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Stormrider Guide to surfing Sydney Northern Beaches

New South Wales, AUSTRALIA

Dee Why Point, Sean Davey


+ Wide swell window - Rarely classic
+ Variety of beach and reef waves - Thick city crowds
+ Urban entertainment - Aggressive line-ups
+ Easy access - Expensive

In 1914, when Duke Kahanamoku arrived in Australia to show off his swimming prowess, he also gave a surfing demonstration at Freshwater Beach. It was a momentous occasion that was to change the image of Australia across the world - surfing had arrived! Since that time, surfing has grown intensely in popularity right around AustraliaÕs 25,260km coastline. Since the World Championships in 1964, Sydney has produced a string of talented surfers, unequalled by any other world surf location. This large city population takes pride in its beach culture, and has in many ways ruled the Aussie surf scene. Sydney Harbour (which has some breaks in huge swells) separates the city from The Northern Beaches, which can turn on great waves, especially in the rarer E-NE groundswells and most days have some sort of rideable waves. Protection from all wind directions except SE/E is possible, and the variety of spots caters to all surfing abilities.

When to Go

Sydney is pretty consistent but rarely epic, with SE to S groundswells the most reliable swell providers from April-September. NE to E windswells in summer may include the rare cyclone generated swells in Feb/March but there is still a lot of small SE windswells from the Tasman. The surf is usually waist to headhigh on the beachbreaks, although it can easily exceed double overhead on the best swells. Prevailing winds are SW in the winter, while summers are typically offshore NW in the mornings, before the NE sea breeze picks up. Tidal range reaches a max of 1.9m, which affects the fickle reefs and slabs.

Surf Spots

ManlyÕs southern headland is home to Winki Pop and Fairy Bower, consistent, quality righthanders that handle big swells from most directions. Winki's hits a shelf directly in front of the cliffs and sucks hard, making the drop and race to the corner an experts only pursuit. The Bower starts at the tip of the point and bends beautifully round the headland into the Racetrack section before petering out in deep water off Shelley Beach. South quadrant winds, some E in the swell, lower tides to avoid any bounce off the cliffs and enough height to break clear of the rocks. Rabid crowd always ready to spin and go if you fall, or even if you don't. Cliff-top carpark gets packed with peanut gallery when a big swell hits. The southern corner of Manly, is protected and always crowded with swimmers and tourists. South Steyne produces classic lefts on a NE swell, there's more peaks along the central Mid Steyne stretch, whilst North Steyne is a good beachbreak even on the usual S wind, S swell combination. At the north end, a rivermouth can groom some good banks for Queenscliff, but it is always crowded, with hot locals. Way outside, Queenscliff Bombie can test the mettle of any big wave rider with lurching peaks out of nowhere in 10ft plus swells. The Manly stretch is always a little smaller than exposed beaches like Curl Curl, but it seems to maintain better sandbanks and will have cleaner conditions during southerly busters. The flip side is mushy onshore conditions when summer NE'ers blow in. Freshwater or Harbord Beach is a small protected cove that can have a good righthander at the southern end but crowds out quickly with overprotective locals. This is where The Duke first demonstrated surfing to the Australian public. Curl Curl is an exposed beach, picking up the most swell on the northern beaches and works reasonably well in most conditions, although itÕs rarely perfect. Soaks up a big crowd along its length and often suffers from strong rips, which gouge out the sand to combat the Curly close-out. The challenge of Dee Why Point has been attracting surfers for years, and the ledgy, sucking right gets classic with the frequent winter S swell, S wind combo. ItÕs a very technical wave ruled by the hardcore locals that patrol a small take-off zone in front of a swimming pool built on the rock ledge. Dee Why beach holds some great beachbreaks as well, handling a bit more size when the No Mans stretch is closed-out, plus there's a kiddies corner behind the pool. At Long Reef there are dependable beachbreaks plus many different bombora reefs that handle swells up to as big as it gets. ÔLongie BombieÕ will focus S swell and be dead offshore in the common NE wind. Peaks up and occasionally barrels at low tide, the lip can have some power but the waves can often fatten up and meander, so it is often the realm of longboarders and SUP'ers. Long Reef headland hides some reefbreaks for experts before the shelter of Collaroy affords beginners a perfect training area in fat, rolling waves that give soft-toppers a chance to find their feet. The long crescent of South Narrabeen usually has uncrowded waves that are hollow and very fast. Perfect long lefts and shorter rights stalk the semi-permanent sandbank at North Narrabeen, creating one of Sydney's most iconic and reliable waves. The Alley is basically a rivermouth set-up when they bulldoze the sand from the lake entrance and while the rights can be messier and rippy, they still pack plenty of punch. The majestic lefts are just waiting for a NE-E groundswell, NW-NE winds and lower tides to light up the line-up as barrels spin from tip to tail of the triangulated bank down towards the Carpark Rights section. Here the wave changes into a thick, heaving peak that demands skill to avoid the shut-downs and slams on the shallow sandbar. To say North Narra gets ultra crowded and competitive is an understatement, especially when you consider the crew that call it home. From old-timers Terry Fitzgerald, Mark Warren, Simon Anderson, Bruce Raymond and World Champ Damien Hardman, to the latest crop of pros like Hedgey, Davo and fly-boy Ozzie Wright. Then there is a whole strata of underground rippers who don't want to see you catch any of "their" waves if they can help it. Expect snaking, abuse and drop-ins, but don't try it on yourself! A walk south can turn up empty, lower quality options. Warriewood nestles below tall cliffs and is properly sheltered from strong S winds so when all the open beaches are blown to shreds, the righthanders off the point will still be rideable, but this means crowds can reach critical mass. Small to moderate E, SE and S swells will line up along the less-than-perfect rock line and any wind from SSE to NW should be clean enough. There's often a good left into the channel as well. Mona Vale entertains a bunch of decent peaks in front of the hospital and golf course. The protruding rocky shelf with sea pool has lefts running down the side in NEÕers and handles a bit of summer sea breeze. On the north side of the pool is The Basin, a deeper, rocky bay that is usually flat until a solid SE-S swell breaks outside, then reforms and wraps round the shelf, throwing up some pretty sick righthanders. Needs SW quadrant winds and it will be zooed when on. Bungan is a small beach and a long walk down the cliffs but has punchy waves in smaller swells. The north end rocks hold the sand, waiting for a moderate NE swell to transform it into a point-style left, but more often it's various beachbreak peaks in the centre. Newport Reef sits in front of the pool with an easier roll-in, long crumbly-section walls and lots of shoulder to work with. Works better at mid tides on E swells and less confident surfers will do better here as the take-off zone is spread out a bit and the waves more forgiving, although it will handle some sizeable swell. Experts may like the challenge of Crosswaves, further out off the island. Newport Peak is in plain view of Pittwater Rd, attracting a hefty crowd to one of SydneyÕs most competitive and crowded spots. Sand builds up around a platform reef and all swells will trip over it, with NE-E often being the best to bring the favoured lefts to life. Moves in and out with the tide, but always breaks with a bit of oomph, offering tubes, hooks and cutback walls in one short package. Bilgola Beach is a bit different, preferring to roll and crumble over the sandbars, producing mellow waves for beginners and improvers looking to escape the NE sea breezes and the rat races of Newport and Avalon. Little Avalon is a super-sucky, slab-hugging, righthand pit that peels off below the cliffs to the south of the main beach. Lurches onto the ledge so quickly that air-drops are inevitable and it has become the haunt of serious bodyboarders, looking to thread the cavernous barrels beneath thicker than normal lips. Avalon is a hotbed for talented surfers thanks to its shape and consistency. When a moderate NE swell hits, loping lefts start stomping down the north end and will look picture perfect in a hot NW breeze. Handles some big faces and gets intense at size, while down near the pool is another quality peak that works in all swell directions up to double overhead. Sharp drops at lower tides with plenty of hollow sections on the good days. Whale Beach would be just another selection of fun, unassuming beachbreak peaks if it didn't have the Wedge, tucked in below the northern headland. Only appearing in NE-E swells, a triangle of water pinballs off the rocks and wedges skywards, then landwards, resulting in short, sharp left shacks for the top of food chain. Luxury residential area Palm Beach sits beneath the lighthouse on Barrenjoey headland, where an occasionally grunty and walled-up left can spin down the rock and sand banks at the the north end. The bulk of "Palmy" is often a warbly mess of mush-burgers and close-outs, but the southern Kiddies Corner can hold a smaller wind-protected bank in summer NE'ers and S wraps.


dominant swell NE -NE NE -SE NE -SE NE -SE NE -SE NE -NE
swell size (ft) 4-5 5 5 5 4 5
consistency (%) 60 70 60 60 50 60
dominant wind N -S N -S S -W S -W N -S N -S
average force F4 F3-F4 F4 F4 F4 F4
consistency (%) 84 73 56 57 51 54
water temp (C) 23 22 19 18 18 21
wetsuit springsuit springsuit 3/2 3/2 3/2 springsuit

Travel Information

Sydney has a subtropical climate, which makes the best time to visit the changeover seasons of autumn (Mar-Apr) and spring (Oct-Nov), when temperatures of around 24¡C (75ûF) are normal. Winters are never very cold, with afternoon temperatures frequently hitting 20¡C (68ûF). Mid summer is not a great time to be in Sydney as itÕs hotter, wetter, humid and less consistent surf. Use a 3/2 steamer for the May-September period, springsuit or boardies for the remainder of the year.

Lodging and Food
Cronulla YHA from $25/n. Bondi Backpackers and YHA from $20/n. Air BnB from $65/n. Manly Paradise Motel ($150-280/dble), Narrabeen Sands Hotel ($140/dble), Whale Beach B&B ($90). Food is cheap, especially from the take-aways and coffee shops. Meals from $16.

Nature and Culture
Sydney is a cosmopolitan city with plenty of nightlife. Climb the Harbour Bridge for stunning views. The Northern Beaches have large areas of parkland and natural Australian bushland.