Emily Versluys’s feet were simply the wrong colour after a freezing dawn surf in Tasmania, but they quickly thawed by the outdoor fireplace in a Turners Beach front yard.
This is Nat Potter’s home near Ulverstone, on the north coast of Tasmania, but it’s also ‘the hang’ for the Albert Street Gang, as locals now know them.
A few friends surfing together became something more powerful after a ‘day in the waves’ event with seven-times world champion, Layne Beachley.
“About 100 women joined Layne at Clifton Beach, south of Hobart in December 2018, to surf with her and to hear her speak. She was amazing, inspiring,” Nat said.
“She spoke about the dream team and how it’s important to have people around you that have your same goals and vision.
Every weekend and some early mornings before work, a group of six to eight women — and in summer, kids and husbands as well — gather at Albert Street to suit up and start laughing.
On this morning, the air temperature is just 3 degrees Celsius at dawn, but it feels like zero. The tribe walks together, clad in 5mm wetsuits, rubber boots and gloves, one block to where the icy waves await.
The water temperature, affected by outflowing snow-melt from the Forth River, is just 10 degrees. But feels like minus 10.
“You get a bit of a head-freeze at first but then you start to get used to it. We have the gear to surf the whole winter, so cold won’t stop us,” Nat said.
Nature throws in some bonus whales, dolphins
“We’ve been lucky enough to see a humpback whale breach, right out of the water, while we’ve been out here and had pods of dolphins swim right up to us,” Nat said.
Nature’s bonus extras aside, it’s clearly the bonding over wave riding that is the main game. Good-natured sledging is welcomed and laughing uproariously compulsory for gang membership.
The sight and sound — mostly hollering and laughing — has become familiar to anyone who lives on the Turners Beach waterfront or walks a dog there.
Many of the Albert Street surfers are teachers, all are mothers, and two of them are grandmothers. The age range is 20 to 64.
Louella Smith is the oldest member and, along with good friend Genevieve Andrews, made the move from martial arts a few years ago.
“I’m not very good at it but I love it,” Louella said.
“I just said to Gen one day ‘You know, I really want to learn how to surf’ and she said ‘Well, I’ve got a board’. So out we went.”
“We went to New Zealand on a surf camp, to learn how to surf with Wendy [Adams] and we went to Hawaii, had a surf at Maui,” Genevieve added.
The after-surf ritual for the Albert Street Gang is just as important as the surfing itself.
Getting warm again is half the fun
Nat usually kicks it off by peeling the wetsuit off to go starkers under the warm stream of the outdoor shower. Today, with cameras on the scene, it’s just the wetsuit gloves that come off.
“In front of the girls is fine but I have been sprung a few times by members of the Turners Beach community. That’s always a bit embarrassing,” Nat said.
All around the deck and outdoor fireplace, feet are being saved with thick socks and ugg boots and heads are ‘bandaged’ with hoodies and beanies.
The gang’s shy girl, Cheryl King, quietly rubs her hands together in front of the outdoor open fire while Wendy Adams seems to enjoy the uncontrollable shaking of her frozen legs.
Most of the boards go into the shed, including the Hemsworths. Chris is the name given to Nat’s board, Liam is Emily’s. Then there’s a shorter board left over called Luke.
“No disrespect intended! In fact I might have a small crush on Chris,” Nat said.
Hot cups of coffee are passed around and the process of reliving the surf begins.
A gentle ribbing is unrelenting but, beneath it, a process of care and empowerment is what really brings this group together every week.
“I think that it’s really great to take people who haven’t had much of a surf yet out with us. We’re always super, super supportive,” Emily said.
“You can just feel it, when they almost stand up the first time, there’s a massive cheer and that’s it — they’re hooked. They’re stoked.
“I think Layne would be quite proud of us, don’t you?”