The Gold Coast may be known for its spectacular theme parks but for four-time world surfing champion Mark Richards there is one that outshines them all.
You've got Warner Bros Movie World,Sea World, Dreamworld, but the Gold Coast to me is like one big surfing theme park, Surfworld!" the legendary Australian surf star once observed.
And it's not hard to see why. The Gold Coast is known throughout the surfing world as one of the great, global hubs of surf culture, thanks to its perfect pointbreaks, warm water, idyllic sub-tropical climate, its relaxed surf-centric way of life and unending stream of world champions.
Bookended by the abrupt A-frame peaks of Duranbah to the south and South Stradbroke Island to the north, and with a handful of the world's great point breaks in between, it's easy to regard the Gold Coast as the ultimate high performance training centre for surfing. With its rich lineage of world champions – from Phyllis O'Donnell, Peter Drouyn, Rabbit Bartholomew, Peter Townend and Michael Peterson in the '60s and '70s, to modern surf stars Mick Fanning, Stephanie Gilmore and Joel Parkinson in the new millennium, it's fair to say there is definitely something in the water here.
Though technically just over the border in NSW, Duranbah has long-been the saviour of Gold Coast surfers. It's compact, south-facing beach picks up any skerrick of south swell and compresses it into rearing A-frame peaks that provide the perfect high performance terrain for modern surfing. Its shifting peaks mean it can also accommodate a large number of surfers, though it suits experienced surfers more than novices. Any south to south-east swell and a west to south-west wind will bring D-bah to life and it generally prefers a mid to high tide.
Just round the corner from Duranbah, Snapper is one of the most hotly contested take off spots in the surfing world. On any given day you might spot half a dozen of the world's best surfers and a host of up and comers vying for prime position behind the rock awaiting the challenging slingshot ride through the Snapper barrel. The scene of the World Surf League's annual Quiksilver and Roxy Pros, Snapper has provided the stage for some of the greatest moments in modern pro surfing.
It is also the launching point for the renowned Superbank, the remarkable, mile-long sandbank created by the Tweed River Entrance Sand Bypassing System (TRESBS). The TRESBS collects sand from the Tweed River mouth to keep it safe for boating and pumps it around the corner to replenish Coolangatta's beaches. But it has also linked the adjacent pointbreaks of Snapper, Greenmount and Kirra into one of the longest waves it is possible to ride in Australia, if not the world.
If the competition up at Snapper is a bit too hot to handle, you can always drift down to Rainbow Bay. Depending on conditions, Rainbow can be a high speed, below sea level, grinding express train or a gentle peeler beloved of longboarders and kids. It's still busy and you need to know what you are doing, but long, dreamy speed runs and tube rides are often the order of the day here.
Greenmount was once a separate, mellow, point break in its own right but is now a continuation of the Superbank and often one of its prime sections, with long, fast, deep tubes possible in the right conditions - an east to south-east swell and offshore south-west winds. On the right day, crowds can thin out a bit through here and it is possible to find a bit of space to yourself. The lookout from the top of Greenmount Point is a great place to survey the entirety of the Superbank, assess the crowds and sandbanks and choose your spot in the line-up.
It's arguable that deep tube-riding was pioneered in Australia, if not the world, at Kirra Point in the early ‘70s as young surf stars in the making Michael Peterson, Peter Townend and Wayne 'Rabbit' Bartholomew explored the inner reaches of the Kirra barrel. As surfboards came down in length from the old longboards of the ‘60s to the sleek pintails and radical shortboards of the ‘70s, the original Coolangatta Kids honed skills that would take them to the top of the surfing world. Their legacy was carried on in the 2000s by a new generation of Cooly Kids - Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson and Dean Morrison. Kirra suffered from an oversupply of sand with the advent of automated sand pumping but is showing signs of returning to its former glory.
A less celebrated and often-overlooked sibling to its high profile sisters to the north and south, Currumbin Alley is generally a friendlier wave with a less competitive crowd. But on its day it can still offer challenging, grinding barrels from behind the rock. As the wave peels across the mouth of Currumbin Creek it changes in nature markedly depending on the sandbanks, and is often favoured by surf schools for its gentle inside peelers. When the sand is right, a long, high speed ride to rival its neighbours is often on offer.
The birthplace of modern professional surfing, Burleigh Heads was the scene of the epic Stubbies Classic in 1977 that set the template for the modern pro tour with its innovative man-on-man format, devised by local surf star Peter Drouyn. The local crew take precedent in the line-up and are protective of their beloved surf spot, and the challenging rock jump and paddle out means it is better suited to experienced surfers. Three distinct sections - The Cove, the Point and Rock Break - mean Burleigh can handle a crowd but you may need to compete for waves. Beachbreaks to the north and south can provide less crowded options on smaller swells.
From Miami to Main Beach, a variety of beachbreaks can be found of varying quality and are highly dependent on the fickle fluctuations in sand banks. As you head north and the coast bends more towards the east, the beaches handle a more northerly wind and so can offer quality waves in spring when the southern pointbreaks are often blown out by the dreaded nor-easter. Half to high tide and a peaky east swell are best for the northern beach breaks, but it's a case of scanning the coast to find the best option as sandbanks can come and go overnight.
The northern extremity of the Gold Coast mainland provides some shelter from the prevailing nor-easters in spring, sheltered by the rock wall on the southern side of the Seaway entrance. Peaky beachbreaks abound here but it will be busy as one of the only quality options when the nor-easter howls. A sand-pumping system, similar to the one at the Tweed River mouth, operates here to keep the Seaway entrance safe for boats, resulting in generally reliable sand banks.
South Stradbroke Island
The real beneficiary of the Seaway sand-pumping system can be found a short hop further north on South Stradbroke Island. Here, even the smallest swells rise up abruptly out of deep water and can provide spectacular beachbreaks when the rest of the coast is tiny. The paddle across the Seaway can be hazardous due to the volume of boat traffic but a water taxi and private jetskis and boats delivers a steady stream of surfers to partake in the abundant A-frame peaks.