Cactus is one of those places that occupies a unique space in Aussie surf legend. Its reputation is as a gnarly, shark infested desert wave where only the hardy or foolish dare to go. I have now done 4 cross country trips, but the previous 3 were either with non-surfers or were done on a deadline, so in 35 years of surfing I have never ventured down to even look at Cactus.
However at 45 years old the opportunity finally presented itself to make my pilgrimage to this place and see if it lives up to its reputation. You couldn’t pass that up could you? After missing surf in Victoria I was ready to hit the water again so on Sunday we drove from Ceduna to Penong and then down the 21km track to the bush campsite right by the beach.
Cactus used to be a farm but now is an area totally dedicated to surfers and is owned by film director Paul Witzig. The camp itself is brilliant! Its right on the water, there are numerous little camp areas where you can hang with the crowds or just tuck yourself away and it only costs $8.50/night for adults with kids under 12 free. We loved being back in the rougher parts of the world again and instantly got back in the groove of bush camping.
The wild weather of the previous few days had me worried that the waves would be humungous, but when we arrived the swell was pretty small. When we arrived there was a light onshore blowing. All 3 breaks had waves but there was no one out. That made me wonder more… is there something I don’t know about?… There were probably 15 camps set up but everyone was either kicking back or down town. I wasn’t about to venture out alone when there was no one to be seen so I waited a while to chat with some folks about the waves.
The first bloke I met was Laurie a bloke in his 60’s who had lived in Penong since 1969. He had come for the surf and stayed. Literally. There isn’t much else to see in Penong and it’d be a hell of a place to live in the heat of summer.
He gave me the ‘tour’ of the 3 waves:
‘Cactus’ itself is the most mellow of the 3 waves on offer. It was small – waist to head high tops.
‘Castles’ was bigger but messy and breaking a long way out. It reformed on the inside but apparently has a very strong rip so it’s a hard paddle.
‘Caves’ was the furthest west and was the pick of the waves. A big barreling right hander that gets heavily surfed and is heavily localized. I made a mental note to not even bother with this one.
On Sunday we just went for a long walk around the headland and checked out the wild coastline. There were some very very heavy waves breaking out there and no one in sight. I didn’t bother surfing on Sunday, but the next day was looking good with offshores and clear skies.
There was a crew out at Caves early, but at 6ft I wasn’t that keen. Cactus was only 2-3ft but there was no one out at all, so I decided to become shark bait for the day. Strangely I have no great fear when it comes to sharks. Perhaps it’s just my rational mind, but I just figure that if I were going to worry about anything then Queensland drivers would surely rate a higher mention than sharks when it comes to personal danger… The rate of shark attack is so small to be negligible so that is never a deterrent to surfing alone, which I have done heaps of times on this trip.
Cactus wasn’t the best wave I’ve ever had, but that was more because of the strong winds that made it hard to catch. Still when you got a wave it was excellent – long fast breaking walls were great to get moving on.
In the afternoon I headed out to Castle’s again on my own. It looked good so I figured I’d just battle the rip to get some empty waves. It was very good. Long waves meant long paddles back out though, so after an hour and a bit I was pretty tired. I figured that two surfs in one days was enough for an old bloke and headed in to have a nanna nap.
That evening about an hour before sunset we sat watching perfect unridden waves roll thru at Cactus. Everyone was surfed out and no one could be bothered heading out. How often does that happen?…
The next day we woke to blustering 40 knot winds and decided to shut up shop and move on. Mission accomplished and I certainly hope that I’ll be able to do it again when we do this trip again in a few years time. However next time we will attempt to get here outside of SA school holidays.
In case you hadn’t realized I’m not much into crowds…
(Pictures are on Facebook as this connection is way too slow to upload)