We drive over the hill and look out to Laguna Bay to see the swell lines wrapping, pushing long range cyclone swell, groomed to perfection from the offshore winds. As the VW van putters down into Noosa’s main street it is quite clear we are not the only surfers chasing the dream. The dream turns hazy as we get our first glimpse of the numbers…The dream is re-kindled as we snag our one and only secret carparking space, but then the dream turns into a nightmare as you walk into the suburban like atmosphere of the jumpoff rock. Teabagging in the lineup waiting for a wide one, a bigger one, the cleanup set…all the while casting your eye at the perfect set waves rolling in to be taken, used and absorbed by a knowing foe apt at skiing through the inevitable slalom course. Filling your hump of hate for all people floating around you, your eyes cast north to ‘the sandy cape’ and you wonder if the fickle beast is working…you begin planning ways to ask your uncle if his old 4wd is up for the brutal sandy journey.
During the Noosa Festival of surfing, cyclone Sandra produced the sort of swell surfers live for…it was coming from 1500 miles away and it would hit with the consistency of a metronome, wave after perfect wave, not a drop of water out of place. During such a swell, the headland at Noosa quickly becomes a traffic jam, a zoo, standing room only with circus clowns and ego-centric locals dictating proceedings. Bigger boards come out of the board rack, the log is discarded for a pintail and delusions of sweeping turns and tubes arc through the mind of the needy surf addict. Somehow the surfers convince themselves it will be epic, but their positive vibrations are quickly shut down by the populous of surfers who all have the same plan; each one of them snaking each other, dropping in with the hope of that elusive ride. Once the wave is caught and the bottom turn negotiated, then the reality hits that there is no freedom in the water, it is a human obstacle course, more hectic than the local shopping mall. The surfer returns to the shoreline, looks back to sea bewildered and then begins the lonely walk back to the congested car park, a shadow of the heightened version of himself that 2 hours ago walked in the other direction.
The trip north to ‘the sandy cape’ offers hope of a reprieve from the crowds, but the adventure itself is not without its burdens. The three-hour journey is savage on any 4wd vehicle, with the rusted carcass of cars that didn’t make it, lying on display as if a warning to others. Notoriously shark infested waters are enough to turn off most surfers from surfing the open beaches on the drive north and the tyranny of distance from any medical help demands that you come fully prepared. It is not a nice experience seeing your good friend turning pale from blood loss due to a fin chop and knowing you are 3 hours away from the nearest doctor. The wave itself is fickle, mighty fickle, with the sand shifting around perpetually. The swell window is a narrow corridor needing at least a touch of East, when most prevailing swells come out of the South. It seems the only photos we ever see of the place is when the stars, swell, sand, wind and tide all line up in harmony, however what is more likely is a b-grade surf always looking over your shoulder for sharks and a shitty nights sleep shoeing away sandflies or dingoes. The romance shines through only once in every dozen adventures, but when it shines the romance quickly turns to love at the exclusion of all others.
Keith Hamlyn is a well-known photographer who has spent a considerable portion of his adult life taking people to the sandy oasis that is Fraser Island. It is/was his job, as a tour guide. His passion is behind the lens and while the surfing photographs were winning him likes, tweets and instagram impersonators, it is his landscape photography work, on film, that could adorn the walls of any palace and not be out of place. These days, after the death of surfing imagery, Keith is one of the Coasts premiere wedding photographers.
His good friend, and mine, Nigel Arnison was the glue that held the first SwitchFoot book together. His photography, shot on 35mm film in the 1990s was so fresh and classic at the time and, yes, it was a different world where a photography gallery selling prints was a legit way to make a living. Nigel has some of the finest photos of the Sunshine Coast beaches, yet these days he installs solar for homes and businesses. Such is the change we all face in the digital age. Me too.
From Greenough’s early explorations in a light aircraft and 4wd rigs, to Nat Young getting skunked in ‘Endless Summer II’ and right up to today, the place holds a mystique. Like a beautiful girl who was only ever seen once and never spotted again, the hunter will keep hunting hoping for one more sighting. The sandy cape is such a wave. Of all the sightings that have been printed and shared, Keith Hamlyn and Nigel Arnison are worthy of celebration.