About 15 years ago I took a drive along the beautiful backroads of the Mornington Peninsular, and by chance visited scenic Point Leo. The road approaches perpendicular to the coast, then takes a ninety degree turn to the right, at which point you are greeted by the sight of a beautiful sheltered bay.
And if you’re lucky, as I was that day, at the far end the surf will be working, offering an excellent right-handed point break. A few surfers were out enjoying the conditions, among whom was someone on a waveski, clearly having a lot of fun.
I stopped to watch for a while, and he paddled ashore, sporting a wide grin. We chatted, and he explained that he’d been coming to Point Leo for about 20 years, and further extolled the virtues of the waveski. I was hooked, and determined to buy one. Although there’s not many of them about, I luckily found one advertised second hand a short while later, and bought it on the spot, a 2.6 metre WaveMaster Stabilizer Comp.
I’d surfed (badly) for a while in my late teens, and though I was a regular swimmer, I knew it would take a while to develop the required expertise. So for the next month or so I drove to Port Philip Bay to develop my paddling and balance. I then picked a nice day with not-too-big waves and, with a mix of excitement and trepidation, paddled out to the break. The board was built for a heavier person, so was pretty stable and I was able to catch a few waves, albeit with a number of wipeouts that ended up with me upside down and search sign for the rapid release buckle on the belt which holds you in.
I was hooked. There’s something about the feeling of the moment when the wave picks you up and sends you catapulting forward onto the face of the wave that is totally exhilarating, harnessing the natural forces of the ocean. It doesn’t matter what you’re on (or not on, in the case of bodysurfing), whether its a boogie board, waveski, stand-up paddle board, Malibu, surfboard, the feeling is the same – total happiness.
And I’ve stayed hooked. Whenever I can, I make the journey of just over an hour from my home to Point Leo, and the nervous anticipation that I feel driving along Point Leo Road just before the corner which reveals the surf is as constant as ever.
Over the years I’ve slowly improved, but am by no means expert. I’m unable to turn the board back over once I’m upside down (the flat bottom makes it difficult), and it’s rare that I spend an entire session in an upright position. In bigger surf it can get a bit alarming, especially when you’ve just come up for air and get hit by the next wave – like being caught in a washing machine!
For the most part, the other surfers are a friendly lot, ready for a chat and behaving according to the unofficial rules or etiquette. They’re a mixed bunch too, with shortboards, longboards, stand-up paddle boards, wave skis and the occasional boogie boarder (something I also enjoy, but more usually when on holiday in warmer waters or at beach breaks at other spots on the Mornington Peninsular).
There’s also the occasional bit of excitement. Twice there’s been dolphins join us in the waves. The first time when one surfaced just in front of me, it momentarily scared the hell out of me. The second time was more prolonged, with a pair of dolphins gambolling alongside us in the surf for about 20 minutes – wonderful!
The first board I purchased was satisfactory for about a decade, but I began to yearn for something a bit more manoeuvrable and lighter, eventually settling on a shorter version (2.4 metres) of the same board. It’s worked out well, being more responsive and hence more fun. I tried one of the high-performance boards, but really struggled with its high seat position which made it challenging to maintain balance. I learned to leave that level of equipment to the experts, one or two I’ve seen doing amazing things in the surf (including ‘corkscrewing’ through a large wave while paddling out, something I could only dream of).
If you’re inspired to try it some time, then first check the surf forecast website mentioned below. Three factors have to be in place: swell, tide and wind. Generally you’ll need at least one metre of swell for a decent wave. The tide is especially crucial, as the spot I surf is also known as ‘Crunchy Point’, with a rock bottom that is exposed at low tide. Wind is important and is obviously best offshore, though it’s fickle at times – best to also check the surfcams (see next para). And to emphasise the potential hazards, you’ll see many of the surfers wearing helmets. I bought one recently following a nasty crack on the cranium (from my board, not the rocks).
There’s a headland on the point which provides an excellent view of the conditions and breaks. I like to go there after a good session to watch others and get the occasional pic. This is one I took a while back and then submitted to the surf forecast website, where you’ll see it alongside a few others I took on that day. You’ll also find helpful stuff (plus fascinating little snippets from Phil Trigger), including surfcams, on the Trigger Brothers website. The brothers are local (and more widely) legends, having set up their surf shop (which is still open 365 days a year) back in the late 1960s in the Point Leo Road – you can’t miss it on the way in.