My husband has a serious addiction. No, it’s not alcohol, drugs or PlayStation. It’s surfing! His life is ruled by the rhythm of the ocean.
At the peak of his addiction, he’s awake at 5:30am on the weekends, eagerly logging onto swellnet.com and checking the surf conditions. This is coming from a guy who Monday to Friday snoozes his alarm three times before reluctantly crawling out of bed, swearing like a drunken pirate. However, when Saturday and Sunday roll around, if the surf is on, come hangover or high water, he’s out of bed with more energy than a couch-jumping Tom Cruise.
This makes me a surfing widow. I have come to terms with the fact that I will always come second-placed to the surf, and that he would much rather sleep next to his surfboard than me. I knew that his dependence was extreme when I came home one day and found Jude and his surfboard sitting on the couch together, watching Top Gear, holding hands.
However, the life of a surfing widow isn’t all bad, and it means that I’m incredibly well-versed in not only good Victorian surf beaches but also surfing widow-friendly surf beaches, i.e. beaches with good amenities, shops, cafés, toilets, lookouts, etc. Beaches where you can happily lose a couple of hours as your seal, I mean man, disappears into the ocean.
And in the spirit of the sisterhood of the surfing widow, I thought I’d share some of my Victorian favourites that I’ve found so far.
Ocean Grove Beach, Bellarine Peninsula
As the name suggests, this stunning wide surf beach is hidden between a lush woodland on the Torquay/Bells side of Melbourne. With a decent café, public toilets and ocean-facing car park, this is my favourite of all Victoria’s surf offerings.
Accessed via the Barwon River Bridge, it feels like you’re escaping to somewhere secret, somewhere magical, somewhere Narnia-like. Adorned by a white wooden boardwalk Ocean Grove has a classy, Hamptons-style vibe, and the lawned viewing platforms with seating make it well-equipped to enjoy the salt air if you’re not in the mood to get sandy.
Or you can also appreciate the ocean view from behind the safety of the glass, enjoying breakfast in the warmth at The Dunes Café – I recommend the smashed avocado and pistachio dukkah on rosemary-infused toast. With its collection of rainbow-coloured chairs, the beach-facing café is highly popular with pram or yoga mat-adorning women, or plain surfing widows like me.
Back to beach amenities, very importantly, the toilets are quite respectable, for public toilets, and impressively well stocked with toilet paper (although as a surfing widow I always come prepared with a spare roll in the glove box!).
Despite Ocean Grove ticking all the surfing widow boxes, it doesn’t have great surf conditions for serious surfers, I’m told. But it’s still a good spot to drive to if you’ve lost your other half to the beaches over the bridge at Barwon Heads.
Portsea Surf Beach, Mornington Peninsula
Although not all that amenity-friendly, I find Portsea’s surf beach incredibly calming and peaceful. At 2.5 kilometres long, there’s plenty of sand for those choosing this more extreme side of the peninsula. And sheltered by some seriously towering cliffs, it’s a great spot to spread out a towel, slather on some sunscreen and get lost in a paperback.
Although a highly dangerous swimming beach, if you stay in the shallows and between the flags the water’s beautiful, when it’s not a Titanic temperature. The only downside is that you then need to walk back up the 1001 stairs to the car park and toilets, which is a thigh-burner for my atrociously weak bladder that requires several ascents in the hour. Plus, there are no food options, so make sure you pack an adequately-stocked esky.
Portsea Surf Beach is not so wonderful for one of my favourite past-times (and the main reason I think my husband wifed me) – reading whilst enjoying ocean views from the warmth of the car – as it’s more shrub-gazing than ocean-gazing. But being on this skinny part of the Mornington Peninsula it’s easy driving distance to plenty of other beachside lookouts. That’s if the shops and cafés of nearby Sorrento aren’t beckoning.
Smiths Beach, Phillip Island
My preferred Phillip Island surfing widow spot is Smiths Beach, although the surf conditions are generally more learner, less Kelly Slater, or so I’m again told. On the plus side, this makes for a much nicer swimming experience, especially given the beach is patrolled during summer.
The one-kilometre-long beach is relatively sheltered behind high cliffs. Although it’s navigating these cliffs that make for an experience getting down to the beach, assisted by a long, convoluted, wooden gang-plank ramp that repeatedly doubles back on itself, reminding me of some adventure park maze. Five minutes later, after battling the hoards of boogie boards, deck chairs and beach umbrellas also making the descent, hurrah, you’ve finally made it to the beach, via possibly the most indirect route! I should have followed the lead from a group of teenagers and climbed down through the scrub.
The toilets are good on the scale of beach public toilets, and while there aren’t any ocean-facing car parks, the big plus for this beach is access to the wonderful Smiths Beach General Store. An easy walk up the road, the laid-back café is a great spot for an injection of good (and rare in this part of the world) Melbourne-esque coffee, and has loads of lunch options from fish and chips to burgers and cakes.
Woolamai Beach, Phillip Island
Peaking out from behind a wall of sand dunes is this 4.2-kilometre stunning, windswept beach in all her au naturale beauty.
Given it’s a beach for serious surfers, it’s not exactly the calmest swimming beach. Although the words ‘surf’ and ‘calm’ probably don’t really belong in the same sentence together. Every time I’ve gone beyond ankle deep water here I’ve felt I was in serious need of a life jacket, given how rough and surging the waves have been.
In the depths of winter when nothing will coax my beanie-clad head out of the warmth of the car, there are a prestigious three car parks that overlook the ocean – this is where you want to be. Although I feel like they should have a reservation hotline given their popularity. Otherwise the 57 other non-ocean-facing car parks are ok. Alternatively, if you’re after a view, you may as well head to the Cat Bay side where there are no amenities but some serious cliff top, coastal views instead.
Perched above the surf life saving club*, the token kiosk serves up little more than pies and sausage rolls, packets of twisties and bananas, but is perfectly adequate if you’re at the point of hunger where you’ve started chewing on the beach’s wooden railing. Out the front of the Magiclands Kiosk are several wooden benches making the perfect elevated spot for some ocean gazing.
In essence, Woolamai has a little bit of everything. It’s a beautiful, clean and quiet beach that’s slightly sheltered from the wind thanks to the sand dunes. Plus you have your creature comforts of food, toilets and a lookout, just don’t expect a resort-type experience.
*Woolamai is the only beach on Phillip Island with a surf life saving club.