Tripping Fins: Oceania

Learned a few lessons about online trip planning: don’t let the google algorithm choose the vendor of your rental camper van and do not save $2 a day choosing the bottom-dollar cheapest airport parking. When I pulled into the Inglewood (always up to no good) parking lot, the attendant was yelling at a customer because he lost their keys.


I departed LAX at 11:30pm…13 hours and a missing day later, landed in Brisbane. Ubered across the city to pick up my camper van. Wicked Campers, a company proud of the headlines they receive for the misogynist and obnoxious slogans painted on their vehicles. I prefer to remain low-key while traveling, especially carrying new camera equipment…this vehicle was ummmm, not so low-key.

Glass House Mountains

About the whole “driving on the other side of the road” thing, from my experience, it is properly sketchy to start. I had a 2 hour drive to Noosa out of Brisbane, I white-knuckled the whole way and only hit one curb while trying to stay away from oncoming traffic on my right. I made one stop in the Glass House Mountains and enjoyed their striking silhouettes. I arrived in Sunshine Beach that afternoon, relieved and exhausted. I briefly checked the surf forecast for the coming week and was disappointed by the lack of swell energy…but I refused to let that impact my exploration of a new coastline.

I fell asleep at 8pm that night and woke at 4am heading directly toward Noosa National Park. I watched the sunrise over the headland at Main Beach and then grabbed a coveted parking spot at Nationals. I hiked the 4 miles to Alexandria Bay and found a glassy mini wave breaking inside Granite Bay. At Hell’s Gate, I first learned that humpback whales famously migrate along this coast and witnessed some breaching. I was also intrigued by the bird activity: native, vibrant rainbow lorikeets screamed at each other from tree to tree, Aussie magpies intelligently fooled children into giving up their biscuits. Australian pelicans are at least 3x larger than our brown pelicans. The coastal rainforest here had me spellbound.

Much better.

The next morning, I prepared to move south toward the Gold Coast. I made a few phone calls and finally had my camper situation figured out. Wicked set me up with a free upgrade to a premium van. I pulled into Burleigh Heads that afternoon. This is the stretch of coastline that I had most mythologized. Breeding ground of world champion surfers and perfect, barreling, sand-bottomed points breaks. Although I didn’t find any of that, I very much enjoyed my two days in Coolangatta.

As a surf fan, one of the reasons I enjoy this kind of travel is simply being able to put a face to the name of famous surf spots. I wanted to see how Snapper Rocks is situated with Greenmount and Kirra and imagine catching a wave that connects them all. I wanted to see the strange Surfers Paradise skyline up the coast, that I’d puzzled over during contest webcasts and surf videos. I found fun, peaky waves each morning at Duranbah and discovered an ephemeral slab shorebreak at Froggy Beach that probably isn’t always there as the sand moves around. I also enjoy the simple things in travel like long discussions with local surf shop managers about epic days and random conversations with retired couples at dinner that have local knowledge of areas of Scientific interest.

Columnar basalt at Fingal Head.

I departed the Gold Coast with a quick stop at Fingal Head to see the unique columnar basalt cliffs and next made my away south to Byron Bay. The wind was blowing 20+mph from the north…I had picked up some info that those north winds are directed around the Byron Bay headland and become offshore on Tallows Beach. I was continuously blown away by the clarity and beauty of the water on every beach I explored in Australia. Tallows is one the most beautiful. After a quick swim in the “Corner” it was time for my first meat pie. I asked some kids in the parking lot where to grab the best and without hesitation they answered Suffolk Bakery. The hype is real! Meat pies are delicious, flaky Aussie burritos.

Tallows Beach, Byron Bay at dawn.

My awesome airbnb had a bicycle for my use, so that evening I went and explored the town of Byron Bay…a classic mix of traveling hippies and boutique shopping. Colorful and interesting but at the same time commercial. The offseason weeknight was quiet, which i’m ok with, so i was asleep early and up early. I had a hunch that all that north wind might create a short window of windswell for the dawn patrol. I arrived back to Tallows before sunrise and continued my infatuation with the very dark and clear southern hemisphere skies. There are astronomical objects not visible in the north and I observed them deeply. The sunrise was spectacular and as soon as I could see the water, my hunch was correct. Chest-high peaks met offshore wind and the glorious very first light of the Australian day.

I ran back to the “Corner” and like something from a dreamy, cheesy movie, a beautiful woman was surfing a peak by herself. I kept my distance to start but eventually we chatted. Her vibrance was clear and her passion for the Ocean was obvious. We made plans to grab a drink later that night. Next, I rode the bike to the Byron Bay headland to hike around the whole thing. Walking past The Pass and Wategos Beach, I made my way to the easternmost point on the entire Australian coast. I was mesmerized by the refracting and shoaling waves crossing perpendicular to each other. Such a dynamically stunning coastline!

I met my new friend at The Pass in time to watch the sunset and then we had a delicious Thai dinner in town. The conversation was lively, artistic, smart and inspiring. The next morning I had scheduled a 10am trip with Byron Bay Whale Watching. The captain is a former whale researcher and a fantastic guide. After 45 minutes of anxiously scanning the horizon, we found a pair of humpback whales headed north.  The captain attempted to keep a respectful distance as we followed along with their “footprints” but it seemed every time we moved to the side, they diverted their path to swim under our boat. Like we were playing a game with a pair of 40ft. whales. Incredible!

I began to realize that I still had 9 hours of driving to arrive in Sydney in time to explore and catch a flight. So I quickly found a beautiful, fun wave down the dirt road at Broken Head and then set off down the A1 Motorway. A local tip directed me 7 hours south toward a rural, coastal area known as Seal Rocks. Somehow I found my way down a dirt road, strung out in the dark and found an empty state campground called Yagon on Submarine Beach. I walked out onto the beach and dropped to my knees almost in tears. The sky was very dark and very clear. Neon blue bioluminescence exploded in the shorebreak. Nobody within a couple miles. Perseid meteors crisscrossed the sky. Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars framed the bright southern Milky Way and the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds presented themselves the brightest I’ve witnessed. I stayed up later than I had all trip and reluctantly crawled into the back of the van to sleep. Cosmically satiated.  

I woke at dawn and went for a snorkel/bodysurf in the crystal waters around Seal Rocks. A white-bellied sea eagle cruised the empty beach and a green sea turtle munched algae nearby. It was then time to head into the big city. After a three hour drive, I found my way to Bondi Beach on the coast of Sydney. I began my urban walkabout that evening with the famous Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk. The area reminds me of La Jolla, San Diego with rocky shoreline, potential for heavy surf and affluence. The Waverley Cemetery was an unexpected highlight.

Dawn the next morning, I headed to the Sydney Opera House. How many photos of a single object is enough? I don’t know the answer, but I took them all. It turned into an 18 mile urban hike with a ferry ride to Manly Beach, including explorations of The Royal Botanical Garden, Circular Quay, The Rocks, The Sydney Harbor Bridge, The Museum of Contemporary Art and The Sydney Observatory. Sydney is an amazing city.

The next morning I flew to Auckland for a quick adventure on the North Island of New Zealand. I asked my Uber driver for the best place to watch the sunset with a view of the city. Without hesitation he suggested, Mount Eden. I picked up my new camper van from an awesome company called Spaceship Campervans (I’ve always wanted a Rocketship) and drove directly to Mount Eden: a 650ft. cinder cone volcano overlooking the city and all the surrounding waterways. Its an excellent spot for a first view of New Zealand.

My plans for NZ were loose. After checking the surf forecast and weather, the west coast had surf potential the next 2 days and then a strong weather front was predicted. I woke before dawn and headed for a beach an hour west of the city. Turned out to be one of the most stunning beaches I’ve ever seen and the best waves I scored all trip. Overhead waves with offshore wind on a black sand beach framed by stunning sea stacks.

That afternoon, I drove two hours south to New Zealand’s most famous surf community, Raglan. Set amongst the shire, Raglan is an enormous point break, like 5 Rincons stacked on top of each other. I watched, mesmerized as head-high sets wrapped down the point, the longest waves I’ve ever witnessed. The next morning, I was in the chilly water before the sun came up. After attempting to latch onto the end of a set wave and cruise for 100 yards on the open face, I found myself sitting deep in the lineup. A set loomed up the point at the indicator…I swam wide as a wave refracted into the Bay. I was in the spot, nobody else nearby. I kicked and found myself gliding as the wave gathered momentum. A section opened up and swallowed me into a glorious tube ride directly illuminated by the sun rising over the hill. My favorite single second of the trip.

Outside of Auckland, I do not think there is a straight road in New Zealand. I drove 2 hours to the geothermal wonderland of Rotorua. Steaming fumaroles, boiling mud pools, nose-burning sulphur and the mighty Pohutu geyser are a strong reminder of Earth’s power. Sitting in a natural, hot-spring, mineral pool provided an excellent refuge from the building storm front.

Mount Maunganui

With 2 days left in my Oceania adventure, I checked the map and plotted a path to check out the east coast. I picked a random beach with a nature preserve attached and drove back through the shire. En route, I spotted a volcano near what had to be the beach. I diverted paths, drove to the volcano, found an epic campground on the beach, under said volcano. I immediately set out exploring the gorgeous community of Mount Maunganui and the volcano known as Mauao.

The next morning I set off to find the aforementioned coastal nature preserve near Waihi Beach. I arrived along with passing rain squalls and rainbows that seemed to last for hours. I hiked to Orokawa Bay to find the most idyllic empty beach possible. I found perfect sand banks with glassy, peeling waves going both ways (although ankle high) and a vibrant double rainbow. I then made my way up stream to the William Wright Waterfall. After a while of bushwhacking and slippery stream crossings in the rain, I found it much easier to just walk in the stream. I arrived back to the van drenched, muddy and extremely grateful for an amazing trip to Oceania.

I drove back to Auckland that night, turned in the Rocket camper van and headed to the airport at 11pm in preparation for my flight at 6am. I arrived in LAX 2 hours before I departed…that always trips me out. A few generalized observations: the dynamic coastlines I experienced are forever ingrained in my psyche, Aussies and Kiwis are very, very serious about their coffee, Kiwis are aggressive drivers, Aussies are warmer and friendlier than Kiwis, the van-life travel culture is alive and vibrant in Oceania. Next time, I want multiple months to explore the entire continent.

Final trip stats:
-800 miles driving in Australia
-450 miles driving in New Zealand
-12 surf spots surfed
-100 miles of hiking
-4 dark, clear astronomy nights
-Humpback whales, sea eagle, kiwi, monitor lizard, bush turkey, rainbow lorikeets, corella, cockatoo, Australian pelican
-Columnar basalt, Pohutu geyser, meat pies, Sun Xun art, delicious coffee


Tripping Fins: Canada

By Skye Walker

A year ago my buddy Lew and I had a trip planned to Canada in October. But a huge storm came through and wiped out our dreams of a getaway into the land of trees, bears and salmon… so we had to hit the delay button. So this year we decided to go a month earlier and hit Tofino in the second week of September. It turned out to be an excellent choice.

waterplaneNow, this isn’t an easy place to get to. You need to get to Vancouver, take a two hour ferry ride to Vancouver Island, then it’s a 3.5 hour drive to the north of the island. But it’s well worth it if you score. I’m not saying we scored. But we did.

We camped the whole time, and luckily we had a massive tarp over our tents and campfire, because it rained the first night. And we thought it might stay that way but the skies cleared and we didn’t see a cloud for 4 days. The weather was a balmy 75 degrees and the water felt like a chilly day in California. We only wore our 4/3 wetsuit and booties and left our hoods and gloves in the truck.

packed-truckNow I have to preface here, this was a surf trip. Boards in tow and that was the focus. But I knew there was a potential for bodysurfing, but my booties made it impossible to get my fins on. So I borrowed some XXL Duck Feet from my boy Kyle that were built like tanks, but they fit and so into my bag they went.

Our first day of surfing was late in the day, sun was setting and sets were rolling into a fun cove and as the tide got higher, the inside started to turn on. Bodysurfing was on my brain. But I was bound to my board. The car was a real hike away so I opted to stay out and surf. But my eyes were bugging out at some of the high tide draining barrels that came through. I thought I’d come back to this spot the next day and get some tube time but the winds turned the rest of the trip and this spot didn’t work again. That’s ok, other spots did.

inletIn the water there, mini islands, trees wrapped around you and rocks flowed into the sea. It’s like the coastline is hugging you and welcoming you to it’s coves and shores. It was a cozy feeling as opposed to being way off shore and wondering if you were going to drift to Alaska never to be seen again.

We took it easy on day two and had a rad camp brekky, then set out to scope the scene and find some waves. The tide was shifting and the winds weren’t good for a few spots, so we drove around and got some beta from a local guy (Canadians are the nicest people I’ve ever met!) and he told us about an early afternoon spot that was going to turn on. And it did. We scored a three hour session that was, for lack of a better word, dreamy. It was glassy, hot and the green-lit waves kept coming. And as the tide dropped, the inside got even more hollow. Again, my eyes were bugging out! But the fins were 1/2 mile away in the truck… and we were scoring… so I didn’t get them. But I knew I’d bring them the next day. Our local buddy, who we kept running into, was freaking out during our session and he kept saying we were scoring the best waves of the summer. We were already stoked, but that just reinforced our stoke meter. And seeing the joy on his face catching waves knowing that winter doesn’t always look like this, was priceless.gopro-wave-1

We were toast after our session. We crushed epic burritos from the local taco truck called Tacofino and while we had all intentions of a sunset glass-off session, it didn’t happen. The waves stopped being what they had been earlier. But we knew the next day would be fun again. Kicking our feet up in front of a campfire talking about the waves we’d ridden and adventures both past and present while stuffing our faces with s’mores was a welcome end to an already perfect day. It’s the simple things in life that make it worth living and we were being reminded of that constantly. With the phones in the off position, we were able to focus on what were doing and enjoying vs. being bombarded by work, social media or other distractions. We like this tempo a lot.wave-1

Tofino is a super rad town, with surf shops, coffee shops and local fare mixed in with a fishing culture. Not to mention epic views, lush trees and landscapes and really sweet people. Tons of campers were there to surf. And lots of beginners as well. The beaches are big and sweeping, with a lot of mellow inside waves. Even the biggest day wasn’t super heavy, 8-10ft but really playful. It’d be easy to get lost up there for a few months.

wave-tofino-sketchDay three was a repeat of day two… just a tad smaller on the waves. But we scored the same spot on the dropping tide and we were grinning ear to ear the whole time. But this time, I brought the fins to the beach. I slipped those tanks over my feet and swam out to the line-up and the few guys that were out were looking at me like I was crazy. But I swam into a few back-lit gems. The fins were very cumbersome due to the booties and the stiffness of the fins. If I’d known, I would’ve just brought my trusty Viper V5 Flex fins and not worn booties. But I was glad to have these on my feet and sliding into a few low tide drainers. And next time, body surfing will be my focus. There are so many coves and spots that, on the ride tide and wind, would light up. According to the local guy we hung out with a bit, there is no body surfing culture there. Easy to see why, your a small fish in a big pond… but I think the risk is worth the reward.

Nothing more regenerating than a trip with a best friend to a new place that graced us with epic beauty and incredibly fun waves. And to find new places with amazing body surf potential just adds to the excitement.
I know I can’t wait to go back to that island and camp, explore and of course… bodysurf.


Tripping Fins: Puerto Rico

IMG_8336The Caribbean charts had been bouncing. Soon as our tickets were purchased I was sending out feelers. “Know any Puerto Rican bodysurfers?” Enoka was the only guy with a lead. We flew in as the first serious swell of the season was leaving town. The redeye was a blur, Storm of Swords and rum-cokes.

The Island of Enchantment, Puerto Rico, is where many East Coast surfers are first touched by big waves, baptism in the Atlantic. The northern half of the island wakes each winter to sweeping hurricane-swell borne off the coast of Africa. I read about razor sharp reef, searches for extra-terrestrials and a shallow history of deep Euro-American imperialism. All are reminders to remain a welcome guest in another’s home.

From the airport we drove east to a well-known reef in Pavones, an attempt to milk the last pulses of a mighty storm. On the sticky sand, the Rangers of the Wall felt the chill of the Whitewalkers and I fell to sleep. The waves were still small and scattered when I woke, but knowing I’d probably not be back, I swam out anyway. Maybe it was the lack of sleep or the heat, but I was gassed. The air stifled and the water offered little in refreshment. The boardriders regarded me with a silent nod and took little notice thereafter. I managed my way down a few lines, but remained keenly alert of the shallow reef. I accepted my welcome back to the Atlantic and waddled back to shore.

Rachel and I met with friends each night and site-hopped around the island. Arecibo, Puerto Rico is home to the world’s largest single aperture telescope. Scientists have been solving mysteries of deep space and listening for otherworldly wompers from this natural sinkhole for decades. Are there little green men with oblong shaped domes charging the frigid waves of Europa? We also spent time with nature scoring cave visions and getting waterfall shacked.

Miguel is my swell guide, thanks to Enoka. He was kind and welcoming, as were all of our other contacts. Off of the road, Puerto Ricans were warm and inviting. Behind the wheel, or worse, in the passenger seat I would have rather been swimming with a shark. The roads lacked in signage. The other drivers were comfortably aggressive, demonstrating little concern for following distances or stoplights. When I asked Miguel if he knew any other Puerto Rican bodysurfers he laughed. Still, as we met on Shore-Break Island he introduced me to Francisco and Antonio, bodyboarding twins who occasionally dabbled as torpedopeople. They were bodyboarding when I arrived, but happily ditched boards for a bodysurfing session.

While there were plenty of surfers, Miguel couldn’t name another hominid who regularly chose bellysliding. He had spent some serious time in Hawaii and makes it back at least once a year. It showed. Miguel launched into playful takeoffs flying through both air and water. He missed no opportunity to execute a spin either, using the wave’s bursts of energy to get a 360-degree view. The twins were hucking themselves into any lump of swell they could find and came up smiling. Each hooted the others into sets and drifted from to peak to peak. We were having so much fun the surfers couldn’t help but start to migrate closer.

I was blown away by the access we as bodysurfers had to peaks. There were huddles of surfers spread across the blue horizon on this pristine 3-4ft Sunday morning. Then I remembered 15ft surf just hammered these guys days ago, leftovers. One man’s trash… 3-4 foot barrels so clear you could see straight out to sea through the back of each wave. I asked Miguel about the crowd and he just gave a knowing smile. The appreciation is not lost on him, Puerto Rico’s lone bodysurfer.

The following morning Miguel and the rest of the coast opted for a return to work. This small stretch of coast that was brimming with surfers the day before was essentially empty. Rachel and I swam together, milking each glassy breaker before the fickle Atlantic winds stirred. Thousands of miles away from deadlines and meetings we played together once again.


We spent the last few days of our visit sipping wine with an old friend and his family. Sitting by the still Caribbean, watching the sun fall away, we ate Mofongo. A gang of stunning street cats swarmed us where we sat, attracted to Rachel. The technicolor sunset drenched a broken stretch of concrete reaching out to sea. We said our thank-yous and turned compass home.




Special thanks to Kike and the family for the amazing hospitality. Also to Miguel for sharing your home-break with Aloha.