By Pascal Bronnimann
Swiss-born Pascal Bronnimann has been travelling the windsurfing world for over twenty years. His latest trip took him 'down under' to Western Australia, home of the infamous windsurfing beaches of Margaret River and Gnaraloo.
I was leaving Honolulu on January 12th and already met some Australians before even taking off – easily recognizable by the first words I heard: "no worries, mate!" – Three words I would hear daily during my trip, a great and easy-going attitude towards life!
Arriving in Sydney for a one night layover (after going through immigration and dragging my bags through the airport) I found Sydney airport all shut down by 11 p.m. – an advice for all future travelers: bring some food with you to Sydney, everything is closed until 6 a.m.
Arriving in Perth I had a friend who picked me up and drove me to the car rental place ClubRedcars – I got a very affordable deal as well as a great and reliable station wagon, a Ford Falcon – I was able to store all my gear inside the car without a problem.
The same day I drove up to Lancelin where I hit the water right away and found myself all of a sudden in the middle of the Australian nationals – competitors were going off, throwing double-forwards and ripping the solid mast-high waves, impressive! Scott Mc Kercher ended up winning the contest with Peter Volwater coming in second place.
I stayed a while in Lancelin where I met more Swiss windsurfers than I've seen since leaving 8 years ago – Western Oz must be a much liked destination for the Swiss. Driving up to Geraldton, Sunset Beach and Coronation it was the same, Swiss in an incredible abundance.
I wasn't too satisfied with all the spots mentioned before because most of them have very similar conditions: Good steady port-tack wind and ok waves but no unreal down-the-line wavesailing which I like most. Those spots are great for beginning- to intermediate wave sailors or just for great jumping.
I therefore decided to head down to Margaret River and to hopefully find some faster reef waves. I was rewarded with mediocre to epic conditions and stayed most of my time in Margaret River.
Margaret River is a small town who has a vibrant surfing- and windsurfing community, people are living for wind and waves and plan their lives accordingly, very similar to Oahu's North shore. But this is not all, Margaret River lies in a beautiful landscape with plenty of eucalyptus trees, vineyards, farms and amazing caves – there is always something to explore if there shouldn't be any wind (or waves – which barely ever happens - there was swell every day, from head-high up to one-and-a-half mast! The wind wasn't as consistent as further North up the coast but surfing can be fun as well!).
My wife joined me in February and we drove up north once more, passing Lancelin, Geraldton and ending up in Monkey Mia to check out the famous dolphins – Monkey Mia is a tourist trap, you have to pay to see free living dolphins being hand-fed – but it is still amazing and well worth seeing! Monkey Mia is located in the Northeast of Shark bay (there are plenty of sharks besides dolphins, manta rays, pelicans, turtles and other great wildlife). A tip for Monkey Mia: sneak in before sunrise and you won't have to pay admission and also come to enjoy a wonderful sunrise.
I always wanted to windsurf Gnaraloo which is even further north and is known to be one of the best and longest lefthanders in the world. The swell was unfortunately not cooperating (Gnaraloo's season starts early in the Western Oz Summer) and we therefore decided to drive back to Margaret where we spent another round of quality days sailing and exploring! I didn't drive down to Esperance neither – another magic spot in South western Oz that didn't work too well while I was there – and was a mere 900 km's away…
Time was up at the end of February and we went to visit Byron Bay on the Australian east coast for one week. It was a welcome change to Western Oz - feeling like having landed back in the tropics – it was hot, humid, not much wind but some great surf spots! Byron Bay had an incredible vibe – most people were either surfers and/or hippies, hippies being in the majority.
Now the time came to head even further South, to New Zealand! Arriving in Auckland we rented another car and drove down South to Taranaki, windsurfing hot spot in New Zealand. Taranaki is like a peninsula with the volcano Mt. Egmont (Mt. Taranaki in Maori) being in the middle of it, reinforcing any winds that pass along. In contrast to Western Oz where the wind is mainly a sea breeze due to extreme temperature differences between the desert inland and the ocean, the winds in Taranaki originate from passing high- and low pressure systems coming from the West. I was surprised of the abundance and quality of spots. You can find perfect point-breaks with side-offshore winds on most days, a dream come true for down-the-line sailing.
Make sure to ask some of the friendly locals about which spots and tides – the locals are eager to help out and not to sail all alone those perfect conditions. Most spots work best in certain wind directions and tides – tides having large coefficients of up to 4 meters. Launching at low tide at some spots can be a real challenge, big boulders and crashing waves… booties recommended but not absolutely necessary, the locals are mostly barefoot.
After scoring some epic conditions at Pungarehu (THE spot with good swell and south-easterlies) and at other spots it was time to head back home to Oahu on April 5th.
Thanks to all the following for supporting me:
Da Kine, Blue Planet Surf Gear, The Loft, CarbonArt, Proflex footstraps, Zeal Optics, Chinook, Brad + Mary of Wetdreams Australia, Gail and Spencer Lewis, John Clark, Mike + Chris etc. A big mahalo and respect also goes to all the Ozzies and Kiwis I met during my trip!