• Italo Calandra

The beginning of a surfing journey

Since I was a child, my eyes would be glued to the screen whenever I’d see a person riding big waves. I always thought surfing to be a discipline of the gods; or for people from Hawaii. Far away from me. Unreachable.

Beach boy

I have always enjoyed the sea. My hometown is 20 minutes away from the closest beach and is right behind the Amalfi Coast. Most summer holidays I spent with my family in Praja A Mare, a small town on the coast of Calabria. Where I grew up, the sea is calm, flat as a pancake. When a storm hits the coast there are waves, but I had never thought of surfing them.


The first time I tried to surf was in Australia. I was 22 years old, and I was working on a farm to extend my working holiday visa. That particular day I was sitting on the couch smoking a joint and relaxing after a long day of work. I was half stoned when my friend Andrea arrived all excited saying that he was going for a surf lesson. It was 50 bucks and included a rental board.

Showing off for the ladies

Without thinking twice, I grabbed my towel, changed into a pair of swim shorts and jumped in the car. Part of me wanted to try surfing, while the other half wanted to take a cool picture to make my friends jealous and show off to the ladies.

The afternoon was greyish, and a strong onshore wind was blowing. Not the ideal day to spend at the beach to work your tan. Usually, in this weather, I wouldn't even think to go to the beach. But there I was walking on the sand with this massive foam board, together with my friend and the instructor.

Luckily, there were no huge waves, but the ocean was intimidating and I was slightly afraid of sharks. In Italy, the most dangerous sea creature is a jellyfish, not even coming close to the box jellyfish in Australia.

We practised a few basics on the sand before we jumped into the water. The last time I entered the ocean was a few months before at Bronte Beach in Sydney. I felt the difference straight away. All my life I swam in the sea. The ocean was different. It was mighty, colder, different on my skin. It felt like you shouldn't mess with its power. That time at Kirra Beach on the Gold Coast, I had the same feeling.

I can't deny it, I was scared.

There were few rips, and my fear was being sucked out and getting lost in the ocean. But the more I spent in the water trying to stand up in the whitewash, the more I enjoyed being out there.

When the class finished we could keep the boards for an extra hour. My friend decided to leave the water shortly after, whereas I stayed and got hammered by the waves until was able to stand for at least a few seconds.

After that session, I was exhausted, out of breath, in pain, my ears were full of sand, my nose was dripping water like a fountain and my eyes were redder from the salt than from the pot I smoked earlier, but I was happy as a dog with two tails.

On the way back home I spent the whole trip with a huge smile on my face, staring outside the car window imagining myself riding the green face of the waves.

I was so excited that the same night I watched endless summer I and II, listened to surf music from the '50s and couldn't stop talking about how much I wanted to learn how to surf.

I was addicted. 

Stupid stoners with no fear

On Christmas day the "farm gang" and I, went to Cabarita beach.

Sam, an English guy from Manchester, let me use his board because he was not interested in surfing anymore. I don't remember exactly the size of the surfboard, but it was very small for me.

This was the period of my life where every occasion was a good time for a joint. I smoked one and had a brilliant idea to try and catch a few waves with Andrea.

It turned out to be a really bad idea.

The waves were too much for our capacities and after getting smashed a few times, we gave up and decided to get out the water. We tried, but we had gotten stuck in a really strong rip, and being stoned didn't help. It felt like swimming against a river. I don't remember how, but we made it out.

After this episode, Andrea did not touch a surfboard for a while, or at least while we were at the farm. It was a scary experience.

That same day, two friends almost drowned whilst swimming in the big waves. Fortunately, they were saved by some local surfers. Seeing these surfers being so comfortable in the water and riding the waves with so much confidence, made me even more excited to learn. The day after I went to a surf shop, used nearly all my savings, and bought a brand new surfboard. It was a 6'6 with a squash tail, with a lot of volume and width. Perfect for learning… that's what the seller told me.

Farm life

Thinking about now, I was a kook, a complete beginner. I could have bought a used surfboard way cheaper.

So a piece of advice for the younger me " Dear Italo, you do not need to spend $1000 dollars for a surfboard, spending more money will not make you learn faster and become a better surfer. Think, don't be an idiot".

Whenever I was not in the field planting, cleaning, or doing other farming work I was trying to get a ride to Coolangatta or walking to Kingscliff to surf. Or at least trying.

"The fish"

I eventually became "the fish", to everyone. I could spend hours in the water forgetting about everything else.

One time I got a scary sunburn on my neck that turned the same colour as an eggplant and I could barely walk because of a rash in between my legs caused by the surfboard.

Living on the farm was an amazing experience, a simple life, a lot of friends and my only concern was how to get to the beach. When I went back to Sydney everything was different. I needed a job, a house, pay bills, and understand what I wanted to do with my life.

For a little while, I lived at my friend's house in Burwood. The closest beach was one hour and a half with public transport. I was working for a construction company that was consuming my energy, but on my days off I was catching the train at 4.30 am to get to Bondi Beach at dawn. I wasn't surfing as much as I wanted, but things got a lot easier when I moved to Bondi junction where I could walk to the beach, though other "obstacles" were between me and surfing.

I moved with Andrea and another friend from the farm. No sleep, partying too much, and abusing weed. Also, I was feeling compelled to train hard in “Breaking", so all my free time was invested into dancing. I kept surfing, but it was not my priority anymore.

I started experimenting with different boards to see which one was appropriate for me. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of looking at what the "Pros" were riding. So I often ended up with something too small that looked cool while leaving me frustrated because I could not catch any waves with it.

I spent so much money on surfboards and yet the best purchase was a board that I paid 30 dollars from a pawn shop. I fixed all the dings and it felt perfect. I then painted black and white stripes because I read that this kept sharks away—I like to think that it worked.

Ready, set, GO!

At that time I was working full time for an Italian cafe, underpaid and doing long hours. I was tired of it, and Andrea was in a similar situation with a different job. One day we were sitting on the couch (obviously smoking pot) when we had the brilliant idea of chasing summer by driving towards Darwin. Within a few days, we quit our jobs, bought a van, and together with a couple more friends, started driving up north. We did not have a plan. For me, it was a good occasion to take a break, have a new adventure, and go on a surf trip.

I again had no worries. Just chasing the dream of surfing, and living every day in the moment without expectations. I was happy.

One of the best memories I have from the trip is in Noosa. We stayed there for 5 days, it was winter so not many people were around, and the beach became once more our backyard.

The last morning before we left, the surf was pumping so I decided to go out for the last session. A big set was coming towards me, I remember taking off on the second wave of the set. A nice clean left. It was steep so I grabbed the rail, stayed low and kept the line of the wave, then the magic happened. The lip of the wave rolled over me and I could see the exit of the tunnel just right in front of me. It was an amazing experience even if it lasted only a few seconds before I went too deep into the tube and the wave sucked me. Sadly in that wave, I snapped the tail of the surfboard.

I had another surfboard with me, but after Noosa, there were no waves on the coast.

With my shark-repellent surfboard

When I arrived in Darwin knowing that I had to live there for a while I asked around if it was possible to surf. I remember a local guy telling me that it was possible only in certain conditions during the cyclone season but I got easily discouraged to even try when he told me that a saltwater crocodile almost bit him—and he was in a kayak.

Surfing on the east coast of Australia was fun, I loved the carefree life and the road trip made the experience even more memorable. In Darwin it was different, it was back to "real" life again. No surfing and I had a bad flare-up of Ulcerative Colitis.

After 3 months in Darwin, I decided it was enough. I had heard a lot about how good the surf was in Bali, so I bought a ticket and flew to Bali the day of my 23rd birthday.

I needed some new adventures and even if I wasn’t feeling great I was stoked to surf again. On the flight, I went through a list of the surf spots that some people recommended to me. Strange enough nobody told me to stay away from Kuta, so the first day I went there. It was horrible, the water was dirty, waves closing out, and my body felt weak. It was like I completely forgot how to surf and the conditions didn’t help.

The next day I asked around about surf spots I had on my list. Most of the places were only accessible via boat, and others looked too big and intimidating. For some reason, I felt afraid to push myself and go. Being really sick and alone in Bali made me feel weak and lose my self-confidence. I was afraid to be too weak to surf and end up drowning in a place so far away from home where nobody knew who I was.

I remember one morning getting a ride to Canguu. The waves looked really big, I observed the spot for hours but I did not have the courage to get into the water, it was probably a good idea. This last experience left me with a bitter feeling. I was frustrated and upset with myself. I started to think that surfing was just a stupid idea, and I was not made for it.

I flew back to Australia with a sense of failure taking over me. I was ashamed in myself, and lying about my experience in Bali; especially about surfing or avoiding all together that conversation. Outside enjoying the experience of seeing a new country and a new culture, the trip was a complete flop, especially for my surfing.

I landed in Brisbane and caught a train to the Gold Coast. As soon as I arrived in Coolangatta, I jumped in the water to shake off the negative feelings. Even if it felt way better than Bali the negative feeling was still there.

My mood wasn't great. I had spent my birthday alone in Bali, did not surf as I had wanted, and my health was not 100%.

I decided to go back to Sydney, I needed to see my friends so I called Andrea and he offered me a place to stay. That same night I was in his apartment smoking weed and laughing hard. What I needed was a good time with a friend.

In Sydney, once again, with a full-time job, I was trying to squeeze surf sessions between work and dance training. I started to be too demanding with myself, while enjoyment was coming second, and my health was a constant rollercoaster.

These series of events made me forget why I started surfing in the first place. I started to be angry with myself because I could not see improvements. I was constantly changing surfboards because I stupidly thought the problem had nothing to do with me.

This left me frustrated after every session. I kept on doing this for a while until I gave up. I lost interest in the ocean.

I took refuge in my first passion, breaking, which was a safe place.

My health got worse, and my mum was diagnosed with cancer. I decided to go back to Italy. A friend from the Northern Beaches, knowing I had to go, suggested going for a surf together. I did not have a board anymore and I was avoiding the water while I was sick, but I accepted.

That day was life-changing. I went there without any expectations and It was one of the happiest days of my life. I remembered why I started surfing, and why I loved it in the first place. In the last year, my approach to it was all wrong. I was missing the most important thing, fun.

In Italy, I did not surf at all. I did not have the money for a surfboard or a wetsuit. Every day though, I was thinking about surfing again in Australia.

Until, finally. I was again down under. Now I am riding waves every occasion I have, never forgetting to have fun first and enjoying the connection with the elements.

Surfing for me became a safe place. No matter what happens in my life. When I paddle out, everything feels like everything is right where needs to be. There are no worries outside of what is happening in the water. It is more than just a sport.

Nat Young and many others consider surfing a religion. For me it is an escape, a meditation, and a natural remedy when I want to disconnect and be in peace.

In the water, there are no distractions, phones, or social media. I am immersed in what I am doing and in the nature surrounding me. While surfing, I’ve experienced things that I could not believe would ever happen. Seeing a pod of dolphins swimming and jumping around me. Watching the colours of the sky during sunrise from a totally different perspective. Having next to me a huge seal hunting salmon and playing in the waves.

Surfing helped me push my limits and get me out of my comfort zone, while slowly feeling more secure surfing bigger waves. The ocean made me more humble. I learnt its power and to never let down my guard, even on smaller days.

Surfing is different from anything else I have ever experienced. The feeling is indescribable. Jumping into the ocean, feeling the power of a wave that has travelled thousands of miles under your feet; the adrenaline when a big set is coming towards you and there is no time to think but just to paddle. When I am out there I am purifying my soul from any bad energy.

The more time I spend in the ocean the better I feel.

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