The Only Tray in the Village.
By Nick Gibbs.
Some 25 years ago I packed up an old Kingswood and left Sydney for Byron Bay.
Nothing unusual there- I was merely another pilgrim on a decades old path. Warm water, waves, weed and alluring women. A no brainer.
To somehow come out of it with a degree and a viable career was a blessing and a reason to stay.
I live in the hills out back now, and usually only venture downtown to surf when its on, or barfly when its not.
The main wave in the town is the Pass, a fairly long sand bottom point. From the air it’s a nearly miraculous curve of white against azure, at sea level a generally frustrating, impossibly crowded miasma of humanity and long, nearly-good little runners. A place for girls and groms, grandpas and ma’s, logs and learners, fish and fuckwits.
A great place to feel redundant on a bodyboard.
Most of the areas better surfers will only ride it on finless foam learner boards, slippin and slidin down the line, 3 on a wave, pinballing into each other and whoopin like madmen. Cool. Fun. A necessary subversion of the pointlessness of trying to navigate the slalom shitshow of an average 2’ day.
Most times I’ll bodysurf it- surprisingly, it is one of the better waves to ride the arm I have found anywhere, and the lack of board and intimacy with the impact zone allows you to pick up the scraps between the cracks of a crowd a couple hundred people thick. These ‘scraps’ can run for a couple hundred metres, so it’s a joyful pursuit by any standard.
The whole area is dependent on sand flow, and the last couple of autumns have featured none- large deep holes where the bank should be, boulders and pebbles where the beach should be.
It hasn’t mattered a lot. Byron jumped the shark years ago- any quaint, folksy, hippie-surf vibe was long ago subsumed under a tsunami of mall brand stores, city weekenders, weddings, festivals and traffic, traffic, traffic.
The perfect natural vista remains, yet even that has been nearly instagrammed to death. The small crew of bodyboarders that was here have for the most part found their feet or shifted to areas better suited to the foamed arts. For the most part I’m the token bodyboarder, the only tray in the village, which works fine by me.
As COVID lockdown bit, the streets emptied. The shops closed. The airbnbs and investment properties became headaches for their absent owners. The roads were wide and clear. It seemed the one thing that remained open was the sand vector around the cape. A short spur of sand formed just off the top rock at the Pass, and little barrels started to be reported from a couple guys late March. Short, hollow, then into deep water. Longer the next week, then longer again the week after. The rest of the wave, even the bay, remained tranquil and flat.
For a few weeks, the ocean was a glorious playground, light winds, aquarium water clarity, marine life everywhere, and a constant run of fun little swell. Just married, and freshly unemployed, we kayaked, snorkelled and surfed. All day, every day. Nobody around. It was like some kind of time machine had dropped us in 1960. Best honeymoon ever.
This masterpiece of sand was hiding right there, in plain sight.
The first time I surfed it I couldn’t believe it. A glassy line of swell drew and curved in a perfect seam as you took off, instantly and relentlessly hollow and mind-blowingly fast and perfect. For ages. I traded waves with 3 others. Clocked up literal minutes of tube time.
And thus it began… Normally, a good Pass bank will have its form blown out by the second day of the first swell that hits it, and that first glimpse of potential descends immediately into mediocrity, but for some reason the bank stayed for weeks, the only change was a daily inching down the bay as sand continued to fill. With all beach carparks closed, we took to paddling across the still bay on our kayak, and my wife would float in the total(and unusual) absence of current at the end of the wave. The tubes seemed to get even longer as the bank crept down the line.
It was not big, but it was flawless. Surfboards struggled- drops too sucky and transitions on the face too tight, people checked it on the wrong tides and found doubled up white water grinding on dry sand, or nothing breaking at all. Once you had the combo though, it was on, and we would surf it with little if any crowd.
A bodyboard, so usually boring at the Pass, now became a console for an interactive video game, a series of visual vectors as one bounced and bolted through tube after tube. 10 second tubes were merely average.
We had a couple of days of this in 2007. We got 5 weeks this time around. It may be another 13 years til I see it again, and the crowds will likely be in the thousands.
Hell, lockdown’s barely lifted but finally the bank has fallen apart, and theres already a hundred people out. As things return to normal, I can’t help but wish normal doesn’t come back too hard….