Thursday, April 29, 2010

Forster part III

One on the people we were diving with was nice enough to supply us with a copy of their pictures and videos. This gentleman, Martin is an experienced divemaster and all around good guy. Martin hails from Denmark and will soon be leaving sunny Australia to help tourists navigate the deadly ski slopes of Japan.

Thanks Martin, you rock!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Broke the 4th metacarpal in my right hand at jiu jitsu last night. 6 weeks till I can train again. Hopefully will be surfing/spearing again before then. Will post more dive pics/video from last weekend soon. For now I am done typing 1 handed.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Forster part II

How close? This close.

Amy and I took advantage of the recent ANZAC Day long weekend to take a group trip up to Forster to go scuba diving. It was really fun overall and the diving was cold but great.

Day 1:

Started off the day heading out to Seal Rocks, the most widely-known site in the area:

View Larger Map

The water was colder than Amy and I usually dive in. We were in full wetsuits. This helped marginally. The site itself is a set of rocks jutting out of the water about a 10 minute boat ride out from shore. Grey Nurse Sharks tend to congregate around the rocks and surrounding terrain, we had been told that around 30 were seen on a recent dive.

We plunged into the cold water and descended and were blown away. There were at least 50 sharks swimming around down there, on top of countless other fish. At one point we were holding onto a ledge, looking over the edge at a small flat area as these sharks swam around and in front of us. Behind them, against a cliff were thousands and thousands of smaller fish, presumably waiting to be eaten. It felt like we were young kids, lying at the edge of a game that older kids were playing, incapable of joining in but the rules of which were very clear.
After we dropped off that ledge to the bottom of the site, where we lied prone and looked up at a ceiling of sharks swimming between us and the surface. We crept along under the sharks like a prisoner trying to sneak across a darkened yard.

Eventually, we reached a sheer wall and we waited for a break in the sharks to swim up it, using handholds in the wall and our fins to surface.

Never in my life have I felt more like a ninja.

This was followed by a lunch interlude and then a second dive, which was also abundantly populated with sharks. On both of these dives we saw a huge diversity of wildlife. Everything from stingrays to baitfish, to many larger fish such as cobia, tuna, wobbegong sharks, and all sorts of coral and underwater flora. The only thing really missing were the eponymous seals which we were told were eradicated by local fisherman years ago.

This great day of diving was followed up by a friendly game of beach rugby, which Amy and my team won, 2 tries to 1. Go America.
Beach rugby field

We wrapped up the first day with dinner out in lovely Forster and a game of Asshole (sorry mom, that is what its called) or Presidents and Assholes, as it is apparently known internationally.

Day 2:

Day 2 was a bit more of a trial as we woke up to cooler temperatures and had to look forward to putting on a cold, wet wetsuit. For anyone who has not had the joy of doing this, it sounds bad but is actually worse in practice. I would compare its level of unpleasantness to ripping a band aide off but the band aide is over your whole body and there is no quick way of doing it. Also, you know the whole time you are doing it that you are soon going to be jumping into even colder water and staying in it for a while. In short, it completely sucks.

But, we were here to dive and after the amazingness of yesterday's dives, we steeled our grimaces and slipped in. The suckiness of the cool weather and cold wetsuits was counteracted by a good omen on the boat ride out. We had a pod of dolphins riding our wake. Everyone's mood drastically improved.

The dive sites on the 2nd day were closer to Forster and after an aborted attempt to dive a mid-ocean site called, "Pinnacle", we were diving close to shore. These sites were also great with visibility often being reduced to only a few feet due to being obscured by shoals of fish. There were also sharks around, although not as many as Seal Rocks. We saw several instances of schools of fish clumping around sharks. One would assume they were doing it for protection or perhaps they were hoping to get some scraps that would get away from the shark the next time it had a meal.
There is a shark in this cloud of fish in front of Amy. She is looking directly at it.

The highlight of the 2nd day's diving was a point in one of the dives where we were lying in a kelp bed on the edge of a bowl-shaped depression about 40 feet across. This was affectionately called, "The Shark Bowl" by our guides. Unlike Seal Rocks, this was appropriately named. There were around 15 sharks swimming around in it. It felt like we were looking through the window of a secret club. We laid in the kelp, anchoring ourselves on the tough plants for a while, watching them mill around, presumably plotting which of us they were going to eat. Apparently our ninja skills from the day before paid off as we made it out whole.
Chillin in the Shark Bowl

Day 3:

Day 3's dives were once again around Forster and our guides persevered to take us our to the Pinnacle dive site again, hoping that current would be more cooperative. We lucked out and suited up.

This was a really interesting dive site as it is the top of a sea mount, the top of which is in about 100 feet of water. I actually got really excited as I got ready to descend and started screaming the same profanity laced exclamations into my regulator as when I was about to jump out of the plane skydiving. I was pretty happy about this mental comparison. We descended along the anchor line into the darkness. It was really cool.
Looking down the anchor line into the depths

When we got to the bottom, it was a weird feeling. There is an area of near-bare rock surrounded by nothing but water, with fish swimming around. I realized later that it looked exactly like....the top of a mountain. Only, it was underwater. This may sound weird, but if you have ever climbed a mountain, when you get to the top, it is rounded off and there is nothing else around, you can see for miles, maybe to where you parked your car or started the hike but you are surrounded by the land around you. This was strange because it looked exactly like other mountaintops I have been to but there were fish floating around and beyond them was murky darkness rather than a horizon.

We swam around the peak for a bit, spotting a couple wobbegongs and a gigantic stingray. There were lots of large fish around that would usually be great for spearing but it is illegal to spear with scuba gear. We saw schools of kingfish, jewfish, and cobia. Pictures were tough down here because you lose a lot of light due to the depth.

We ascended up the anchor line and during the safety stop, the guide sat on a barrel that was floating there and fed fish out of a bag that he had brought along. There is video of this in the earlier post.

Overall, this was a great trip, both because of the fun the people that we went with and the quality of the diving. The only downside was the cold water but Amy has remedied this by vowing that the next place we go will be warm. Totally with you on that, as long as there are sharks.

Cheap Flights of the week

Quarter-life crisis? On the run from the cops? Ready to start on that bucket list?

Come to sunny Australia and help us kick ass and take names. Cheap Flight of the week is $872.

Forster part I

Just got back from an awesome dive trip up in Forster for ANZAC Weekend. Going to crash out for now but thought I would post this pic and video first. Details and more pictures to come.


View Larger Map

Video shot diving:

Monday, April 19, 2010

Next big thing: Beachball Jousting

Shred it, sister.

We lucked out again this past weekend with beautiful weather and made the most out of it with lots of fun stuff packed in.

We kicked things off with the Volcom Surfing Competition down the beach. It was a youth competition and the kids were running all over the place. The waves and weather weren't exactly cooperating on Friday but things picked up for the finals on Saturday.

To the victor go the spoils...

There was a bit of a carvival atmosphere (no carnies though) with lots of families and kids running all over the place. Volcom, the hosting sponsor had games set up and was giving away swag all day. The games were creative, to say the least. They included a pineapple chucking contest and some kind of extreme mini golf. All of this was going on while the contest was underway so if the competition got boring, the announces would stoke up the crowd with the games, etc. The best however was being played by a large group of kids and this actually had a more people cheering than the surfers did.

Gilligan's Island on the left was really jealous

Bombs away

The kids had gotten their hands on some large beach balls that were either part of the scenery or were given away and were taking turns sprinting at eachother and crashing, like the knightly jousters of yore. Words are inadequate to explain the hilarity that ensued:

On top of all this fun, we squeezed in some time for a surf of our own, followed by a body surf and then wrapped up with a barbecue which we hosted. Lamb, salmon, and many, many beers were enjoyed by all. This was topped off by a delicious homemade tiramisu, courtesy of Delia.

We also celebrated our mate Ian's birthday at the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel in Sydney, an event which was so much fun as to make the next day bright, loud, and painful for all those involved. Happy birthday, mate.

Sunday's sunset

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

You are not as good as you think you are

Amy and I have been keeping at surfing since we got here, each making marginal improvements. We are now able to catch waves and stand up pretty regularly - a large feat for novices such as ourselves. So anyways, this has me feeling pretty good about my progress, even though 10 year olds regularly catch bigger waves than me and stare with contempt and pity as I drag my gigantic board down the beach. Point is, I'm feeling pretty good about where I'm at. As things generally go, this is the perfect time for a reality check, which happened earlier today.

I was out surfing solo (Amy being at work, or some other nonsense) when I hear the sharp report of the lifeguard's whistle. I look around and he is pointing at what can only be me and waving for me to come in to him. It appears that he would like to have a word with me. Now, I have seen this happen many times before and this generally occurs when a surfer, kayaker, etc strays too close to the swimming area, which is clearly marked out and separated from the surfcraft area of the beach. Usually it involves the surfer getting yelled at for violating this clearly delineated area and having to sulk down the beach. It is one of the few things that the lifeguards actually do during the day, and they appear to enjoy it.

I paddle my way in, devising various desperate excuses and elaborate lies about my poor eyesight and sense of direction, mighty Neptune's grudge against me, and so on.

Before I can even begin to explain away my transgression, the lifeguard, who is tanned beyond bronze, has bleached blond hair and looks exactly like he has done nothing for the past 10 years but sit on the beach and surf says, "Hey mate, while you are learning to surf, can you take your board down there and go in so you are as far away from the swimming area as possible?" At this point, he is pointing at an area of the beach that is so far away from where we are standing that it may well be part of the territorial waters of New Zealand. It is worth noting that he immediately knew:
  1. I have little or no control of where I go once I catch a wave
  2. I do not actually know how to surf
  3. I am a danger to both myself and anyone who happens to be within 1 Astronomical Unit of me
So, off I went down the beach to learn some more, practice my timing and popping up, and avoid making direct eye contact with those damn 10 year olds.

Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah...Sydney?

In a taxi on the way to an interview yesterday, I drove by a street named, "Batman Lane". Not kidding:

View Larger Map

What could this be? A trick of The Joker meant to draw out the Caped Crusader? Is this a part of one of The Riddler's enigmas?

Only time will tell but I am off to locate the city's Bat Signal.

Got out just in time

This is the exact thing I left NYC trying to avoid:

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Saturday: Best. Day. Ever.

Awesome sunset from our balcony to end an awesome day

Saturday has a special place in the hearts and minds of the working - or recently working *cough* stiffs of the world. After 5 days of toiling, finally you don't HAVE to get up early and trudge to work with all of the other worker bees (even though the queen is their slave).

Despite this widely accepted concept of sleeping in, Amy dragged me out of bed at the ungodly hour of 8AM for a morning surf. It turned out to be sublime. Nice waves, uncrowded surf and the sun peeking through the few clouds in the morning sky. This was followed by a quick breakfast and then a call from James saying that Ian and him were ready for a surf. I ventured out again for a few rides with the boys.

Exhausted from the exertion, I took a quick nap and upon waking saw that the tide was perfect for....spearfishing! Amy and I suited up and went out for a swim. The results will not be discussed here but it will suffice to say that a trip to the store would be required if we were going to eat fish that night.

The view from the water while spearing

After exiting the water, we noticed a good amount of people bodysurfing at our end of the beach. We decided to show them how it was done. We dropped off our gear and dove in, catching some nice, long waves in as the sun was setting.

We capped off this perfect day with some Thai food, that included seafood curry served in a coconut and bad movies on the TV in the restaurant and then met up with Dan and Mel at a pub to watch the rugby game over drinks.

So, in closing, we pack the following into Saturday:
  1. Surfing
  2. More surfing
  3. Nap
  4. Spearfishing
  5. Bodysurfing
  6. Great food
  7. Drinks
Best. Day. Ever.

Cheap flight of the week

Cops after you? Wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/husband nagging you? Secret lair invaded by spies and marines?

Why not take a break from it all?

Cheap flight of the week is $878. Start packing those bags, you know you want to.

Call me when you land, I promise we will do something awesome: 04 20 441 686

We're famous

Well....not really but our apartment is in the background of the picture in this NY Times article about things to do in Sydney:

We are the white apartment block behind the red house, 2nd from the right.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sydney Royal Easter Show

Preparing for the next heat...

The last thing we did on the long Easter weekend was take in the Sydney Royal Easter Show at the Sydney Olympic Park. This is a multi-day exposition of the culinary and agricultural products of various parts of Australia, combined with a carnival. Sounds like a great idea but mostly it was pushing through crowds and praying for The Rapture to come take all these people out of our way.

There was an interesting tradition within the show that was called "Show Bags". There are dozens of booths set up selling these bags which contain branded, themed merchandise. There were for example Simpsons Show bags, Family Guy ones, Cadbury bags, and other well known brands as well as more generic ones such as the "Karate Ninja" show back that contained what looked like a mid-range halloween costume for a.....Karate Ninja. Before anyone asks, the Karate Ninja show bag was sold out when we got there but we did several examples running around the show.

Due to Robosaurus not being scheduled to rampage while we were in attendance, the highlight was a lumberjack competition that we watched in awe in what appeared to be a stadium built exclusively for such events.

In a breathtaking display of hubris, they all wore sneakers.

Amy's and my exposure to such events consist of late night, bleary eyed clips on ESPN2 but even while watching those over the years, one could tell that there was some glory to be had in such contests.

The moment of victory

After watching several heats, Amy did her best to convince me that I could not in fact compete with the professional lumberjacks. I will prove her wrong or die trying.



Last Friday, Amy and I ventured out to see the Sydney Waratahs battle it out with the Free Stare Cheetahs at the Sydney Rugby Stadium. For those of you asking what a "Waratah" is, it is apparently a particularly vicious species of red flower, as well as the floral emblem of the state we live in, New South Wales.

As for the rugby itself, this was a Rugby Union game, rather than a Rugby League game - the differences of which I will leave to wikipedia to explain.

Amy, smiling the rain away.

There was a steady rain throughout the game which was really exciting, regardless. The Waratahs were considerate enough to trounce the Cheetahs 40-17 in our presence. Aussies are sports fanatics in general, we saw one guy cheering so hard that his wedding ring flew into the crowd. It was later recovered. We also had the pleasure of 3 pissed* yobbos** explaining to us throughout the game the various ways rugby was superior to "American Gridiron". They were however speechless when I described the concept of tailgating to them before sporting events and concerts. This revelation was on par with Prometheus giving fire to mortal man.

Kicking an extra point after scoring a Try.

I generally agreed with them, rugby was a grueling, brutal spectacle. At least as violent as American football, but without pads. The only thing it was really lacking was a passing game, no hail mary passes, etc. That and tailgating.

Preparing for a scrum.

"I would appreciate if you would not step on my fingers quite so hard"

* Pissed - adj - Aussie slang for drunk. Usage: I was so pissed last night that I fell up the stairs.
** Yobbo - noun - 1. a person who hails from a rural area. 2. redneck. Usage: The yobbos galloped after me because I insulted their cattle.

Happy Easter

Paging Felix....

Someone asked me, "So what do Australians do for Easter"? After careful research, I have found that they do pretty much the same as we do back home. Eat, drink and buy lots of chocolate for the kiddies, mostly in bunny form. Lamb and salmon were prevalent in the grocery stores in the week before and I suspect that enough barbecue smoke was put into the atmosphere over the weekend to raise the earth's temperature by a half a degree or so.

For Amy and I however, we celebrated by making sushi and inviting our American friend, Mel over for dinner. Mmmm...sushi.

We also took an awesome hike around Long Reef for a few hours on the be-utiful day that was Easter Sunday. The picture of the golf course by the sea above was taken while hiking, as were the couple below:

Cheap Flights!

For anyone looking to make the trip down, check out this site for cheap flights. They have some decent ones around $1000, cheapest one to Sydney listed is $891.