We were visiting Sydney since we were already so close, living just across the Tasman Sea in New Zealand for three months, a two year old and three month old in tow. The wet soaking spring in the land of the long white cloud was giving way to summer, and here in Australia summer was a bit further along.
As a young family, we’re all new to this when we start out, traveling to the other side of the world like this was a revelation. Still spinning from adding the second child to the mix, we left our simple and tidy little life in Seal Beach for a trip abroad, the kind of trip we promised ourselves to make when the opportunity arose despite having kids and all of the we can’t travel anymore excuses that come along with that.
We were just in Australia for a few days, but enough to explore Sydney a bit and even get out to Bondi Beach for the quintessential city beach surf day. We all loaded onto the 380 bus in town and headed out. It was a beautiful warm spring day, and our little traveling circus – kids, diaper bags, pram (that’s a stroller to you Americans), sister in law – enjoyed the ride out.
Getting to the beach you see urban Australia at its finest, a beautiful surf beach close to town, accessible by public transport, with great surf right out front. This little thumbnail of sand with its iconic salt-water swimming pool at the south end of the beach. My wife pushed the stroller into the sand and set up camp while I set off to find a surfboard to rent for a few hours. It wasn’t much trouble as there were surf shops lining the promenade and I grabbed a board and bought a warm swim shirt since I left my wetsuit back in Hamilton. I figured for the time I had, it would be enough to keep the chill at bay. I never knew whether I had a minute or an hour before the highly combustible time bomb of a family went off, so there was no messing around watching sets or having a stretch. It was a grab a board and run out situation, which is precisely what I did.
Obviously, the surf allowed for this. It was a gorgeous calm day with nice 3-4 footers rolling in. If it had been bigger I would have had to pay more attention, and honestly I was glad it wasn’t. I wasn’t here to be fully challenged, beat down, or denied. I was looking for a relaxing day at the beach, to catch a few waves, to get out in the blue water. I was able to get out to the line up without any trouble, and felt the joy of adding another famous surf break to the checklist of places I had been, caught waves, or just survived on this trip, places like Raglan and Mt. Manganui and Sumner Beach on the South Island. The fact that I was doing this despite having a new baby gave a sense of pride and having lived right on the beach in Southern California for the last couple of years, surfing more than I had ever been able to surf before and in conditions that I just couldn’t have imagined a few years before, had allowed for me to be ready for these famous breaks, to be confident in my ability and conditioning. We were being the people we wanted to be, the kind of family that doesn’t stop adventuring, stop living, just because there are kids in the picture.
I caught a few nice waves at Bondi, enough to satisfy that I had, indeed, surfed there. Sure it wasn’t big or hairy or epic or gnarly, but I thought it was pretty epic to make the trip, load the family on a bus from Sydney and make a day of it, just to get in the water and get a taste of what the lucky families with kids like mine get to do all the time, not that I wasn’t feeling pretty lucky myself. After a couple hours I returned the board and set off to find everyone, sure enough there were mouthfuls of sand and diapers full of sand and shit to contend with, but everyone seemed pretty content.
You don’t get to just lay around in the sand with a two year old, so we traded and I took here for a stroll while the others relaxed a bit. Having a surf has always made parenting and pretty much everything else in life a bit easier, the edge taken off, the energy level lowered to a level where pushing a swing for the millionth time is acceptable. You can stare at the waves without the anxiousness of missing out, you were out. You didn’t miss it. The warm post-surf session buzz an account that you can deposit into then withdraw slowly for the rest of the day.
I still have the thick flannel rash guard that I bought for that one session in Bondi Beach, the perfect reminder of a place and time. The kind of souvenir you actually use and slowly wear out, one that brings back distinct sounds and smells, like listening to a conch and hearing the ocean. unlike those that maybe look good on a shelf but have no visceral meaning.
We headed back to Sydney on the bus with the tired contentedness of a day at the beach and a little surf, then found a trendy Sydney restaurant to eat in, without a reservation but early with kids before the crowds would show up later. My wife still holding onto urban roots and foodie desires. Sydney allows for all of this, even in one day, with two kids and a sister in law and a pram, and of course a day like this would not be worth writing about to those families that live here. Of course you would do that on a day like this. That is why you live here.