An Englishman once speculated, as perhaps only an Englishman could, that surfing must be “like having a cup of tea with God”. Which may just prove that when you’re racing the liquid hoop of a tubing wave, words don’t count for much at all. Lost for words you may be, but on Queensland’s Gold Coast, never for waves. The Gold Coast has almost 40 kilometres of surf beaches; at the heart of this bounty of sand and swell is Surfers Paradise.
There’s no ambiguity about “Surfers”: when the place was renamed (from its former, dowdy title, Elston) in 1933, there was never a question of it being called something like “Nine-Pin Nirvana” or “Tennis Limbo”. A surfer’s paradise it was, and thus, Surfers Paradise it would be.
The name could almost apply to the whole Gold Coast. Its warm waters ensure that at any time of year you will find surfers flinging their bodies, surfboards, wave skis, malibus, boogie boards, surfboats, windsurfers and wave kites onto anything that resembles a swell.
The simple pleasure of being thrust shoreward’s by the great free-ride pulse of the ocean is what existence here is, for some, all about.
Gold Coast surfing culture
Surf culture permeates the Gold Coast’s land life as much as it does the waves. Blond hair, bikinis and aloha prints seem to be the uniform both on and off the beach, while surf shops sell far more clothing than surfing equipment (In fact, surf shops sell far more clothing than most clothing shops).
All this is, of course, just foreplay to the main event, catching waves. If it all seems too easy, don’t be fooled: that skinny teenager sashaying across the face of a wave might look like a cross between Nijinsky and rap dancer, but it took years for her or him to surf that well.
In 1950 a Brisbane journalist sarcastically called this strip of coast “the gold coast”, referring to its soaring land prices.
His irony was lost, but the name (and the land prices) remained. Today, sub-cultures thrive on the long, broad beaches of “the Coast”, from die-hard surfers (of all ages) and muscle-bound narcissists to honeymooners and the annual invasion of “schoolies” — high school kids free at last.
The professional lifeguards and volunteer surf lifesavers that are a feature of Australia’s beaches patrol the Gold Coast.
Lifeguards cruise the sands in special beach jeeps and quad bikes, usually equipped with rescue surfboards. Some 25 beaches on the Gold Coast are patrolled by these dedicated men and women.
If it sounds a bit like “Baywatch”, forget the glamour: come rescue time (often), there’s no room here for silicone and soap opera.
So, you wannabe a surfer? For some, body surfing will be thrill enough. Seriously consider starting on a soft boogie board instead of a hard, fibreglass and foam surfboard. Plus, boogie boards are allowed within the patrolled swimming area.
If you have the time and determination to learn to ride a surfboard, beg, borrow or rent one — preferably a soft board — and then get someone to instruct you on the basics. For starters, observe the “No surf craft between the flags” signs — stay well away from the orange and red flagged swimming area.
Surf in the company (but not in the way) of others and stay out of the water if it looks too rough. It’s worth enrolling for a few days’ instruction at a surf school. They’re everywhere.
Beginners in surfing are instantly told where to go — in very robust language — should they “drop in” on a wave on which another surfer is already riding.
Always stay clear of other riders when they’re on a wave. If the linguistic abuse doesn’t puncture your ego, consider your body being impaled by a very sharp surfboard. It happens, it damages.
Surf can be like the turf — a matter of “horses for courses”. For instance, the dramatic, right-hand point breaks of the Snapper Rocks — Coolangatta “Superbank” and Burleigh Heads — some of the most sought-after and heavily contested waves on the world — are no place for the beginner. Instead, try Currumbin, a gentler, less crowded wave, that’s better for inexperienced riders.
A quick “virtual surfari” of the Coast starts on the Queensland-NSW border (the “Banana Curtain”) right beside the Tweed River breakwater, at Duranbah, a great spot for hollow, peaking shorebreak waves. Just around a rocky point to the north is the long right-hand wave of Snapper Rocks.
This break is hyper-competitive — often with more than 100 surfers in the line-up. It is home to some of the best surfers on the planet, including recent world champions Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson and Stephanie Gilmore. No place for newbies or wannabes.
Just north are the fabled tubes of Kirra, then Currumbin and Burleigh Heads, one of the most famous “barrels” on the Coast. With a ringside vista from the grassy headland, Burleigh is a great spot for spectators, especially during a pro surfing contest.
Despite its promise-all name and endless golden sands, Surfers Paradise beach itself does not boast especially great waves, having mostly sandbar breaks rather than classic point waves.
Its Cavill Avenue break is fairly consistent, with the street’s name honoring James Cavill who started the whole thing when he erected the original “Surfers Paradise Hotel” here in 1925.
Today the massively built-up area looks more like Surfeit’s Paradise.
You can wander kilometres north from Surfers along an unbroken strip of beach to a tongue of sand called simply The Spit, the tip of which is the northern limit of the Gold Coast.
Beach breaks abound along here, but most of the shore is unpatrolled, so once again, this is no place for beginner surfers or swimmers. Good for joggers, fishermen and sun-bakers, this tranquil stretch might be called Non-Surfers Paradise.
Are you a keen surfer? Check out our five top spots to surf in Queensland.
1-South Stradbroke Island, aka “Straddie”, just north of the Gold Coast.
2-Alexandra Headland, near Maroochydore, Sunshine Coast.
3-Noosa Heads, Sunshine Coast.
4-Double Island Point, near Rainbow Beach.
5-Agnes Waters, near the town of 1770, north of Bundaberg.