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Monday, January 20, 2014

Days 32-35: The Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia

Our next stop was Coolangatta, on the border with New South Wales. Coolangatta is the home of not one, but two world champion surfers (2012’s Joel Parkinson is still up on posters all around town, and beyond). Throw in the Gold Coast’s Stephanie Gilmore and that’s another handful of championships. I don’t know any more about surfing than I do about cricket, but the professional surfers and their families whom I’ve met are the friendliest, most down-to-earth people you can imagine. That’s how Coolangatta seems too.

It’s a far cry from Surfers Paradise, just up the coast. To see the glitz and tall buildings up the coast from Coolangatta, it doesn’t look like paradise. And the surfers are here. The community here loves their public beaches, and with good reason. Let’s hope no one ever grabs the land to dredge it for a cruise liner terminal. Leave that to Surfers Paradise, which is neither. Parkinson, 2013 champion Mick Fanning, and the U.S.’s Kelly Slater are celebrating the defeat of one such plan for Kirra Beach.

I’d had about enough of Queensland between Townsville and Cairns, having traveled it first by road, then by sea, and finally by plane. I might change my mind if the temperature in Melbourne soars back up to what it was in the first week of the Australian Open, but up in the wet tropics T. was beginning to think we’d have foot rot. Speaking of Melbourne, I’m having a hard time pronouncing that city’s name, as well as Cairns. Pronouncing them without an r at all sounds very, very weird in a North American accent. It’s as if I pronounced Paris the French way, in ordinary English conversation. Of course it is correct...!

But back to the surf. I got up with the Beach Boys in my head and imagined a day of catching waves and exhilaration. Not, heaven knows, on a surfboard, but on a bodyboard like I did the first time I saw the ocean at fourteen. I remember it being easy and riding the waves all day until forced out by a lifeguard. Well, I was humbled by these waves. Maybe it was serious surf, or maybe I just lost my nerve. I watched for a long time to see if any of the kids knew what they were doing—only one or two of them seemed to be getting there, some of the time. Maybe it was the wrong beach, or the wrong decade! It’s sad when a dream dies.

Other than that, the water felt wonderful, and the sun was not too hot (by south Australian standards)—a great day to be on the beach. We took a long walk overlooking the beaches, all the way to the border. The state line runs down the middle of a street, not unlike Bristol (Tennessee/Virginia). What complicates matters is that this time of year, one side of the street is an hour ahead with daylight savings time. There was one awkward evening when we had to rush from happy hour over to the Chinese restaurant, which was about to close because it is in New South Wales. Nearly missed our takeout!

Another night we went for drinks on the balcony of a friend who lives at the first address in Queensland (#1 this side of the border). It overlooks Point Danger, which is the best view of the Quiksilver Pro surfing competition that takes place every March. I didn’t feel quite so bad after seeing people who knew what they were doing. Coolangatta is the first place I ever saw a guy pushing his kid in a stroller, while riding a skateboard. You might say Coolangatta begins with cool.

I will get back to the restrooms/washrooms/toilets in this country—you know The Discreet Traveler thinks these are important—but here’s another thing that’s amazing about Australia: the free grills. Barbecues, as they’re called, set up as commonly as picnic tables, on beaches and even on the side of the road. Free for people to roll up and use. Not vandalized, not filthy. I try to imagine pulling this off in the Anglo world, even if we had the weather.

At the unlikely location of the surf club, I got into an intense conversation with someone who works on indigenous people’s and LGBT rights. How is it, this Australian demanded indignantly, that her country is so stuck on the issue of same-sex marriage, when the majority of Australians couldn’t care less? It was kind of a nice break to get into a political issue TDT cares about—politics has not intruded much on the last several weeks of enjoyment.

Our last day on the Gold Coast we went to Burleigh and walked around the headland in the national park, and down to the beach by the estuary. There are good views of Burleigh surf here. Later, when we were walking on Kirra Beach, we found a guy by the free showers (to wash your feet—another nice touch) who was standing awkwardly on one leg. He asked if we could help him, calmly explaining that he’d just broken his ankle, and would we mind carrying his surfboard to the car. He didn’t mind hopping or complain of any pain; he was just worried about his board!

The next time we’re on the Gold Coast (!) we’ve been told, we must take a surf lesson. A bodyboard lesson would be about right for me.

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