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Surfing Lessons

She sucks out of the ocean from nowhere and suddenly there is a wall of water surging powerfully towards me. I’m scared but I turn and paddle, feeling the surge of power pick me up and start propelling me forward. Momentarily teetering at the top, I paddle harder and manage to get the board speeding downward, what now is a vertical drop. Standing up and extending the body with straight legs and up on my toes, I teeter on the verge of balance before landing on the board and leaning into the bottom turn, shooting away from her thunderous lip. Now I am in control. I use her powerful nature as I wish, laying down tracks as I turn off the top and sight down a hollow, fast line. Respect is demanded and fear never far away, a slip will hurt badly, shallow reef is waiting to cut me to shreds, she is wanting to pound me with her force and squeeze the breath from my body. The speed is exhilarating, everything moving, feeling the power through the board as it chatters over the water and squirts from turn to turn. Shooting through the hollow sections one after the other I manage to escape time and again until I fade over the back and allow her to spend herself completely on the reef.

On Sunday the 25th October we slept in on anchor at Citroen bay after the wild night of dancing and rugby. A new swell was coming and the plan was to head north to the surf breaks along with Akimbo. We took the dinghy to the fuel dock at CNC for essential stocks of dinghy fuel, beer and toilet paper. There is a shortcut between Citroen and Orhphelinat bays, a small archway tunnel through the sea wall, and we took it despite the large no-entry sign above it (all cruisers do this). On approaching the fuel dock there was a Gendarme calling us over – damn! Fortunately he let us off with a warning but it meant we had to take the long way around the point on return. We spent most of the rest of the day motoring to the Tenia island area and decided to overnight at Puen Island as the wind had come up a bit and Tenia is not the most comfortable anchorage.

Next morning we left really early to do the remaining few hours to Ouano, we went straight to the reef pass surf break and Pete and Bruce were very happy to once again enjoy great waves at what is now a very familiar surf break. Late that afternoon, back at the Ouano Bay anchorage Lyn decided to go for a run, having endured a day sitting on the boat watching surfing. She ran along the shore road from the bay, past the stunning lookouts and the lovely picnic barbecue areas and up the hill overlooking the local favourite kite-surfing beach. Engrossed in the beautiful colours of the sunset sky, she lost track of time and ran further and longer than expected, arriving back at the dinghy dock after dark to a worried husband.

5 AM, Jethro Tull’s “Wondering Aloud” wakes me from a deep sleep. I rise gradually, my body aches all over from surf punishment, and yet I will gladly do it all again today. Lyn rolls over and drifts back into sleep as I start the engine and stumble up on deck to raise the anchor. Ouano bay is still like glass, the full moon setting in the west, the sun rising in the east, stunning beauty all around. I look across to Akimbo and see that Pete is also getting ready to leave. After negotiating the tricky but now very familiar anchorage exit I engage the auto-pilot, set course for the reef pass and pop downstairs to make a coffee. The coffee and piercing guitar riffs of Hendrix’s “All along the watchtower” begin to change my mood and invigorate me for the waves of the day. Now that the body is moving again the aches are subsiding and I do some stretching exercises as the Jolifou heads the 4 miles towards the surf break. Contact lenses in, sunnies on as I peer into the distance to see what Ouano has in store for us today. Empty perfect peeling lefts come more into focus as we arrive at the break. A slightly reluctant Lyn drags herself out of bed to help set the anchor. We have done this many times before at this location so we are no longer concerned about the holding on the coral slate bottom wide of the break. We know the drill: lots of chain and don’t back down on it too hard. The wave size is about 6 to 8 feet and I select my board for the day; the 6’3” Firewire Hell-Razor with AM2 fins. It is a bit colder this morning but I don’t want wetsuit weight added to the burden of my tired aching arms, so it’s board-shorts and short sleeve rashie. We launch the dinghy and Lyn taxis me out to the take-off zone, hooting at a perfect set thundering down the reef. Another perfect surf day begins.

The next few days were spent in the familiar Ouano surfing mode. Wake up really early, motor out to the break, early surf, back to boat for breakfast or lunch, another surf in the afternoon, sail back to Ouano Bay. On Tuesday we walked up the hill for the beautiful sunset full moon rising, isn’t nature awesome? On Wednesday Akimbo joined us for a fire on the beach for dinner and a stunning moon rising over the bay.

For some reason this surf trip we found there were more local surfers during the week than the previous trip where we often had the place to ourselves between weekends. It may be because there had not been a good swell in some time, or it may be that the locals get out more later in the season as the water and weather is a bit warmer. On Thursday morning it was particularly crowded with 4 surf boats and small waves as the predicted swell pulse had not arrived. Pete and Bruce had a short surf in the morning but wisely decided to save their energy for later. This payed off later in the afternoon as the boats left before the swell picked up and we had one of the best sessions ever, 4 to 6 foot with 2 or 3 guys out. So many good waves, the arms were almost falling off by the time Bruce finally called it a day and waved Lyn over for the pick-up.

By Friday we were all feeling rather surfed out and the weekend had a very windy forecast and would be crowded with locals. Akimbo headed South towards Noumea as their stocks were getting low. Jolifou went out to Ouano for one more session. It was windy and quite big making it a bit wild and Bruce was quite pleased when another boat arrived so he was not the only surfer out. The boat had 3 very cool locals, middle-aged mediocre surfers who were very friendly and full of stoke. On being asked if he had taken the day off work, the one guy answered: “I don’t usually work”. It made for a really enjoyable session despite the fact that many waves were a bit too south and fat. Bruce had quite a few big drop wipe-outs but also a few excellent waves. That was enough for the day and we set off South planning on spending some time at Tenia Island. On the way we stopped at Testard Island for lunch, a very pretty island where we went ashore and explored the pretty beaches and holiday shacks. On the beach we came across the biggest sea snake we have seen yet, really beautiful and not too perturbed by our proximity. We found a mobile phone at one of the shacks and managed to get through the French language barrier and do a good deed by contacting the owner. Then it was a short hop further South to Puen Island for the night.

Next day the south easterly was still blowing hard as we motored the short distance up to Tenia. Differing from previous visits, we decided to try to anchor to the south of the sand-spit in hopes of smoother water. We picked our way into the shallows and found a good sandy spot quite close in, which was quite a good anchorage despite a small swell bending in and the howling wind. Nevertheless we didn’t feel comfortable leaving the boat and also the cross-wind and chop would mean a very wet dinghy ride into the beach. We elected to have a lazy day on the boat and just enjoy the beautiful spectacle of Tenia Island and a lot of kiters that were out. The plan was then to get further south, hoping that we could get to Noumea in time to watch the rugby final between Australia and New Zealand. We thought the going would be easier by getting some shelter from the wind and waves inside St. Vincent’s Bay under Ducos Island. It was a rough passage through the pass sailing under half-furled jib with wind against tide, but as we rounded the corner of Ducos Island it was sheltered and we could motor very nicely down the northern coast of the island. Rounding the eastern corner of Ducos and heading into the 5 miles of open water between us and Ndukue Island it was a different story. We were slamming the huge chop and making very little headway motoring at about 2.5 knots. We could have put up the mainsail and beat into the wind or motor-sailed but it would be a rough passage with wear and tear on sails and motor. In the end we made the correct cruisers choice and turned around back to Moustique Bay for the night. The rugby would not be watched, but we had excellent shelter as the only boat in the bay and a lovely night, waking at 3AM to listen to the game on streaming voice commentary. Well done the All Blacks, certainly well-deserved winners.

Having foregone the rugby final, the pressure to get to Noumea was now off and we decided to enjoy the beautiful Tenia region for longer. We had previously noted that on a big swell there is a really good beginners surfing setup on the inside northern corner of St. Vincent’s pass. A slow little right-hander breaks here over fairly benign coral and then goes to deeper water. With the wind a bit lighter in the morning we decided to use the opportunity to give Lyn a surfing lesson. We anchored Jolifou at Tenia in the same place as the previous day and took the dinghy to “Lyn’s surf spot”. Lyn’s biggest problem in surfing has been the paddling, her arms are not fit for it. Initially she was not able to catch the waves but she worked on her paddling technique and eventually she caught a big wave, stood up and rode it all the way! She is now a super-stoked frothing grommet, I haven’t seen her so excited in a long time. In the afternoon the wind was up and Bruce launched the kite at Tenia where there were many keen kiters camped for the weekend. Venturing further out to the waves at Lyn’s surf break, he couldn’t resist the temptation and continued the 2 miles upwind to St. Vincents Left where there were 6 others kiting the waves with support boats. He had a few waves but cut it a bit short as he was concerned that Lyn may not know where he was and be worried. It was a fun down-winder back to Tenia kiting and then on Jolifou to Puen which we elected as a nice quiet anchorage for the night.

On Monday we anchored just inside Lyn’s surf spot and set off on the dinghy for lesson 2. Lyn had got it and suddenly she was catching everything she paddled for, standing up and hardly ever falling off. She couldn’t get enough as she caught wave after wave, assisted by rides back out in the coach boat. Eventually the wind started to get up and the arms could do no more, so we continued with our plan for the day and headed out to St. Vincent’s Left where we anchored just inside the reef near the surf break in quite unsettled waters. After lunch Bruce got out the 12 meter kite and it was time for our 3rd attempt at launching from the boat, nervously as our success rate at this point was just 50%. Today’s technique would be to lay out the lines from the bar in the cockpit, forward along the side deck, around the inner forestay and back on the other side, pump up the kite on the sugar-scoop half in the water, attach the lines. Then Lyn walks the bar around the boat as Bruce lets the kite out from the sugar-scoop holding the lines in his hands. The kite half took off a couple of times, lines cutting into Bruce’s hands, Lyn running around the boat with the bar and Bruce grabbing it and being launched from the boat! End result is good, but technique needs work. It was all worthwhile as Bruce had an awesome kite surf, best ever, all alone in 4 to 6 foot peeling waves with the perfect cross-offshore wind angle. It’s one of the most fun things to do, surfing across the wave face and whenever you need speed to make a section you just engage the kite for power and shoot down the line. After a long session we managed to get Bruce, board and kite back on the boat despite a 2 knot current trying to thwart our efforts. Then we had a nice downwind sail to Moustique bay for the night. The sundowners tasted extra good after such a wonderful day.

Stocks were now getting low and it was time to get to Noumea. Early in the morning there was no wind and we started motoring South, but by the time we were outside St. Vincents bay the South Easterly had already kicked in for the day, so we aborted and spent a lazy day on the boat at the nice protected anchorage between Mathieu Island and Uitoe.

On Wednesday morning we set off early to try our luck again. This time the wind stayed off long enough for us to complete the 4 hour motor to Noumea, where we anchored near Insatiable 2 in Orphelinat bay and had a quick catch-up before commencing our food and drink shopping. The stocking up exercise was a bit more tricky than usual because there was a cruise ship in town meaning we couldn’t use the dock opposite the supermarket. We used a combination of a pretty sketchy ride on the loaded Brompton fold-up bike and Lyn pushing the shopping trolly to get the food back to the dinghy at Port Moselle marina. Then it was out to Maitre Island where Bruce had a good kite, practicing jumps with his strapped board followed by drinks on the beach with Pete and Ness from Akimbo. It was a slightly sad occasion as their time was nearly up (Aussies and Kiwis are allowed 3 months in NC) and they were leaving soon so would be our last contact with them for a while. They have been such great friends for us this trip and our cruising and New Caledonia mentors. Miss them already!


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