On a drizzling, dark late afternoon a few weeks back I was running on the track that links two surfing spots, The Pass and Wategos Beach. The path travels up a flight of steps, traverses a cliff line with a beautiful view of the ocean (a view that often includes sea eagles, dolphins, and whales), then passes down a second flight of stairs onto Wategos Beach below. It’s one of the tough sections of my daily run. A leg and lung burner. The surf down below the cliff (in between the two famous surfing breaks) is known by local surfers as Bullshits… or Bullies for short. I have no idea why it is called Bullshits. Maybe one day a local surfer decided to go surfing there on a day when he thought the waves might be good and when he told his mate that the waves had been alright his mate responded “bullshit.” That would make sense. Or maybe the name comes from the fact that one of the access points into the lineup there can sometimes be super rocky… and therefor a bullshit place to try and paddle out!
Hundreds making a nuisance of themselves
The waves at Bullies can occasionally be great… but not usually. The break at the Pass, on the other hand, is often good. Crowded. But good. It’s a string of connected sections over two or three hundred meters. One or two sections can be challenging when the waves get bigger. Others are perfect for intermediates and beginners. It’s a long, sand bottom, point break.
Wategos, nearby, is not really a point break, but it has many of the characteristics of a long breaking sand bottom point. With its slow fat shoulders, it is popular among long-boarders who are more interested in styling than slashing. The usual thing in this town is that, if the waves are okay, there would be one hundred or more surfers paddling around and making a nuisance of themselves at the Pass and around seventy-five to a hundred doing similarly annoying things at Wategos. As a rule, there would generally be a big fat zero, in between, at Bullies.
On this rainy afternoon, when I looked down at the surf below, I was shocked to see great waves at Bullies! The surf at the Pass (I had just run past) was pretty good at around three feet and glassy offshore. All of the take-off points at the Pass were packed, of course. I could see in the distance that the waves at Wategos were pretty good too. Maybe Watties was a teeny bit smaller than the Pass, but the waves were beautifully clean. There were plenty of surfers out there too. Down below, however, at Bullies, there was no one. Not a soul. Sure. The Bullies wave is much shorter than either the Pass or Wategos, but it was breaking right and left in a gorgeous offshore set up and there were barrels going both ways. I wondered how long it would take for someone to notice that Bullshits was firing and how long it would take for the local gun surfers to start appearing in the line-up there.
Growling, snorting, snarling and fighting tooth and nail
I didn’t have long to wonder. On my return run from the lighthouse, with the sun almost gone and darkness almost upon me, as I traversed the cliff above Bullshits, I could see that two young blokes on short boards had paddled into the line-up. I only had a few minutes left on my run so with great waves down below and two surfers in the water I stopped to watch for a few minutes. I was glad I did. I don’t know who these blokes were, but they ripped. With hundreds of surfers still growling, snorting, snarling, and battling tooth-and-nail for waves just around the corner, at the Pass, these two were sharing unlimited, head height, glassy walls breaking left and right. From time to time, they were even getting full cover-up tubes as well. When darkness finally closed in on me, I started up my run again and left the surfers below to their after dark ripping.
The next day, near dusk, I was back on the lighthouse path again. This day had been sunny and bright all day. Even now, the late afternoon sun was glistening on the water and reflecting off the glassy, near perfect, waves as the wind continued to blow offshore. The ocean gods were still smiling on the Bay. As usual, there were hundreds out at the Pass as I jogged past. When I got to the top of the flight of stairs and looked down onto Bullshits, the waves today, in the dying sunlight, were as brilliant as they had been yesterday. But there was a difference. A big difference. Whereas yesterday, there had been two surfers having the times of their lives below me, today I counted over seventy! There was still a multitude of top-quality waves but with so many hard-charging, skillful, surfers in the line-up, it was now a struggle to get one of those steep four-foot walls. From two to seventy-two in less than twenty-four hours. What a difference a day makes.
Fuck! How quickly does the surf grape-vine work?
An army of scruffy blond-headed blokes
This reminded me of my days as a little whipper-snapper at Manly Beach when the word would spread among the older surfers on the beach that a bunch of rockers had just boarded the Manly Ferry at the Circular Quay and they were on their way to Manly to have a war with surfies. A couple of blokes on the beach jumping onto public phones on the promenade to call their mates meant that a local crew of ten or so surfers, who happened to be at the beach at the time, grew to an army of several hundred scruffy blond-headed blokes assembling at Manly wharf, only forty-five minutes later, ready to meet their rocker opponents in combat! Back in the sixties there were no mobiles… no text messages… no social media. None of that stuff. Just land lines and enthusiastic brawlers. The surf grapevine is still as active today and it’s supported by superior technology!
While the rapid communication was impressive, I couldn’t help thinking to myself “bloody sheep.”
Despite there being great waves all up and down the coast, it seems that every surfer, and their dog, had to be surfing at Bullshits. Why? It didn’t make sense. There was only one bank. Sure. It was breaking left and right. But there were just so many waves to go around. I’m betting that it was only the really good surfers… the most aggressive… the surfers at the top of the pecking order… who were actually getting their fair share of the terrific waves. The average punks like me wouldn’t have gotten a look in. So why did they bother. Sheep!
Scrapping for rubbish!
The waves stayed good at Bullshits for days. Actually, over a week I would estimate. And the crowd stayed big. But, as was bound to happen, over time, the quality diminished. The waves dropped in size. The wind turned onshore. The outside bank stopped delivering. All that was left was a gnarly little shore break. Every day, on my run, I expected the crowd to stop showing up. The waves were crap. Why would they keep coming if the waves were crap? But they did. It was odd. Running along the cliff path, looking down onto a choppy little shore break below with twenty to thirty people scrapping for rubbish. Sheep, I thought. Sheep. The word had spread that Bullshits was the place to be, so the sheep were going to keep coming.
A few days ago, I got up early to try to get a few good waves at Wategos while a decent South-East swell was still hanging in. At seven-thirty a.m., now that school holidays were drawing to a close, it might even be possible to get a parking spot within a kilometer of the beach, I thought. Yup. I scored a spot directly across from the beach entry path at the far south end of the beach. Within minutes I was down the steps and pulling my vest wetty over my shoulders and strapping my leash to my ankle.
I took a quick peek at the lineup. No one right in front of me at the rocks at the south end. No one at the main break out wide in the middle of the beach. At the north end, in front of the toilet block, there were about twenty early morning punters. I had heard that the toilet block had been good for weeks, so ignoring the swells that were wrapping around the rocks at the South and the main wide break, I started my couple of hundred-meter paddle to the bank at the northern end of the beach. It was completely shit. Yup. There was swell, alright. But the tide was totally wrong. Big fat swells were just passing over the outside bank then jacking up to four-foot close outs on the shore break. My fellow surfers were paddling their arms off to experience the supreme pleasure of being smashed to bits on a shallow sand bank just meters from the beach.
Monster ding on the nose of my log
I took two such caning (including one that smashed a monster ding onto the nose of my log) and, wondering why I had wasted my time, decided to paddle back to join the one lone surfer who had just settled on the spot next to the rocks at the South end. I had completely ignored this spot thirty minutes earlier and just paddled to where everyone else was. The old bloke and I had to wait for a bit but over fifteen minutes we both got two or three long and passably fun waves.
My time was up. I had to leave. The other bloke was on a mission somewhere too and left the water with me. We walked up the sand together and he turned to me and said, “hey… at least we got a couple of goodies,” then turned and pointed to the people still battling the shore break off the toilet block and added, “unlike that lot out there. Sheep!”
I didn’t tell him that all week long I had been staring in wonder at the “sheep” at Bullies and it had never occurred to me that I was one myself. I’m an idiot. Bahhhh!