The siren call of Cyril's – Dead whales, sharks, and barrels…


The siren call of Cyril’s

Citizen Journalists

Written on Friday, 12 August 2011 16:51

(Tim Pirzas is a surfer and sometime BPL Citizen Journalist.)

When there’s a berley trail running out into the water from the carcass of a dead blue whale washed up on the shore, there’ll be sharks around.

The local council erected signs to this effect and also warned against surfing. Many surfers at Big Left and Cyril’s only saw the signs after they came in. Surely a dead whale on the beach would ring alarm bells for anyone considering entering the water. Maybe the waves were just too good to pass up or maybe some surfers ran the gauntlet. The warning was soon heeded though and for a good few months the surf camera showed empty waves.

My brother Matt and I gave the place a wide birth and got our weekly wave fix elsewhere. That was back in autumn and surfers have returned to the area now, but perhaps with a lingering memory of what may lie beneath.

The trek to Cyril’s takes about 20 minutes and begins with a steep hill through a pine forest. Shuffle down the beds of loose pine needles with a surfboard under one arm. Once out of the gloomy woods, where mushrooms lurk in shady nooks, take a dirt track across the grassy cliffs.

From the cliff top look left out to the bay where Big Left breaks on an outer reef. Cyril’s is further right and breaks off a rocky point. A grand old timber home stands like a sentry looking out to Phillip Island across Western Port Bay.

Cyril’s is in Flinders approximately 100km South East of Melbourne, Victoria. The track winds and descends down 50 or more dirt steps that are bordered by trees and shrubs.

Wooden step-risers have lips that trip eager surfers peering past the bushes out to the line-up. From the steps you are presented to the expanse of the shore with the sea only a few metres away.

Cyril’s is to the right and it feels like you’ll be surfing soon but it’s actually only half the journey done. A decision to leave thongs in the car or to not wear booties can be a bad one.

Starting from here it gets very rocky, all the way to the point. The terrain is a confused mix of black sand and rocks to match. Smooth spherical rocks range in size from marble-sized to large boulders. White cuttlefish shells and dried seaweed are scattered about. Sharp and uneven solid rock expanses contain veins that look like rusty metal. Bubbly wet seaweed taking residence in the flat low-lying rock is soft to walk on but can be very slippery and is best avoided.

After 10 minutes of picking a path through the rocks and down to water, wait for the slight ebb and flow to create some depth over the rock pools. Slide in gently, board first, and paddle out across the calm water to Cyril’s.

The pine trees, grassy track, steps and rocks are behind you now and maybe you’ll look back and think of repeating this journey in reverse after the morning’s surf. But it’s only a fleeting thought because your focus will be guided by the anticipation of gliding into a peeling right hand three-footer.

In mid-March 2011, my brother Matt and I surfed for about an hour before the swells at Cyril’s became infrequent, as they can here during a tide change.

It was becoming difficult to get a wave with surfers pushing further and further inside towards the rocks to gain priority. The sparseness of waves created bunches of surfers along the point. There were no sets to spread us out. Only a few of us were right out the back, me on a 9’ 6” McTavish noserider and a smattering on fish and longboards.

After a while I was fed up with being a good citizen surfer, watching the other blokes take waves with no wave behind for me. So I started jostling and went deep inside, quite close to the rocks.

Staying chilled and nonchalant is my preference but the truth is competitiveness gets waves. This is not a great state to be in when your surfing ambitions outweigh your ability.

I was sitting there on my board with water rushing up from the reef below like a jacuzzi. The cold water rushed to the surface as if someone was pointing a giant hose upwards from the reef below. This strange force almost knocked me off my board.

An unsettling feeling was not what I needed when the wave of the day rolled in and I was in prime position on the inside of everyone.

Blokes looked at me to gauge my intentions and the red mist was well and truly down as I asserted myself and began paddling for the wave. Slowly at first, looking back to see how she was forming.

The wave was a nice solid four footer and with a lovely offshore zephyr cleaning up the face, I was feeling great, anticipating the back lift and take off. It was my wave.

The wave began rearing up against the shallow reef to a steep face. My thoughts turned to wiping out and being smashed on the reef. With my confidence extinguished in a millisecond, I pulled out. Then the shame started.

I don’t know if anyone else took the wave, but I hope someone did because it was a beauty. I immediately felt like I’d let everyone down and paddled out of the critical zone to lay low for a while.

Did I hear blokes commenting on how good the last wave looked? Were they then discussing my chicken-out? Oh man, I felt bad. I was done for the day. The shame of it.

As I paddled in feeling sheepish, a little wave popped up and I stroked into it, jumped to my feet and just as I turned, saw the rocks barely under the surface. I nose dived and was slammed down onto the rocks.

Luckily I landed on my back and the reef was quite flat. My head was fine, but I did manage to thump my arm with force. As often happens when you get injured, you’re not exactly sure how it occurred. I don’t know whether my forearm hit the rocks or if it was my board that did the damage.

The return trek to the car was tough with an aching right arm and bruised back but I felt penance was done for my wave pull-out earlier that morning. Later, after ice packs and concerned looks from my wife we ended up at the hospital where an x-ray confirmed a cracked forearm.

My brother Matt and I had surfed Cyril’s on the morning of his wedding, 12 months earlier.

The difficulty of simply getting to the waves was summed up nicely when Matty quipped that he knew why we only surfed here once a year. On that day we surfed with a couple of his expatriate Victorian mates: Mick, who lives in Brisbane, and Andy, who has a farm in Murwillumbah, the scene of many a drunken bonfire night.

The boys were down on the Mornington Peninsula for Matty’s wedding. Big Andy didn’t have thongs to protect his feet from the rocks and suffered because of it. But he didn’t complain at all.

Mick was stoked by the whole experience of the journey to Cyril’s and commented on how different it was from his weekly surf on the Gold Coast.

In the Queensland warmth, Mick starts with an early wake up at 4:30am, followed by a car trip of less than an hour. There are no pine forests or cliffs to negotiate and the rocks are less like razor blades. No wetsuit, just grab your board and head across soft white sand to the aqua. Mick’s weekly Gold Coast surf is warm, easy to access and enjoyable but there’s less of an adventure factor than the challenge of getting to and surfing somewhere like Cyril’s.

There’s merit in seeking out these contrasts to stay exuberant with surfing.

After an hour, Matty started paddling in and I asked if he was all right. He said he’d had enough and was heading in on a positive note. “Getting married today”, he grinned.

We all had a little smirk in the knowledge that between the lines of that response read – ‘uninjured’. He’s accident prone and has been hurt plenty of times in his life through footy, surfing, snowboarding and just generally living.

Innocuous though it may be, it’s still a fine indicator of how prone Matty is to injury that after his bucks night he threw up in my garden and then got a prickle. An injury on his wedding day would have made his bride to be about as happy as a penguin in a microwave.

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