While others got ready for a chilly British Christmas, we prepared for kiteboarding in the warmth and the prospect of re-mortgaging our home for the third time in as many years.
Then we realised that we were prepared to take our kiting obsession a step further, so with Perry's dog-eared instructor qualification safely stowed in his back pocket, we opted to cast aside our careers, sell our possessions and home in Cornwall and set off once more.Weeks later we touched down in Melbourne. Expecting sunny days and hot northerlies we were greeted instead with forty knot squalls and wind firing from all sides of the dial.
This is frontal territory, none of those clockwork sea breezes that had cradled us in Western Australia last Christmas, it seemed. We snapped up a bargain 4X4, christened him 'Earl', hooked on a caravan and waited anxiously for our new quiver of Slingshot Links to arrive. First on the cards was a visit to the town where I grew up.
|Torquay is a seaside hamlet about two hours south west of Melbourne, and home, we hoped, to many potential kite spots. My family moved here in 1969 when there were only a few houses, a couple of shops and a primary school. My pre-school years were spent entertaining myself in the hallway of a three bedroom weather board house, a akeshift factory where my mother sewed some of the first shorts for a small company called Quiksilver. At the same time, only a couple of blocks away, a similar fledging business called Rip Curl was starting up. The seventies saw Torquay evolve as a magnet or loafers and surfies, or 'Skeggs' as they were called round our way. The incentives were like-minded people and the lure of breaks such as Bells Beach. 25 years on and we steered Earl along the two- ane highway into Torquay's mass of billboards, surf shops and spin-off industries. Had we taken a wrong turn into America?
|Torquay had certainly changed, but had it embraced kitesurfing yet, or was it too set in its ways? I was immediately drawn to the great monument that is the head office of the Rip Curl empire and remembered a brief stint, some decades earlier, gluing wetsuits. Clearly times had changed as we walked amidst corridors lined with photos of surfing icons and walls stacked with surfing accessories.
We scanned for kitesurfing evidence of any kind. Casual enquiries for good local kiting spots were dismissed with disdain. But then we spotted a small ray of light in the shape of a familiar kitesurfing logo. We ran to the entrance, only to read on a locked door: 'KITESURF LESSONS - closed until the season gets closer'. I can only hope that this is the beginning of things to come.
The town saw the birth of the surf industry - could it embrace a mutation, or would it reject kitesurfing as a mutilation? More interested in wind direction than the direction of a corporate town, we kept an eye on the sky as we did a couple of last laps for nostalgia. The skies darkened, and hail stones the size of Maltesers bounced off our bonnet. With conditions not promising much in the way of kiting entertainment, we amused ourselves remembering the local beach options, that in spite of their lessthan- inspiring names, could have potential for kiting;
Point Impossible, Point Danger, Fisho's, Jan Juc, Winky Pop and Bells. I always think of two things when I go to Bells; how excited the whole town became when Bells was 'going off'? and how disappointed I was when I watched the movie Point Break and realised they had passed Bells off with a beach shrouded in North American Cypress trees. Gazing down on to Bells under an improving sky I was reminded just how much of this coastline was dominated by steep cliffs and tiny beaches. Any urge we had to get out on the water was overridden by the fear of two very real hazards - updrafts and a surfer's territorial tendencies.
After three days of squalls, hail and snow along with the coldest November day on record, the sun finally came out and joined forces with a twenty knot wind, or was it ten? no? definitely fifteen. We headed for Fisho's, one of Torquay's main beaches and were relieved to find another kiter at Point Danger as we ironed out the creases on our new twelve metres. Wearing our sternest 3mm spring suits, we made a committed dash for the shoreline. I'm not going to pretend that it was anything other than frustrating, though; just as Perry sailed off, our fifteen knots fizzled to nothing and he was marooned in a mass of seaweed.
I pumped up the fifteen, got her in the air and then watched her fall just as quickly. I realised that even in Australia you can't rely on anything in kiting and that, as with surfing, it's the chase and the promise that lures so many. When the vision of this road trip was formed over countless coffees amidst the rapidly deteriorating Cornish weather, we had dreamed of scorching days slathering on the sun cream. Now huddled up in Earl with the heater on full, we begin our trek north. They say it's warmer up there? we'll believe it when we feel it.
This column is in issue #25