Its 8.30am on my first day in Sydney and I’m standing on the pavement outside of my hotel. So far, so good. I’ve slid on some sunglasses, switched on the smartphone and punched Sydney Opera House into the GPS. Turn right. Good start.
Before I left I had thought to ask the hotel concierge about Bondi Beach – his eyes rolled exasperatingly before shaking his head and directing me to Manly, Bondi’s larger, more fashionable brother. ‘And you can catch a ferry from just by the Opera House’ he said. So that’s where I headed – Manley beach via the Opera House for a mid-morning snack and a dabble in the Aussie surf.
I was looking forward to a good surf session (how hard can it be?) until I arrived at Manly wharf and realised what I was up against. It wasn’t the monstrous waves or the threat of deadly shark attacks that bugged me – it was the surfers. Packs of sculpted Grecian-like males and their tantalisingly oiled female friends tossed surfboards like feathers and seemed to exude a mesmerising and imperturbable hipness. All of a sudden stripping down and swimming in the shallows did not seem so attractive – this was no place for the amateur paddler. Unsure of what to do, I resolved to take a wander in order to observe the beach culture from afar. Eventually I came across an idyllic little spot called Shelley beach where I stole a flash dip in the brilliant blue Pacific Ocean. Feeling content that I had successfully concealed my modest pastiness from the general crowds I headed back towards the wharf and parked myself in the bar. I watched two ferries drift lazily in to dock whilst clutching a glass of the local TED. (It was a great beer and who really wants to spend an hour falling off a surf board anyway..?)
On my return to the high-rise Sydney skyline it occurred to me that I was foolish to let the Manly locals intimidate me. If I was to embrace Sydney then I should learn to strut my stuff like the natives – so I decided to get geared up Aussie style with ‘thongs’, ‘singlets’ and ‘boardies’ (Flip Flops, a loose vest and swim shorts). I headed to Paddington, where I had been told the cities edgy and artsy crowds are in residence, to go clothes shopping. An hour later I thought I looked unstoppable.
After freshening up at the hotel and a sagacious wink to the concierge I headed out for a night of Aussie revelry. Alas, my recent spending splurge on getting the local ‘look’ had done little to conceal my real identity. Funnily enough I got chatting to a group of local guys who all surfed. They promised to take me down to Manly the next day and get me out on the Ocean. Native at last!