My urge to surf with strangers on the Internet was a social experience that went very well | Australian way of life

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I learned to surf in California and continued to develop after moving to Hawaii. By the time I left, returning to Sydney during Covid, I could still do a gentle wave, even where the big boys were surfing. At least on a good day. Surfing makes me feel powerful, connected and happy.

Starting life again in Australia – such a familiar and yet so foreign place – was really difficult. I found myself a boyfriend who gave me a cute longboard for my birthday, but then we broke up. I was in a mess: alone, lost, stressed and sad. I tried signing up surfing friends to hang out with me, but everyone was too busy with their tough child and work lives. I’ve tried making friends on the beach, but surfers can be surprisingly solemn. I tried going on my own and found it too intimidating.

“My urge to surf with strangers on the Internet was confirmed by the camaraderie we started to form. “ Photograph: Carly Earl / The Guardian

So one evening, I posted an ad on Gumtree: “Wanted: a patient surf buddy from Maroubra to Bombo who is fun and cool.” This ad would become my welcome mat, the best way to get in and out of lockdown.

I had a few responses – all male and mostly hitting on me. Then there was Rodney Raice, no photo, passionate about surfing but inexperienced. The note was pleasant and non-threatening and did not lead by “your warm” (sic).

I ran into Rodney on Facebook: he looked like a nice guy, and kind of like a sea otter, so I reached out. Rodney had a busy schedule as one of the main caretakers for his elderly father in the West and his aunt in Coogee. It turned out that he was also a huge fan of Gumtree. This is where he got an old board a few months ago, but until my announcement he had never used it.

Rodney suggested that we enlist a carnation in the gang, to help us navigate our surfer dreams. Carnation is a young surfer; and those who are on the verge of getting the official role of simply “surfer” are the perfect place for skill and enthusiasm. Enter Sam, 21. He’s from Bondi and has been surfing since he was six. He looks a bit like a shark.

Sarah Doyle posted an ad on Gumtree looking for people to surf with.  Sam Brooks and Rodney Raice responded and now they all surf regularly together.  Shot at Maroubra Beach, Sydney, NSW, Australia.
“It was exhilarating to have this in place, and there was an air of mirth between us.” Photograph: Carly Earl / The Guardian

The carnation turned out to be an important element. When it comes to water, we Australians need someone who isn’t afraid of anything to get us where we maybe shouldn’t be.

The first time we met it was at my favorite place – South Maroubra. North Maroubra has its own gang and the beaches in the East are lively.

I liked them straight away. They are two of the most positive, open, and friendly guys I have met in ages. It was exhilarating to have this in place, and there was an air of mirth between us.

The waves were big that day, and Sam led the charge. Rodney struggled, but he kept his smile and pushed himself far beyond a beginner level. Sam had the skills, without any air of arrogance, and tipped both of us well.

Rodney said he responded to the ad because he always wanted to surf. Then Sam joined because Rodney said he met a chick on Gumtree who wanted to start a surf gang. Sam was like, “sweet!”

My urge to surf with strangers on the Internet was confirmed by the camaraderie we began to form. When the restrictions began to tighten, the Gumtree Surf Gang became a savior during a stressful time, a social experience that turned out very well. Every time we picked a Sydney beach, and after surfing, we would go for coffee and talk about life, acting, death, adventures in the water and Rodney’s new finds in Gumtree. .

Sarah Doyle, Sam Brooks and Rodney Raice go surfing.  Shot at Maroubra Beach, Sydney, NSW, Australia.
Sarah Doyle, Sam Brooks and Rodney Raice go surfing on Maroubra beach. Photograph: Carly Earl / The Guardian

I had never surfed Brontë. And when we did, it was as gnarly as I had imagined. At that point, do you know you’re on the wrong side of this massive wave breaking, sending you into deep trouble? Where do you know what’s coming – next and next? All you need to do is don’t panic, hold your breath, and rehearse as you make your way to the safety of shore. Sam is 20 years younger than Rodney and I, and it really helps motivate our fitness to act like we’re the same age. This is probably why after my erasure from Bronte, we dragged ourselves to Tamarama to become hairy again, during a huge one-day swell. I’ll meet you there, I say. I just need to throw up a bit, I didn’t say.

Surfing makes me feel amazing. When you catch a wave and towered over this beautiful underwater water, cruising along 16 feet above the ground, I’d say it’s the best free buzz you can get. When I leave the ocean after a few good waves with my band, I feel euphoric, liberated.

Before our 10k was split into five and our group exercises were ruled illegal, our sessions were the best part of my week. This is one of the things that I have missed the most during these difficult times. My sanity certainly suffered as a result.

Sarah Doyle, catching a wave.
Doyle Catches a Wave: “When you catch a wave and towered over this beautiful aquatic water, sailing along 16 feet above the ground, I would say it’s the best free buzz you can get. “ Photograph: Carly Earl / The Guardian

But now here we are again.

The formation of Gumtree Surf Gang inspired me to be the change I want to see in Sydney. Sometimes there’s that thing in surfing – when it’s mostly guys and they’re all really good, and sometimes kids and a few women – where we’re supposed to do something fun, but actually everyone has looks like he’s about to have heart surgery.

So when I’m there, I make eye contact and small conversations. I smile at everyone. I say hello. I hoot and shout, congratulating the newbies who catch a good wave. And now I do the same on the street. Contact lenses. How are you.

As long as your face at rest is smiling, membership in our gang is open. We don’t even ask for a tattoo (although you can get one if you want). Your only hazing is to erase it and be able to laugh about it.


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