Byron Bay

One of our first trips since landing in Sydney was to this gem of a beachside town called Byron Bay. It is about as far Northeast as you can go while still staying in New South Wales, but it felt like we had entered another world. It had a pristine stretch of beach, a massage therapist on every block, and van-fulls of happy, carefree surfers. I wanted to move to this strange, crunchy* planet almost immediately.

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Photo by Black Dog Surfing

I had first heard of Byron through this amazing woman I follow, Sarah Wilson. She is something of a lifestyle guru in Australia, and keeps a popular blog. I first heard of her when I was researching my thyroid condition, as she has an autoimmune disease called Hashimotos. Its a wretched thing, and she writes about everything from coping with the illness, to her struggles with finding balance and peace, and living a more sustainable life. She also just wrote a book on quitting sugar, which is getting more popular by the day. I bought it and followed the protocol religiously for about 2 weeks…and I felt great. I lost weight, I had more energy, and my skin cleared up. The biggest thing I noticed was that I no longer felt bloated. At all.

So what made me cave? Condiments, of all things. I just couldn’t give up those magical ingredients like kecap manis and sweet chili sauce, which led me to essentially tuck and roll off the no-sugar wagon. It’s a slippery slope, folks.

Read her blog. She is really helpful when you want to know more about alternative treatments to thyroid disease, because she has tried them all and keeps great notes. Also, there is a rawness to her writing that is rare in someone with such high visibility. Her vulnerability comes through the page and saturates you, and you automatically relate. Now that I’m in Sydney, I think about what would happen if I ever saw her around town. I would probably get all weird, because I’ve got a big ol’ girl crush on her.

Oh, right…let’s get back on track. The reason I brought up Sarah in the first place, is because she penned a great piece on things to do in Byron Bay. With this guide in hand, we planned on spending the next five days checking out what this crunchy* little town had to offer.

And then, it began to rain.

And rain, and rain, and rain. 3 straight days and nights of rain. No sunrise, no sunset. It was starting to get to me. But hey, it could be worse, Boston was getting the infamous ‘wintry mix’. At least this rain was hot.

On the fourth day, we awoke to clear skies, and ran to the first surf school that would have us, Black Dog Surfing.

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Photo by Black Dog Surfing. Yep, they taught their dog to surf.

This school turned out to be the best in town. We were greeted by a very friendly Aussie named Tam, who had us sign some papers saying we wouldn’t sue if we broke our necks (always a comforting thought) and gave us some wetsuits to change into. Tam (as well as the other instructors), embodied that enviable laid back attitude you see everywhere in Australia; and yet there was no doubt that they were professionals at what they do. We got suited up, and headed to The Pass, the most popular surf spot in Byron.

As we were walking a clear stretch of sand for our surf safety lesson, I saw another surf school in the water. The class was 30 people deep! I couldn’t imagine learning to surf for the first time with dozens of other people surrounding me. Feeling like cattle out there in the great wide ocean was not my idea of money well spent, and was grateful that Black Dog adopts the credo of less is more. After our lesson on how to spot a rip current, how to stand up on the board, and the virtue of having the ankle strap that connects you to the board on you at all times, the professor, myself, and 8 other novices swam out towards the gentle waves.

Now, I had never been on a surf board, so I knew I was in for some epic falls. The professor had assured me that at best, he was a rank amateur, and that we would suck together. Now tell me, does this person in the photo look like a rank amateur to you?

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Can you spot my little head in the background? I’m smiling, while thinking, “LIAR!”

Granted, the waves were small and manageable…but hey, that didn’t prohibit me from looking like a total ass:

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I look just like Kate Bosworth in Blue Crush…

I’m pretty sure I managed to stand up only twice, and this was the most flattering shot they had. I’ve seen more attractive seals with vitiligo. They kept saying, “It’s just like doing downward dog!”

Yeah. Okay. Well, I guess on top of not being able to surf, I’ve been called out for faking my yoga poses because what I thought was downward dog definitely wasn’t working. I’m one to overthink things, and I am very instinctual. When you are learning to surf, you have to forget about your instincts of “oh god take cover and fall over!”, and just act. It’s pretty easy for most, difficult for a few of us. It was a small comfort to hear from one of the instructors that he finds the people who struggle the most at the beginning turn out to be the best surfers, because their instincts are better. It’s a pretty strong urge you feel when you are about to stand up on a moving surface, everything in your body tells you to curl up and not move. But once the instincts are in tune with the mechanics of surfing, it is easy sailing (so to speak).

That would take a while, though. At one point, I was on the verge of tears (okay, I was actually tearing up a little). I felt like a total failure, and I couldn’t stop thinking of  that one time when I was 8 this little jerk in my class told me I was a loser. The emotions I felt about not being able to stand up on a damned board were so overwhelming that I was cognizant of the fact that there was more to what I was feeling than just the surfing. My self confidence issues ran a lot deeper, and this was just inflaming the root of it all. But there is a time and a place for breakthroughs of self discovery, so I sucked it up and said to myself, “Damnit RAM you are 25 years old. Now is not the time for a pity party, it is now or never!”

The next time, I stood up, and actually looked like a surfer. Naturally, the photographer had gone home for the day. A few seconds after I stood up, and allowed myself to be excited that I had actually done it, this Danish chick that was in our class T-boned me.

Oh well, at least falling doesn’t hurt like it does with skiing. She felt really bad, since I was the ‘special student’ of the day and everyone knew it. But I wasn’t too upset, I was happy to have been able to experience those five precious seconds of feeling like I was walking on water, completely untouchable and Jesus-like. Though I think the Jesus hallucinations had something to do with all the salt water I ingested. Meanwhile, my sinuses have never felt better!

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Our lovely class. The instructors were kind, patient, and helpful. They made it a great experience!

That was my first surfing lesson. One I can’t wait to do again, probably in Manly this time around, as Byron is about an 8 hour drive from Sydney.

I’m not going to recount  the rest of our Byron trip day by day, since it would involve a lot of, “It rained again. It didn’t stop for hours. I played lumosity. For two hours.” I mean, no one wants to read accounts of that, not even me. We still had a good time, since we were hanging out with a few people at the house we were staying in. Our friends brought their 10 month old who thought I was really, really cool. Admittedly, she thought my camera was cool part, but it is an inanimate object so I’m stealing credit. Here is a photo of the cutest 10 month old I know, Marita.

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The eyes, the smile, the leg chub.

Okay no more baby pictures. Here are some actual highlights from Byron that you should seek out if you visit:

The Conscious Cafe

I followed Sarah Wilson’s recommendation of checking out the Conscious Cafe. It doesn’t get more crunchy than this, and I relished every bite. I could practically feel the nutrients coursing through me!

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A gorgeous pumpkin and zucchini fritter that managed to be organic, gluten free, dairy free, and delicious. Not the easiest feat.

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 The Top Shop was another great place we visited that was also on Sarahs list. It’s a 15 minute walk from the center of town, but their sandwiches and coffee make it totally worth the walk up the hill. No pictures, we ate there right after surfing and I was too famished to think about photos. I was too busy scarfing down my lamb burger with eggplant relish, goat cheese, and rocket.

I mentioned earlier that you couldn’t walk a block without running into a new-age shop offering healing crystals, tarot readings, naturopathic consultations, or massage therapies. I couldn’t pass up the chance to get my hippie on, so I booked a massage at Relax Haven. I was a walk in, not knowing what to expect, and since I don’t have a smart phone down here, I couldn’t look up reviews. So, I blindly put my hands in one of the therapists. It was one of the best massages I have ever had in my life! I left feeling so relaxed and in tune. Since I was already in the hippie state of mind, I went across the street to Byron Medicine Wheel and booked myself a 15 minute reading with their tarot card reader. Because when in Rome, right?

My tarot reading revealed a lot that I already knew. That I was in the midst of great change and transformation, that there was a lot of internal strife, blah blah misery blah blah doom. But she told me I would get to the place where I don’t question everything I do, and that i’ll find my purpose again. I take these kinds of things with a grain of salt, but I have to say, it was pretty damn accurate, and comforting.

I wish I had a more comprehensive guide, but we were only there for a few days, and much of it was in torrential downpour. For more information, check out Sarah’s guide that I linked at the beginning of this post. All in all, I’m really glad we went. All of the food we had was fantastic, fresh, and as local as possible. The people that live here are really proud of their town, and the people who visit know they are somewhere special. The farmers market is not to be missed, and if it is clear out, snorkeling around Julian rocks is a once in a lifetime experience.

*Crunchy: Another word for a granola eating, tree hugging hippie.

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