Cory Lopez, The Box. Photo: Damea Dorsey

by Chas Smith

Western Australia is sparsely inhabited, beautiful, surf mad.

It smells like wet sage outside. It is warm in the day, cool at night and there is surf everywhere. Low rolling hills spread lazily covered in every possible shade of green. The tallest trees seem to be Eucalyptus but it is hard to say. I am not a botanist. The largest city, Perth, is a long ways away from the places people go to surf. Perth is beautiful too and it is said Australia’s finest looking women come from here.

I disagree. I think they come from Melbourne.

There are so many waves. Hundreds even. Each appears at the end of some winding dirt road off some well paved but small two-lane highway. Each is gloriously blue green and breaks off or on or near rough hewn stones. Each is surfed by fifteen salty surf dogs who live for dirt roads and sharks and slabby barrels.

There are sheep in wide paddocks, and cows, deer, kangaroo. Wild kangaroo sometimes lie dead and bloated along the sides of roads. Taxidermied by nature. Dogs run without leashes, without fear.

Each of the so many waves is named, of course, and the wave names are more important than the town names. Partially because there are not many towns. North Point, Gas, Sewers, Rocky Rights, Booj, The Box, Jurassics, Smiths, Gallows, Lefties, Rabbit Hill, Super Tubes, South Point. To check them all takes hours and cell reception is rarer than rare and everyone checks them all by driving and then standing, hand shielding morning sun. It is part of what people do. Then, over meat pies, they talk about which waves were doing what and what the call should be tomorrow.

SURF CONSISTENCY: 9  WAVE VARIETY: 10

CLIMATE: 7   RADNESS: 7   BUDGET: 4

The dirt is reddish but it is not so dirty. It is mostly brushy. The towns are quaint. Margaret River has fantastic bed and breakfasts, pastry cafes, wine bars. Yallingup has a maze. Yadin Nicol was born in a bathtub in Cowaramup. It seems each has one main street fronted by shops, including surf shops. People walk so slowly. There is no hurry. There are zip-off pants.

Margaret River has fantastic B&B's, pastry cafes, wine bars. Yallingup has a maze. Yadin Nicol was born in a bathtub in Cowaramup

Sharks are said to be everywhere and look like they could be. The Indian Ocean looks alive. It looks not tame. Big angry fish. It is also surprisingly green, turquoise, light blue. I had always pictured it grey and wild. The water looks tropical but the rocks and scrub brush and rolling hills do not.

Although the region is rural, considered “rural Australia" it is not backwards. It is progressive. Maybe it is the wineries. Here would be considered Australia’s wine country and, along the surf check route, at least 20 are passed. They seem to specialize in Shiraz. Australian’s really draw out the “a" in Shiraz. Shraaaaaaaz. There are tasting tours, cellar tours, buses full of the middle-aged middle class learning about tannins.

There is always a surfer around who knows where will break when on what swell direction and what wind direction. He is popular and is called often but often doesn’t have cell phone reception because he is surfing Gallows. Or Super Tubes. The days start so early. When I was in Western Australia I woke up at 5:30 am usually and my eyes weren’t even bleary. There is nothing much to do at night, so early wake up becomes cyclical. Early wake up. Cup of coffee.

Get into the car and drive, usually checking the closest spots first and the farthest spots next. But don’t worry, all the spots will be checked because they always are. Then one of them will be surfed. And, at the end, there will be a sunset session at North Point, sun dipping into the ocean into the west. Cell phones quiet.

It is an empty land. The air is clear and the skies go on forever. Meat pies are cheap. Bottles of wine are medium priced, but should be cheap.