As the interminable gap between the New Year and spring drags ever on, the idea of escaping to warmer climes gets ever more appealing. I recently had the pleasure of catching up with Erik Pettersson, who has swapped the freezing winter of his native Sweden for a surfing lifestyle on the coast of Australia. Erik is an inveterate traveller. When I first met him, he was using London as a base of operations to tour Europe. Now he’s ditched the daily grind to hit the waves.
“I’ve lived in two different places for pretty much my entire stay in Australia,” says Erik. “I spent 6 months or so in Byron Bay and a few more in Margaret River before heading back to Byron Bay.”
We’ve all heard of Byron Bay. With huge beaches, humpback whales, rain forest and even a volcano, the Bay is a wildly popular destination for surfers and backpackers. Margaret River is equally well known amongst the surfing community:
“It’s in Western Australia,” Erik elaborates. “It’s notorious for massive swells and gigantic Great Whites. Fun stuff!”
As it turns out, surfing is a pretty great way to spot sharks. Erik has seen a fair few during his stay.
“I’ve seen more than I would’ve liked to! Byron was pretty crazy for sharks. They came in at about the same time as all the whales. I was living about 30 seconds from the main break that I usually surfed, so I’d get up early and check the waves before heading out. One time there was just this huge shark busy taking up all the waves. He’d swim by, super visible, just hovering in the face of the wave. Another time, I was out in the line-up when a mate of mine caught a huge wave. He turned to paddle back to us at the end of it and there was a fin maybe a meter out of the water right behind him.”
“There are all these urban legends that go around about shark attacks. There’s one story about a guy who was walking his dog along the beach. He threw a ball out into the water for his dog to catch and a shark just snatched it out of the air. Attacks do happen, though. There was a point where we were hearing about a shark attack in Byron every couple of weeks. It got pretty scary.”
Despite the horror stories, experienced surfers and complete beginners alike still flock to Byron. Erik had never surfed before coming to Australia, but picked it up pretty quickly.
“Starting out was tough. Physically challenging, but incredibly fun. I always want to be the best at things, so I just went at it. I gave it 100%, just like everyone else out there. When I wasn’t surfing, I was talking about it. The community is really great, makes it easy to get hooked. The whole lifestyle tends to attract really great people, and everyone is super stoked to just be hanging out together, loving the same thing.”
It sounds like paradise. Is every day as good as that?
“Well, your average day starts off pretty early. You feel like a zombie after the day before, but you have to get up early because the winds are calmer in the mornings. The land is colder at night, and once it starts heating up the trade winds come in. Onshore winds and surfing don’t mix, so normally you’ll wake up your mates, go down to the beach and check what the ocean is doing. If the waves are good, you grab your board, put the wetsuit on (if you need one) and just go for it. You surf until you can’t move anymore, then you head back to eat a big, surf-family meal and go back to sleep. Then you get up at around lunchtime, check if it’s still pumping. If it’s good out, you get back to business, and when the sun’s down you crack open the beers and relax, knowing that tomorrow is going to be just as good.”
It’s easy to see why surfing draws in people from all walks of life. People come from all over the world to catch Australian waves, but is there one thing in particular that makes them fall in love with the surf?
“There’s definitely a feeling of being part of something bigger. Surfing gets you away from the rest of the world. It takes you out from work, from all the stress and pressure and puts you out in the middle of something vast, something that surrounds you and swallows you up. You’ve got no control over nature. You’re just this tiny speck on the ocean, trying to figure out what it’s going to do before it happens. It’s never the same, and it’s always hard to explain. You feel kind of helpless. It can be pretty overwhelming. When I hit Bali, I decided to paddle out one night to get over the fear. I set off all alone and just floated around in the dark. You’ve got to recognise that you can’t do anything about the ocean, you’ve just got to go with it.”
After his stay in Australia, Erik plans to head over to Portugal to see what the waves are like there.
“I’d never surfed before I moved to Australia, and now it’s my life.”
Featured Image: Shutterstock