January 25, 2021 4 min read
Australia has many great waves; Shipsterns Bluff, Cape Solander, the Right, the Box and more.
Some are incredible big-wave bodysurf venues - others, well let’s just say rather you than me! For the average bodysurfer, Byron Bay, Tamarama, the Gold Coast and other spots all hold an allure, but mention Coolum and you’ll likely be met with quizzical looks.
Pretty much in the dead centre of the Sunshine Coast, Coolum is a classic quiet Australian beachside tourist town. Caravan parks, apartments and motels overlook the open beach and secluded bays, sun-reddened visitors slurp ice creams and wave after perfect, clear-blue wave rolls shorewards.
For over 40 years, it’s also been home to the 79ers - a disparate group of local, amped-up, stoke-addicted bodysurfers ranging from teens to octogenarians.
“Coolum has an extraordinarily long history of bodysurfing,” tells local whomper Darren Verrenkamp, “with the 79ers group forming 40 years ago and new members joining all the time. We are probably 50 members strong now. Every single day, rain hail or shine, the tribe gets together to challenge themselves in the waves and share the camaraderie and laughs.”
But this isn’t some Ma and Pa outfit of crusties, flapping wildly in the shorebreak spume - the 79ers are every bit as devoted as any Wedge Crewmember or Point Panicker. While the Sunshine Coast gets somewhat talked down on the bodysurfing scene - Noosa’s famed long point waves to the north far better suited to longboarding - Coolum is a bit different and, on the right day, can lift a tall crest and pack a good punch. And those ‘right days’ far outweigh the wrong ones…
“Coolum is also blessed with permanent coffee-rock formations under the sand so the banks are more or less permanent and the rides long,” teases Darren.
“It’s undoubtedly the best bodysurfing locale on the Sunshine Coast. The continental shelf slopes off deeply out from Coolum, allowing swells to break with more energy than other places; the headland to the south refracts swells back towards the main break, combining with the main swell and producing the legendary ‘Coolum Wedges’.”
The 79ers revel in these conditions year-round, often surfing banks all of their own, away from the small shortboarding crowd. But this year, they are unveiling the secret they have held for four decades, throwing their home break open to all-comers and inviting bodysurfers from all over the country - the world, if only it was possible - to join them for the inaugural Coolum Wedge Bodysurfing Competition.
“Where the tribes come together”, they invite, encouraging a gathering of community, a sharing of stories and a weekend filled as much with friends as with friendly competition.
Though few may consider it, Coolum is an ideal destination for this contest. Plenty of affordable accommodation means everyone will find a place to stay within their budget. Numerous bays and banks mean there will almost always be a wave on somewhere, and the main beach is the perfect arena.
“Coolum Beach itself is crescent-shaped so it no matter what the swell direction there is always a bank that’s ‘on’”, says Darren. “The bodysurfing contest has the flexibility to be held anywhere along the length of the beach. Also, March is a great time to have a comp at Coolum. The statistical swell history shows surfable waves occur 95 per cent of the time during the month and it’s also the most likely times for the tropical lows in the Coral Sea to push us through a strong pulse.”
With facts and figures like that, it’s the closest any event organiser can get to a guarantee of swell.
The Coolum Wedge isn’t just some average event though. Instigated by a passionate desire to share their own enthusiasm, it aims at uniting tribes, encouraging universal participation and, in true Aussie spirit, giving everyone a fair go.
“Everyone has experienced the joy of bodysurfing in their life. This contest hopefully acts as a springboard for people to get back into that stoke and join other like-minded whompers.
“We wanted a contest that reflected age and gender diversity as the primary message. To encourage all-ages participation, we have introduced bonus points scoring for the Juniors and the Tribal Elders. In the Juniors, the younger you are the more points head-start you are given and conversely in the Elders, the older guys and girls get the advantage.”
It’s the kind of contest where the contest doesn’t matter, it’s all about the participation… well, almost! With a professional WSL judge, live podcast and commentary and a swathe of prizes, everyone will be whomping their guts out for the win.
This is the first time that either Coolum or the 79ers have hosted a contest of this calibre, but it definitely won’t be the last. The bodysurfing community will continue to rise, the stoke will keep growing and the waves will keep pumping.
“Just like the 79ers, we want the contest to go on year after year and so this event is all about sharing the vibe and stoke that this great pastime instils in all of us.”
For more information and entry into the Coolum Wedge Bodysurfing Competition, visit our event page: www.garagehandplanes.com.au/pages/the-coolum-wedge