Both Barrels, Combine Surf and Wine at the Margaret River Surf Pro
US surf journalist Taylor Paul finds there's more than world-class surf on offer at the 2017 Margaret River Surf Pro.
There are three stops on the Australian leg of the WSL Championship Tour: the Gold Coast, Bells Beach, and the Margaret River Surf Pro. From my perspective — an American surf journalist that’s had the fortune to witness all three — it’s a bit of a Goldilocks and the Three Bears situation. The Gold Coast is too big; the high-rises, crowded waves. Bells is too small; the waves mostly gutless, a lack of extracurricular activities. But Margaret River? Margaret River is jussssst right.
Arriving for the 2017 event, it seemed like it should have taken longer to get there. But like a stone on still water I skipped from LAX to Brisbane, Brisbane to Perth, Perth to paradise. In my rented Jeep, I rolled down the Bussell highway toward Margaret River, the afternoon light painting a soft gold on the open pastures and vineyards. Windows down, the air fresh.
Into Margaret River, down Wallcliffe road, and past Prevelly I arrived at the Margaret’s Beach Resort. It was early evening. Still warm. I dumped my bags, put on boardshorts and walked to the beach. Huge, puffy clouds rose to towering heights above, morphing colors with the falling sun. I ran straight across the white sand and dove into the water. The cool Indian Ocean surrounded me, shocking my senses. Goodbye, plane grime. Goodbye jet lag. G’day, WA.
The Margaret River Surf Pro started the following morning and ran for five days straight. And yes, of course I was there for every heat! Well, most of them. The important ones, at least. Thing is, my sense of duty as a surf journalist is rivaled only by my commitment to the act of surfing itself. And with the waves pumping my entire trip. I wasn’t about to let the fruits of a West Oz wave-buffet go uneaten. So I consumed to my heart’s delight: The dreamy beachbreak peaks at Boodjinup, with its water the color of mouthwash. The heart-in-your-throat intensity of big Grunters, where I found the best barrels of my trip. And the playful waves at Leftys where, waiting outside the lineup for the next set, a pod of dolphins swam beneath my board.
On my way to or from surfing, I found plenty of diversions to capture my attention. Because while you’re searching for surf along this soul-expanding coastline, driving through tunnels of eucalyptus trees and watching kangaroos bounce in open pastures, you pass by numerous pull-over worthy attractions. There are large limestone caves to explore just off the road, with Lake and Mammoth Caves the most dynamic and photogenic. For a carnivorous snack, you can stop at Margaret River Venison off Caves Road. And my personal favorite attraction, the Boranup Forest, where you can wander around beneath the canopy of karri trees, which look more suited for a Dr. Seuss book than planet earth. Oh, the places you’ll go.
And the places you’ll eat! And drink! During contest days I was based mostly in the Prevelly area, and was impressed by the caliber of options in such a small town. I’d frequent the White Elephant Café (on the beach), for coffee and breakfast; the Sea Garden Café for lunch; and The Common for dinner. On days without competition, I took my time, and enjoyed lunches and tastings at Leeuwin and Aravina wineries.
The best part about patronizing these establishments during the Margies Pro is that it’s almost impossible to go out and not see a world champ in the process. Stephanie Gilmore is ordering breakfast. Mick Fanning’s sipping coffee. Kelly Slater’s at the table next to you with some chia on his chin. Seriously, in what other sport does this happen? Imagine if you went to Wimbledon and kept bumping into Roger Federer and Serena Williams?
Oh, goodness, I almost forgot — the contest! The Margaret River Surf Pro was incredible. Truly. Huge swells marched in lockstep to the reef at Main Break, where the world’s best surfers waited for them to break. And those brave men and women caught those giant waves, and rode them, and rode them well. Sally Fitzgibbons and John John Florence rode them the best, though, because they won the contest. Crowds cheered. Trophies were given. Cheques were raised. Champagne sprayed with reckless delight.
It was a successful contest, and an even more successful trip, which is the good news. The bad news? The trip was coming to a close. Sigh…
But before driving back to Perth to catch my flight home, I had one more thing to try. Next door to The Common there’s a place called Floating Euphoria, which boasts two sensory-deprivation tanks filled with water and Epsom salt that allows you to just…float. It promotes deep relaxation, among other health benefits. Before going in, owner Simon Tien coached me, “Just focus on deep breathing, and envision a really beautiful, peaceful place in your mind.” I can do this, I thought, and went in. I closed the pod. I floated. Then I breathed deeply — in and out, in and out — and pictured the beautiful and peaceful place, just outside.