Have you ever felt culture shock without even leaving a country? Maybe after just a short drive to a new town you found yourself in a different and unexpected environment. During my first 6 months in Australia I never felt culture shock. It was all so similar to the States and almost exactly what I expected. There are definitely differences, but nothing was a shock to my senses. When I arrived in Byron Bay, I found myself in a state of shock. Coming from the tranquility of Crescent Head, I had become accustomed to beautiful empty beaches and little laid back towns. Byron was the complete opposite. Despite the size, small enough to walk across in about 10 minutes, it felt like a city. People lined the sidewalks, traffic jams in every direction, payed parking, shopping and endless fine dining options. It was almost too much to handle.
Byron Bay has been advertised as a surf destination for both experienced surfers and travelers who have yet to catch their first wave. One of Australia’s most iconic spots for surf and tourist alike. A beautiful right hand point break is just a few minutes walk outside town, making optimal surf conditions for everyone. Unfortunately there are a lot of sharks in the area and in recent years there has been an increase in attacks. Despite the sharks, it seems like everyone has a surfboard. There is an endless flow of kooks heading to and from the water with boards under arm, obviously having no idea what they are doing. Trying to hodad (pretend to be a surfer) it the best they can. Also playing the part are the really good surfers with massive quivers either piled up on their car roof or tucked away in their van.
Camper vans are everywhere! I feel like the “van life” has gone from the adventure nomad lifestyle to the “cool” thing to do. Despite the countless posted signs all over town saying “No Camping” and “No Sleeping in Vehicle”, there are hundred of dirty dreadlock hippies, well groomed hipsters, backpackers and surfers living in their vans.
Hippies are not only found living in vans. There are also groups who come to town from farms where they exchanged work for food and housing. Typically, you can find them in groups in the parks playing instruments, juggling, slack lining, and smoking ganja. From many different nations, they seem to melt together, creating very active little groups. Despite the rugged appearance, they are very nice people based off who I met.
Another common group of “hippies” are the vegan, yoga enthusiast, health oriented and alternative lifestyle seekers. Falling somewhere between the hippies and hipsters, they are one of the main driving forces of Byron. Promoting environmental projects, arts, organic stores and other things that Byron has become known for. Like anywhere in the world, it’s unfair to categorize people and it’s impossible to give everyone credit. But these are the groups that really stood out to me.
As I stood there observing everything happening around me, I was not too sure which group, if any, I fit into. At first it seemed obvious that it was with the van life surfers. There seemed to be a few great people, but as a majority, they were on a very different page in life than me. So no, not them. Possibly the backpackers? All they wanted to do is party, not them. Slackline hippies? I do enjoy the slackline, but not the drugs. Maybe my hopes of falling in love with Byron Bay would remain just a hope. But I was still determined to give it a go.
On my first day in Byron I met up with an Argentinian girl I had met in Melbourne right before heading north. She had just arrived in town the day before and so we met up and headed to the beach. Once on the sand, she was ecstatic with what she saw. A beautiful beach extending in a curve to the left as far as the eye can see and a lighthouse perched on a beautiful headland to the right. She ran to the water, dipping her feet into the ocean for the first time on this part of the coast. After the cold miserable weather of Melbourne, it was paradise for her. For me, after visiting so many amazing empty beaches, it was a little less impressive. I found the landscape stunning, but it was littered in people, which was something that I was no longer accustomed to. But I won’t lie, the scenery was amazing. Not just the landscape, but all the attractive girls spread across the beach enjoying the fierce no ozone sun rays.
For the next week I spent most of my time either looking for surf or hanging out with the Argentinian. The famous point break, The Pass, looked like a beautiful wave but there was one problem, it is super crowded when it breaks. Around the corner is a beach break with a little corner that provides nice waves. Depending on the swells, it can be epic. Heading to the south, the next break is Broken Head. I found a fun wave here one day. A south swell wrapped around the headland and made a surfable wave for anyone’s abilities. Unfortunately that only lasted one day before going flat for a couple days
After two days of no surf, I was determined to find a wave. The winds were already strong, so I set out to explore. Heading to Broken Head I found it to be terrible. For an hour I sat, watching the wind and waves fight against each other. As my motivation dwindled, I decided to head down a dirt road into the Broken Head National Park. 15 minutes of bumpy roads brought me to a packed parking lot. Quickly I jumped out of the car and headed toward the trail down to the beach. I had a feeling I found the only surf in the area. 100 meters down the path I found a bird’s eye view over the beach 600 meters below. A few surfers were out and the waves looked super fun! Most surfers was huddled on the north side of a little bay where it was sheltered from the wind and a beautiful left hand wave was breaking over sand.
I quickly grabbed my board and headed down the path to the beach. Distracted by my excitement I didn’t notice the snake in the path. At the last second before I would have stepped on it, it slithered away into the bushes. A good reminder that I am in Australia, the land of dangerous animals.
Once I made it down the path and onto the beach, I looked around at one of the most beautiful places that I have seen. Steep hills and cliffs covered in lush foliage surround the little private beach on all sides. The sun was out making the sand and the water warm. With about 15 surfers out, most of which were way better than me, I decided to sit to the outside and catch whatever was there. The waves that I was catching weren’t as good as what some of the best surfers were catching, but I had a blast. In-between sets I found myself looking back at the beach, mesmerized by its beauty.
I quickly realized that I couldn’t last in the town of Byron for more than a couple hours at a time. I am attracted towards the nature and less populated areas. Being in hectic places, cities, tourist destinations and traffic make me feel anxious and out of place. After a week I was over it and felt the desire to see what was up north.