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“Falling Head First Into a Wall of Chlorinated Water”: A Beginner’s Guide to Indoor Surfing | Aptitude


On a sunny Melbourne afternoon, the perfect temperature for repeatedly but happily embarrassing myself on a surfboard, I jump in the car and head in the opposite direction to the ocean.

Following the signs for Melbourne Airport, I finally arrive at Urbnsurf Melbourne, a turquoise pool that generates pristine artificial waves.

The lagoon is a total of two impressive hectares, roughly the size of the MCG’s playground. It’s an unusual place for a surf: located in Tullamarine, the facility is only a few minutes down the road from planes and runways. The pools of breaking waves – one breaking on the left, the other on the right – are separated by a central barrier.

The rule at Urbnsurf is one surfer per wave, which means there is no competitive scramble. Photograph: The Guardian

There are six of us here for a cruiser course, where we will ride green or unbroken waves. Our instructor, Julian Goyma, is a musician and music teacher by training, but also an avid surfer and instructor alongside.

The lesson, which costs $ 99 on weekdays and $ 109 on weekends, includes rental of a board and wetsuit.

On land, we stretch and practice our pop-ups, and Goyma gives hints on timing and technique, which I quickly forget as soon as we get in the water. Our one hour session in the lagoon promises us at least 10 to 12 waves each. In the ocean, where conditions aren’t that constant, Goyma says it might take three hours to catch so many good waves.

Donna Lu surfing alongside an instructor at Urbnsurf, Melbourne.
Urbnsurf’s one-per-wave rule is broken, as a surfer walks past Donna Lu. Photograph: The Guardian

I’m nervous: I’ve surfed in Queensland a few times before, but only tiny waves. In cruiser configuration, the waves have a face height of one meter.

We paddle, single file, to “The Point” where the waves are generated – in sets of six at the start of our session, and later in sets of 10. An underlying tear that pulls towards The Point makes the process of paddling away easier than it normally is in the ocean.

The rule at Urbnsurf is one surfer per wave, which on the upside means there is no competitive scrambling, but also creates a spectacle effect, where the audience is all excellent surfers.

I should be able to do that, I think, while waiting in the queue. I am relatively active! I’m half decent on a snowboard! I… fall head first into a wall of chlorinated water.

Surfing is meditative, Goyma would later tell me. When he has a lot on his mind, he sometimes arrives at work early and surfs a few hours before the start of his shift. “It’s a very good outing.”

It’s not exactly cheap, however. Buying your own used surf equipment can cut costs, Goyma says. “You can gear up for probably $ 500, but you could spend up to $ 1,500 or $ 2,000 for a high end board and a high end wetsuit.”

The adjective I would use to describe my session is exhausting – mainly because I miss what surf websites call “paddle fitness”.

Journalist Donna Lu wiping a wave at Urbnsurf, Melbourne
As with any skill, how quickly you progress (i.e. how quickly you stop embarrassing yourself) depends on the time spent. Photograph: Jackson Gallagher / The Guardian

“You already look tired,” Goyma says, about a third of the way into the session. I say yes, annoyed that my thorough preparations for this activity – a single 1 km swim in a pool and a few sporadic push-ups – were in vain.

We just happen to be surfing at the same time as Damon Tudor, the CEO of Urbnsurf, and his young son, whose skill level is already unattainable.

Tudor, who lives in Sydney, grew up surfing in the ocean, but sees Urbnsurf as a way to introduce the sport “to people who may not be as confident in the ocean as they would be in a”. controlled environment like this “.

Urbnsurf’s progressive course course caters to all skill levels, he says. Introductory and beginner surf sessions – which start between $ 69 and $ 79 – take place in the shallowest part of the lagoon, while sessions with wave heights of up to two meters are aimed at surfers. advanced surfers.

The clientele is a mixture of occasional visitors and regulars. “Some people come once a fortnight, others twice a week,” Goyma explains.

As with any skill, how quickly you progress (i.e. how quickly you stop embarrassing yourself) depends on the time spent. “We had someone who had never surfed before – it’s actually a staff member – and they were surfing in an advanced session after six weeks,” Goyma explains.

Lifeguard Taylor Cookshank on patrol at Urbnsurf, Melbourne.
Lifeguard Taylor Cookshank on patrol at Urbnsurf, Melbourne. Photograph: Jackson Gallagher / The Guardian

“I prefer to surf in the ocean for [overall] experience, being in nature, ”he says. But he has a weakness for the wave pool to improve his ability or work on specific skills. “Because it’s so predictable.”

Despite countless erasures, I’m in a good mood at the end of the lesson. My arms are heavy but my mind is clear – maybe it was meditative after all.

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