is way cheaper than bringing one with you on the flight.
There are plenty of good sticks to choose from and I picked one similar to my board at home. It was time to let rip!
I'd booked the advanced right and I found myself eyeballing the other 17 dudes I'd be sharing the lineup with...they came in all shapes and sizes, not to mention their boards. Paddling out in a still pool was a very strange feeling.
As I sat up, 3rd from the front, in the queue, a voice yelled out from up on the wall.
It was Derek Reilly, noted surf journo, who'd just finished his session, asking how I felt?
My reply was "nervcited" a word my daughter had coined.
The pool hums and lifts and we're away...I decided to make sure I made the first drop to feel the wave out. Even though you were taking off in a corner next to a wall it was sweet. A steep drop followed by a tasty wall stretched out in front of me – no instructions required from there.
Something else that stood out was everyone hooting each other into the waves.
The surfing standard varied greatly and there's no doubt there were some guys with ambition beyond their ability. And yet I found myself chatting to blokes I wouldn't normally give a sideways glance to. In fact, as I was watching some groms stroke into beautiful waves that they wouldn't normally stand a chance of grabbing at their local, I wondered what that meant?
Was this the new order where everyone gets a turn even with ever-growing crowds?
Coming in from the hour-long session we were like groms back in those early Indo days. Swapping tales of big turns and open barrels. We had two hours to kill, before our next tilt, so we sampled the great food on offer and dissected our surf.
I decided a little less length was in order for the 2nd session and swapped my hire board for something a couple of inches shorter. Heading out again after refueling we knew what we were in for and took it up a level. I'd blown a few barrels in the earlier session by getting sucked up and over, and hopefully, I'd learned my lesson.
What else I discovered pretty quick was which waves, you did, and didn't want in the set. It’s a 12 wave set, but I'm going to leave it to you to figure that out.
There was some carnage this time, as some of the less able surfers either missed waves or got pitched on the takeoff, then the next guy got balked, and the next. Before I knew it there were five guys tangled up in the impact zone not really going anywhere – that worked in my favour, as the wily old fox grabbed two waves in one set. The highlight was a heaving tube that opened up perfectly and looked for all money like Slater’s pool as I sat in there enjoying the view.
So how did I rate it?
Well, I'm not going to turn my back on the ocean that has provided so many memorable moments in my life, however, the crew I was with all agreed we'll be back, and instead of a strike mission for the day, we'll spread it over a couple of days.
My thoughts are, pools definitely have a place in surfing going forward and if you’re thinking of booking a trip, take a tip from a bloke that's been around the block a few times and get yourself down there.