Perth, Western Australia


Andi Cross
Andi Cross
January 4, 2023
6 min read
Audio generated for accessibility using AI. Intonation does not express the true level of awe and stoke.

So there I was, getting absolutely beaten by some tremendous waves. 

Getting tossed and pummeled underwater, swallowing and inhaling gratuitous amounts of ocean, and all while flailing around like there were no bones in my body. My limbs bashed against the seafloor as I wondered if and how I’d be allowed to resurface again. 

When I finally washed ashore, I couldn’t believe my first interaction with the great Western Australian Indian Ocean was so painful and terrifying. This was one of the most aggressive, gnarly, hard core ocean stretches in the world—and it just spit me out as if to reject my ambitious attempt to be the ocean-faring woman I’d always aspired to become…

Perth is a one-of-its-kind regional city in Western Australia (WA)—an Australian state that’s nearly half the size of the continental USA. With harsh deserts to the north, dense Karri forests to the south, and a massive coastline containing one of the most beautiful reef systems, WA truly has it all. While these beaches have some of the most coveted surf destinations out there, they’re also some of the most feared. Not only for the crushing thick waves, but for the swarms of bull, tiger and great white sharks that call this slice of ocean their home. 

With nature all around you, and for its reputation as one of the most isolated places on earth, the best way to describe it is WILD. And I wanted to see it for myself, first hand. 

I had been traveling for close to two years, leaving my homebase in NYC to see what our big, bad world had to offer. I touched down to Bali, Indonesia for a month of what was supposed to be solo traveling, but I kept meeting people from a far-off land called Perth. It almost seemed like Bali was to Perthians as the Jersey Shore was to New Yorkers, because I kept finding these Aussies EVERYWHERE. And when I interacted with them, they couldn't help but talk about their home with either extreme admiration or disdain. Sounds true of any place, right? But these narratives hit different for me.

When I’d ask about how the Perth locals would spend their days, I’d hear about time spent scuba diving, surfing, freediving, spearfishing and kite surfing. But from another set of locals, I’d hear about how they avoid the ocean at all costs due to its high concentration of lethal marine life and torrential winds that rip through the city starting everyday at 2pm. I’d hear how they’d prefer the indoors to avoid the blazing sun and how they consider the amazing tropical birds and kangaroos that live alongside them largely as “pests.” All in all, both sides of the story sounded beyond intriguing to me—like a world unknown. After all, my frame of reference was slightly … less than exotic (I was living quite literally in Manhattan’s concrete jungle, also known as the Financial District, at the time).

That Bali trip was in December 2018. By May 2019, I was Perth’s newest resident. 

I posted up in a town called Scarbrough, the premiere surf beach about 20 minutes away from a very lackluster city center. You don’t move to WA for its metropolis. You are there to be living in and under the picture-perfect Indian Ocean. Of the five oceans, it's the third largest, making up about 20% of the water on earth and is notorious for its extreme power. 

My experience as a swimmer was non-existent. I’d never stepped foot on a surfboard in my life. And I’d spent the large majority of my twenties staring blindly at computer screens while ripping shots at night (to compensate for the lost screen time). But with fate calling me, I thought “why not? Let’s go out there and tackle these waves.” I contacted the local surf school, got a few lessons on the calmest, cruisiest days, and borrowed an ancient overused surfboard twice the size of me.

My instructor said I was “off the hook” which apparently meant I was doing well out there. Filled with an immense sense of hubris, I was having visions of becoming the next Carissa Moore and dreaming of a Ripcurl sponsorship taking me around the world. And so, I went out to buy my very own surfboard—a 7” foamie called “The Chopstick.” Slim, sleek, and not really a beginner board at all. But, it fit in my car, so that was all that mattered. 

With all my beginner's confidence (or rather ignorance), I accidentally went out to one of the hardest breaks WA has to offer and subsequently received that beating that I mentioned earlier. But, getting your ass kicked really gets a girl thinking.

While bleeding from the hands and knees—I laid on the sand thinking there were two options. One: This is the first and last time I ever try this. Those Perthians in Bali who said to stay far, far away from this ocean were right. Or two: Let this be a firm lesson. A lesson that now is the time to study, observe and patiently work towards mastering the ocean. 

On that terrifying day where the ocean bested me, I had an epiphany. I chose to embrace a full lifestyle change and take a childhood obsession and make it my reality. Before I can even remember, I had a deep love for the ocean—specifically its wild and bizarre creatures. I’d carried around an encyclopedia of fish species and shared fun facts with anyone who’d listen for a bulk of my early years. But, as time went on, that obsession became a distant dream and I did what most East Coasters do: succumb to society's pressures and hit the corporate grind. But, from May 2019 to present day, I decided to commit my heart and soul to learning everything I could about this largely unknown and mysterious blue wonder. A blue wonder that I now have the privilege to call my second home, spending just as much time on land as I do in the sea. 

I wanted to learn how to hold my breath for long periods of time underwater, so next time I got sucked down, I’d be prepared. I wanted to learn how to read the ocean to better understand when conditions were too rough or just right for the surf. I wanted to learn to become a more competent swimmer, and overall embrace a stronger sense of athleticism in the water. But above all else, I started yearning to explore. 

I realized beyond just co-existing with the ocean, I wanted to learn from and get to know the people who’d already mastered it. Those who had built their careers, passions and purpose all around the ocean. This newfound drive both overwhelmed and excited me—and it was a feeling I hadn’t felt in a long time. It was perhaps the complete antithesis of the corporate hamster wheel I’d been futilely spinning on for far too long. Tapping back into that childhood passion that fueled my existence in its most innocent state. 

As I’m cleaning the blood and sand off my ripped wetsuit, a group of quintessential Aussie surfers approached me. They asked if I was ok after seeing my epic wipeout on a break far too advanced for a “grom” like me. Realizing they think I’m 13-years old, and they all witnessed the failure of the century, I try playing it cool. Using my standard “get out of jail free card,” I told them I was a recent transplant from the city that never sleeps in my first week aboard. 

That’s when one of them said a line I’ll never forget—”Go out there every day and soon enough the waves will be all yours. You’re a long way from home. Welcome to life on the edges of earth, mate.”


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