As Gnar as Oz gets!
by Adam Blakey
Where: Situated on the northwest coast of Western Australia, Gnaraloo is one of the world’s most remote surfing destinations. Roughly 750 miles from the nearest city, it forms just a small giblet of the Quobba Sheep station, an area of land dedicated to farming that is actually bigger in circumference than most European countries.
What: The ultimate in hardcore surfing adventure. Huge, thick winter swells fanned clean by seasonal offshores, exploding over incredibly shallow, urchin-covered, shark-infested, mostly-left-hand reefs. That … and miles of hard, red dirt and rock.
When: Bordering the tropics, Gnaraloo fires during the dry season (early June through October)-that’s when the winter storm fronts that drift across the Indian from South Africa turn Southwest Oz into a miserable, freezing, rain-soaked shithole, yet somehow also deliver the northwest with the kind of insane heart-in-mouth ground swells you’d sell your grandma to experience. When they hit, well you’re looking at a minimum of three to four days of consistent, world-class waves. Maximum? Well, there’re stories of runs that have lasted weeks.
How: Western Australia is about as far from the U.S. as you can get, so while that may make it a perfect safe haven from those North Korean nuclear warheads pointing at your house right now, the bottom line is that it’s a prick of a place to get to. Flights out of the States direct to Perth don’t exist, so you’ll have to get connecting flights from Sydney or Melbourne (an extra 250 U.S. dollars). All up, that means a good 26-odd hours just in the air. Then comes the even heavier bit: a fourteen-hour (4WD recommended) drive on mostly dirt road ’til you eventually get to the Gnaraloo campgrounds. Yes, we said campgrounds-no walls, no roof, no running water, no nothing. Needless to say, if you’re gonna go, you wanna put in a good couple weeks.
The Breaks: Gnaraloo is no place for the novice. The waves are heavy, intimidating, and-more often than not-big. Gnaraloo’s Nigaloo Reef (the epic left popularized through surf mags worldwide and in movies such as The Billabong Desert Challenge) consists of four sections that offer ball-shriveling tests of manhood: Centreside, the outside break, has become popular for tow-ins; The Bombie can hold almost any size and offers a rare right; Fencies, way on the inside, is as mellow as you’ll get, but it’s still fast and shallow; and in the middle of it all is Tombstones, the infamous, ledging monster with a gammy step halfway through the barrel-they say just one pit out there will change your life forever … or at least make the pain of desert life seem like the best five-star holiday entertainment possible. Other spots include a crazy-ass left point called The Bluff and a bit of a hoax called Slater’s Right, which might look surfable, but (without six world titles under your belt) is actually a guaranteed urchin impaler.
Best Places To Stay: Not much choice really. You either stay at the Gnaraloo camp or the Bluff camp. Either way, you’re looking at a minimum fifteen dollars (Australian) a night, and that’s just for the privilege of pitching a tent.
Crowd Factor: Guys who bother to go up to Gnaraloo can seriously surf, and these days, thanks to an increased popularity and a lack of other spots, you’re looking at sharing the lineup with close to 30 blokes. Most of ’em cruise up to sit out the winter for a few weeks with their families, so they’ll have it wired, but thankfully they’ll also be in holiday mode. Sandgropers (Australian for West Coasters) are well-known as some of the friendliest people in the country, so campfires and group dinners after surfing are pretty common. Localism is reserved only for those intent on showing no respect.
Best Place To Get Loose: As mentioned, Gnaraloo is a campsite. There are no pubs, clubs, bars, or liquor stores within cooee of the joint. Nightlife is reserved for quuiet conversation round the barbie or some tall stories after a few beers. Mind you, take plenty of your own liquor ’cause nobody in Australia has much patience for a putrid, scabbing moocher.
Stuff To Bring: Everything. Start with a four-board quiver-a standard shortboard, two mid-range semi guns, and a big boy for The Bombie. The waves in the area are notoriously hollow, so rhino-chasers can stay under the house, but something that can paddle well into strong wind and turn in the barrel is ideal. In terms of wetsuits, a two-mil fullsuit will suffice, and maybe back it up with a short-arm.
Next up, camping gear. While the days are hot in a boardies-only sense, the nights get cold, so good blankets and sleeping bags are a must, as well as tents, tarps, pots and pans, firewood, food, and as much fresh water as you can manage-you have nobody to rely on but yourself, so go into full-on Survivor mode (that doesn’t mean pose nude for Playboy when you get home). Magnaplasm is an essential item to add to your first-aid kit, as it sucks urchins from the body better than tweezers or needles. Food storage is also a big concern, as mice infest the surrounding landscape and can get into just about everything. A local kiosk does carry some basic supplies, like milk and bread, as well as luxury items such as Coke, although at exorbitant prices. Shopping at Perth or Carnarvon (the last town two hours before Gnaraloo) before leaving is recommended.
If The Surf’s Flat: The whole Gnaraloo experience revolves around one important concept: removal. Completely cut off from the outside world, you can afford to relax like never before. The reefs are beautiful and offer some of the best snorkeling and spear-fishing in the world. Mingle with the locals, enjoy the serenity, and pray the surf doesn’t get just that little bit too big when the next front hit-you might just have the time of your life.