Scenes from the Skeens

Archive for the 'Dan’s updates' category

Ocean Encounters

August 25, 2007 4:57 pm

Since I’ve written a bit about surfing I should mention one of the best things about being out there is the ocean life you encounter. Here’s a few sketches of things I’ve seen while waiting for the next wave.

– I was out one day and had paddled out a pretty good distance where waves were breaking off Neil Street in Dicky Beach. About 50 feet off I suddenly saw a slick grey back of some large creature break through the surface of the water. In general, big gray things are not a welcome sight for surfers, but with a big sigh of relief I watched as it arched its back and went back under. It was easy to tell from its movement that it was a dolphin. Anyway, I carried on surfing and about 5 minutes later the same fellow popped up about 10 feet away, blasting water out his spout with a loud noise like someone clearing out a snorkel. Spray flew in the air, and with another arch of the back it was gone.

– Another time near the same spot as above, we’d noticed some schools of fish swimming nearby. They are pure silver, and glisten in the light. They travel in packs of hundreds. The waves were big so we were all pretty focused on timing the next set. One fellow gets ready to take off on a wave and suddenly dozens of silver fish leap out of it right in front of his face. We had a good laugh, and to his credit he got over the surprise and still managed to catch the wave.

– An amazingly big school of 2-inch black fish was moving through the water. There were so many, swimming so closely, that it made a black cloud in the water in roughly a circular shape about 15 feet across. Gulls has found them and were diving down, plunging 40 or 50 feet in a nose dive in a big splash, then pulling away from the water, often with a struggling fish in their mouth. So as I’m watching all this the school moves nearer and nearer. Suddenly it’s upon me – I couldn’t have moved if I tried – but of course the fish neatly part around me, leaving about 1 inch between the collective black mass and my body, which then immediately pulls back together once the school moves past. It was an eerie but amazing sensation. Either the school was panicked by all the gulls or they got temporary protection from the birds by being near me, but they came back 3 or 4 times and swam around (it truly feels like they’re swimming through you) me.

Struggling in the Surf… and loving it.

4:50 pm

So, I haven’t mentioned it thus far, but I’ve spent a lot of time surfing (or trying to). I have some experience with the sport – in Northern California we were spoiled by being close to Cowell’s Beach in Santa Cruz. One of California’s best spots for beginning surfers, it’s a point break that yields slow, consistent waves that are very easy to ride.

Finding my way in the local waves was definitely more of a challenge. I had one lesson, and for the rest I’ve been self-taught. There have been many, many hours of frustration, which led to some short-but-outstanding moments of triumph.

The technique didn’t come easy to me, and quite honestly I’m still not much of a surfer, but I catch the occasional wave. The hardest part has been reading the wave and wind conditions so that I can find the right type of waves that suit my skill level. I’m beyond riding broken waves, but not ready for the 6 to 8-foot overheads that sweep through here occasionally. I need a nice crumbly wave breaking in either direction.

So anyway, after an embarrassingly long learning curve I’m out there catching some waves and having a 5 or 6-second ride on it. I use either a monster 9’6″ longboard or a 7’6″ board, and likely won’t ever ride the toothpick short boards the skilled surfers use here. Still, all in all I’d say I’ve done alright for an Ontarian.

I’ve had a lot of fun boogyboarding (or bodyboarding) as well. It’s a good thing to do when the waves are huge – you can go pretty crazy on those things and not have to worry about your board clonking you on the head. One day I caught a wave just right I had such speed and such a sharp angle across the face of the wave it made a cool ripping sound as my board sliced through it. Pretty fun.

Surfing is a bloody hard sport to learn. I’m sure others might pick it up faster than me. For anyone who’s tried snowboarding, I suppose it’s similar but now imagine that the board is not attached to your feet and the mountain is constantly moving.

Still, I wouldn’t take back a second of the struggle. It’s a great workout and it’s a pleasure to be in the water, trying to work with the waves for what is a truly unique experience. And when it all falls into place and you find that sweet spot where a wave is forming and breaking, and you feel the sudden push under your feet like a loving nudge from Poseidon, it creates one of those moments that you’ll carry vividly in your memory, perhaps to your last day. There is something eternal that exists inside those shimmering tunnels of water, a place between the wind and the waves where everything exists perfectly. It’s gone in a matter of seconds, but it may also last forever. I’ve talked with some 60-something Aussies who can still describe their first wave.

For me the best moment came last week. After about a week of flat seas the winds picked up and suddenly BIG waves came rolling through, but with a nice offshore wind to make them break nice and slow. The waves were about 7 feet high, which doesn’t sound so big but when you’re lying on a board looking up at one, it seems like the Great Wall of China toppling on you. I paddled around for a while on my long-board, not quite getting where I needed to be and sometimes chickening out when I got to the crest of a big wave. Finally, tired of paddling, I decided to catch one in. I waited for a big sucker to break, planning to ride the white water. This was no typical broken wave though; I caught it shortly after it broke and it spit me forward like a rocket. I was simply hanging on to my board as hard as I could for a few seconds, then got to my knees, then stood up, still moving at a fast pace. Then I actually started accelerating, moving so fast that I had to lean back completely to keep the nose of my board from dipping into the water. The wave was re-forming, picking up speed and shape, and I was gliding along at amazing speed. I bent my knees and curled to the left, making the tightest turn possible on a 9″6 longboard. This banked me to the left and positioned me nicely in the tube of a lovely wave breaking from right to left. I skimmed along the tube for a few seconds, then banked to the right before it closed out in a splash of white water. I rode this white water in to shore until I felt my board’s fin hit the sand. What a way to finish the day!

Stargazing in the Southern Hemisphere

4:27 pm

So we’re having a lovely winter here in Queensland. Today’s temperature was about 25 Celsius, a nice breeze off the ocean and no humidity. It’s about as comfortable as weather gets in my opinion. But the one downside to our season is that the daylight hours are reduced. The sun goes down around 5:30 pm. So, with this combination of warm nights and dark evenings, I’ve taken up stargazing. The view of the sky from where we are is staggering. There are so many stars visible, and the Milky Way is so full and white it’s really something to behold. Getting oriented is a bit of a challenge initially. The southern hemisphere has an entirely different starscape than what I’m used to. No North Star, big dipper or any of the familiar formations. And Orion the hunter is standing on his head.
milky-way (a photo of the Milky Way as seen from Australia, with the Southern Cross showing clearly. Not sure what the silver line is – ignore that)
Here the predominant feature is the Southern Cross, a brilliant set of stars, including a red dwarf, that form the basis for the Australian flag. With a bit of help from some books and websites, I’ve started identifying the constellations. It’s easy to spot Centaurus, the centaur, and the scorpion, Scorpius, shines incredibly brightly at this time of year. I have no trouble identifying Lupus, the wolf, as well, and Sagittarius and a very faint Libra. Now that I’ve got those to help me orient the skies I should be able to spot more constellations fairly easy. With the help of binoculars I’ll also be looking at some nebulae and other interesting things in the night sky.

It’s very hard to describe, but to lay on the beach, with the waves crashing on the shore, and to look up into the heavens and see millions of stars, and the brilliant glow of the cosmic dust in the Milky Way is a pretty amazing experience.

Some Video from the Whitsunday Islands

August 12, 2007 3:25 am

Here’s a few clips that I finally got around to transferring from our trip to the Whitsundays. The first one is of us snorkeling. I had told the kids they shouldn’t walk around in swim fins – they should take them off before they get out of the water so they don’t trip. So as I snorkel off into deeper water they completely ignore my instructions.

Their wobbly motions were enough to disturb a local wallaby who goes jumping off.

In the second video (you’ll need to click the Play Now link to watch it) Nate is enjoying the attention of a King Parrot. Not one to spoil a good Kodak moment I asked him to look my way … big mistake apparently.

Footy in Brisbane

August 5, 2007 1:22 am

A while ago we went to our first Australian Football League (AFL) match. It was between the hometown Brisbane Lions and Western Bulldogs. Despite a good start, Brisbane got killed something like 68-20 or so. While it wasn’t much of a thriller for the local fans we had a great time just checking out the sport and soaking in the atmosphere. We scarfed down some Four n’ Twenty meat pies, some sausage rolls and a few beers and managed to fit in just fine.

Sorry the video looks so cruddy – it looks good on the camcorder but for some reason it’s not converting well.

Fraser Island Beach Drive

June 2, 2007 4:46 pm

My mom came to visit for 10 days in May. It was great to have her here and one of the most enjoyable things we did was a tour of Fraser Island. Melissa has written on Fraser Island in a previous post.


We saw three wild dingos on the drive and during a walk of the park we saw a carpet python sitting on a log. Pretty neat.

fraser island

Our tour included a stop at the amazing Lake Mackenzie.

lake mackenzie

The drive along the beach through Noosa National Park is amazing. It’s a designated roadway, so it’s one of the few places you’ll find speed limit signs posted along an open beach. A towing company has a wall of shame in their office showing dozens of wrecks that got submerged after the tide rolled in on them. Thankfully we pulled through just fine.

Guess Who’s Coming to Lunch?

4:21 pm

We took a walk through a beautiful national park near here. It’s called Kondalilla National Park and it’s about a 20-minute drive from here through some nice mountain scenery. The park has a huge waterfall and some nice walking trails through thick rain forest.


After a pretty good hike we sat at the picnic area for some lunch. Suddenly Nate pointed into the forest and shouted “look!”.

About 100 feet away a huge goanna was lumbering straight toward us. He made his way right up to our table. As he walked a wild bush turkey rushed up at him a couple of times and pecked at his tail. He paid no mind, just curled up his tail and kept plodding onward. I’ve heard conflicting accounts of goannas from Australians I’ve talked to, so I kept a bit of distance (other people were feeding him scraps from their lunch as he walked around their feet). One person told me, “they’re harmless, but …. they can stand up on their hind legs and come rushing at you very quickly.” Another person said, “they’re harmless, but … in defense they can deliver a nasty bite and because they’re carrion eaters they carry a lot of bacteria. They say that wound may never heal.” I’m not sure what “never heal” means exactly, but it was enough to prevent me from sharing my tuna wrap with this guy.

He wandered all over the place, past some people playing cricket, and eventually found a table full of people willing to feed him.

Kangaroos at Steve Irwin Zoo

May 23, 2007 1:30 am

Yet more video. Here’s a close-up of the gray kangaroos at the Steve Irwin zoo here in Queensland. A group of about 20 sits around in the grass and you can feed them and pet them. They are very nice and calm. It’s always a highlight for us whenever we visit the zoo.

Dan Wrestles with a Giant Octopus

May 20, 2007 3:17 am

Well, it wasn’t that giant I suppose. And by “wrestling” I mean to say gently poking it with a twig. Yet the salty mariners ’round here still whisper in awe about the day ol’ Skeenie tangled with the kraken.
We found this fellow hiding in a tide pool one day as we were walking back from the kids’ school.

The SS Dicky

May 19, 2007 9:58 pm

About a hundred years ago a small ship was beached along the coast here. They tried to remove it but a sandbar had built up around it making it difficult, so they gave up and left it. When it came time to name the beach they called it Dicky beach after the SS Dicky, an inadvertent landmark that gets more corroded and buried each year. Despite the inauspicious beginnings, it’s a nice feature that breaks up the monotony of a seemingly endless string of sand and surf.