By Dan Dobbin
I lived in Port Stephens for just shy of ten years. Moved from my home town in 2001.
The mighty Parramatta Eels ripped through the NRL competition that year, amassing what still stands as the greatest for and against record to date, vanquishing all before them in a historic season.
Almost unbackable favourites for a grand final win.
There opponents? The Newcastle Knights.
Not only did I see my team ambushed and lose the unlosable, I had to live through being at the epicentre of the winners celebrations.
Muscle memory and unconscious thought guides me through the back streets of Nelson Bay on the communally agree upon fasted route to boxy.
Valuable knowledge to have with the sun rapidly disappearing behind the great dividing range as you desperately try to squeeze in a late paddle in winter in the mid 2000’s.
You’ll pay for it at civil twilight though, when it’s warmer in the water than out, and the 50 metre run up the track into a biting westerly seems an almost insurmountable ordeal.
Frozen hands that just won’t undo wetsuit zippers.
Today, however is different. Autumn is only juuust beginning its run in, with morning temperatures dipping enough to tempt a slightly longer stay in bed.
First heat of the opens kicked off at 730am, though I must confess I missed it. I’m 41, it’s a Saturday morning, and I didn’t have to surf until half past nine. Forgiveness begged.
I arrived just on time for the start of heat 4. Home town hero Dallas Singer had to settle for second behind a suitably stoked James Cunningham. Surf was 2ft, looking rather slow.
Australian bodyboardings most winningest man Johnny Cruikshank puts on an absolute clinic as the waves improved through the day.
The highlight, classic spin in the pit, draining barrel to roll exit. A 9.67 for the highest wave score and total for the day.
A 50 knot south blast soon after adds some serious ribs to the line up, making conditions both in the water, and on the beach difficult.
In the masters, Johnny C, Silas Ganciar, Brad Jackson, Mitch East and Shane Chalker were all impressive and progessed into day 2.
For the women, Lily Pollard looks a gear above everyone else.
Her only real competition will be from Millie Chalker, who scored at 8.17 for a steep and deep tuberide, finished of with a tidy roll.
Conditions look similar tomorrow with a building south swell, and whipping south winds.
Your humble correspondent will be facing one J. Cruikshank on round 2 of opens in the morning, so pray to baby Jesus for me tonight.