The 2137km of coastline that stretches around New South Wales, Australia, is one of the country’s most wave-rich. Stretching from Point Danger in the north to the Murray River in the south, the NSW coastline cops southerly swells most of the year. Southern Ocean storms form and flick westward beneath Tasmania creating something for surfers to get excited about as the swell makes its way up the Tasman Sea. And any Tasman Sea-borne storms send their east swell energy directly to the waiting point breaks, reefs, secret big wave spots and change-ya-undies slabs. From Byron to Sydney to the South Coast, there is something for everyone here.
This tiny beach is often considered to be a part of the Gold Coast, but it is actually the northernmost beach of NSW. The confusion is that it lies just around the corner, a mere 500m as the galah flies, from the infamous Snapper Rocks right on the border between NSW and Queensland. It’s a small 300m long beach, bordered on one side by the breakwall that guides the Tweed River out to sea, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in sheer punch. The rivermouth shoal focuses the wave energy directly into the beach and causes some incredibly grunty peaks up and down the beach. It’s like a paddling pool on steroids as the Gold Coast kids rip it to bits. It gets busy and it can handle some size, but even snagging one dredging wave out here will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.
Few can resist the allure of The Pass at Byron Bay. A gentle rolling right hand, mostly sand-bottomed point, that attracts everyone from bikini girls to ripped musos to those trying their hand at surfing for the very first time. It’s an eclectic mix, but the laidback, hipster, Byron Bay vibe permeates the line-up. Occasionally there’ll be a snarly surfer who thinks they’re the next Matt Wilkinson or Kyuss King – both of whom are Byron Bay locals and pro surfers. But mostly The Pass is exactly what it should be: good times for young and old, ride what ya brung and do it all with a smile. Catching a wave at sunrise is the ultimate badge of honour here.
Cradled along the coast between Byron Bay and Ballina are the beautiful blue walls of Lennox Point. It’s no surprise to learn this world-class right hand point break is part of Australia’s treasured National Surfing Reserves. It’s a demanding wave best suited to experienced surfers, but always rewarding. On big days you can scope it out from the Pat Morton lookout on the headland. Also check out the nearby Flat Rock, Boulder Beach and Lennox Beach, which all offer great waves in the right conditions. If it’s dead flat, then climb nearby Mt Warning for an awesome view – as this is the volcano that first brought us Lennox Head many years ago.
Angourie was a well-kept secret until Manly hosted the World Titles in 1964 and word started spreading about a fabled right-hand point break near Yamba. That was all it took. A couple of resourceful pro surfers driven by that vision, and with cameramen in tow, soon blew Angourie wide open. It became NSW’s first National Surfing Reserve in 2007 and four-time World Surfing Champion Mark Richards described the point break as “…the best right hand point break in Australia and also one of the best in the world”. Protected from overdevelopment the coastline still retains some of that charm that the pros would have discovered back in 1964.
If Angourie and Lennox are soulful retreats, then a surf at the point at Avoca Beach is like stepping straight onto the M1 during rush hour. You better be on your game if you want to wrestle a wave off the crowd in this Central Coast hotspot. But if you do, then expect a thumping right point that can be very heavy in a good southeast or east swell. If it’s all too much then paddle down the beach to find solace – there are peaks all the way up to the north end. Avoca is renowned as one of the most consistent breaks on the Central Coast, but don’t be afraid to search our Wamberal, Forresters and Box Head – all class acts in their own right.
Sydney’s Northern Beaches are brimming with quality waves, but there is one short, slabby right that deserves special mention. It’s where surfers like Toby Martin earned their scars. The take-off zone is the size of a small car – a lurching suck rock that can airdrop you directly into a barrel. Then the second rock – a large slab of sandstone – buckles the wall at its knees – a sure barrel if you have the figs to hold your line. It handles the big south swell and southerly wind combinations better than most places on the Northern Beaches. If you want something a little tamer, then hit Dee Why Beach or explore the less-crowded options at Long Reef, the fabled walls of North Narrabeen (or some thumpers at South Narrabeen) or try your hand at Fairy Bower in Manly. They’re all waves of consequence within a stone’s throw of Sydney café culture.
If your heart’s still in your mouth after Dee Why Point, then Bondi, on the Eastern Beaches of Sydney, is the perfect tonic. This beach is the spiritual home of any tourist whoever stepped foot in Australia. The waves occasionally turn on, but most of the time they’re small, perfectly formed peelers that can make anyone feel like a star. Get there early and watch the sun rise from the back of the line up, the beach will have more bodies than sand by 11am on a summer’s day. If you don’t strike it quite right, then head to the Aquabumps Gallery and see what 20 years of Bondi Beach looked like – yep, Uge, the local photographer has been shooting this local beach every day for 20 years.
Home of the infamous Bra Boys – a surf gang that terrorised the line-ups before finding movie fame, peaceful activism and then Islam, Maroubra is the quintessential Aussie beach experience. Unlike Bondi, there are actual Australians in the water here and the beach, though small, can get seriously good. The name Maroubra, means “like thunder” as the indigenous Bidjigal people of the Dharwahal Nation called it - possibly because of the consistency of this exposed beach. Make sure you check out the Australian Surfing Walk of Fame – the first of its kind and the place where you can meet the legends of the sport. You’ll also want to poke your nose in at Cronulla, or Shark Island if you’re up for some slabs.
If it wasn’t for the protests over the years by surfers and indigenous groups, Sandon Point would be an overdeveloped zoo. Luckily, that didn’t happen and Sandon Point remains one of the great reef breaks along the Illawarra coast. It’s a ledging take-off with the right hander breaking along a rock shelf as it peels down the line towards McCauley’s Beach. It handles good size, but you want to be on your game out here. Sandon and Bulli Point are culturally significant areas, so take some time between surfs to check out the Sandon Point Aboriginal Tent Embassy, which still stands from the protests held back in 2000.
The South Coast of NSW is a treasure trove of quality surf breaks. Even the most innocuous looking pot-holed road to the coast can deliver you to a wave haven. Exploring here pays dividends. But if you want a sure bet then Boneyards, just north of the Bombo Headland, and north of Kiama is a great start. Ideally you’ll need a macking southerly swell, although it also works on a northeast swell. As soon as the wind blows southerly the right hand point lines up beautifully offering hollow, mechanical waves. If the crowd gets too intense then head north to the waves around Shell Harbour and Bass Point (try your hand at Redsands if you’re a closet slab hunter), or head further south to Gerringong and stretch out at Werri Point. If you still haven’t quenched your South Coast thirst then immerse yourself in the coastline south of Ulladulla. It’s like stepping back in time – no crowds and bush right to the water’s edge.