The Way Home From WA: Wade Carmichael's Classic Australian Road Trip
“The definition of a surfing road trip really is searching hard and driving far, but driving across Australia is a whole other stretch. It’s what you do at home multiplied by twenty. Everywhere is just larger, further, hard tracks, no signs. There wasn’t one sign the whole drive. It was mind blowing how easy it was to get lost.”
Driving across Australia is a bucket-list road trip for most Aussies. It’s a long way, though – Australia is just under 2,500 miles across and spans three time zones, and a huge chunk of the journey around the bottom of this enormous country is characterised by the outback of the Nullarbor Dessert (Nullarbor means ‘treeless’ in Latin). It’s no run to the shops. Back in April, C-Skins team rider Wade Carmichael got himself a truck and ticked the drive of his to-do list, getting barrelled and having a proper adventure in the process.
Wade had a commitment with the Rusty Australia team who were sponsoring the WSL event at Margaret River in late April, and decided to turn his trip into a bigger adventure.
“My dad drove my car over. He’s always wanted to drive the Nullarbor so he drove it with a friend, and then me and Letty [Liam Mortensen, another Rusty surfer from Sydney] flew into WA, picked up the car from the Rusty team manager’s house in Perth, hung out there for a bit and then drove down south. We stayed on a farm near Yallingup and just hunted waves around there. We were in WA for about six or seven weeks in total before starting the drive back east. It was a good time of year to be there, and once the comp left it got really quiet.”
The Margaret River region off Western Australia is well known for copping powerful Southern Ocean swells, particularly at that time of year in the southern hemisphere autumn. Often the fronts bring a lot of wind and rain though, so Wade and the boys spent a lot of their time hunkered down waiting for windows to surf the waves they had in their sights.
"We wanted the slabs. I wanted to surf Box and North Point - they were the two A-class waves on the list that we wanted to get. We tried a lot but it didn’t really work out for North Point. The swell didn’t get big enough at all and when it was, the swell direction was wrong. We had a fun session at Box but after that it was just windy and blown out every other time. It didn’t turn on again. All the other waves around there were just bonuses. It was still as fun as it gets. It was pretty sick. There were waves breaking that I’d never seen before. It was cool to get some more knowledge on waves around there. Next time I go back I can go scratch something else off and check out some more spots."
"The place was beautiful. It’s 10/10 for how nice it is to live there, hanging out and living the dream. It was just that fickle coastline of waves that took its toll on us. But you can find them. We had a few local friends helping us out along the way, who led us to the right spots, but you need to be seriously dialled in around there understanding what swell height, period and direction works best for each wave. The local crew’s knowledge is pretty wild. And they have a lot of waves. All the guys down there, big respect to how they read the ocean because there’s a lot of options and you’ve got to pull the trigger on something."
After their stint holed up on a farm in WA’s wine country, Wade, Letty, and Tyler their filmer set out to drive back home in his truck. Setting out from Perth, it’s a long drive with not a lot in between until hitting Port Augusta in South Australia. The Eyre highway runs for a little over 1,000 miles, skirting over the top of The Great Australian Bight, and includes 90 Mile Straight - the longest straight stretch of road in Australia. It’s a journey that takes a few days and is best undertaken with mates; it’s advisable not to drive at night because of the risk of hitting a kangaroo and the view doesn’t change for days at a time so a couple of mates to share the driving and chat with makes it a bit more bearable.
“It was full-on solid driving. I’ve never done anything like that before. Normally a surf trip is a couple days of flying, just sleeping, zonked out on a plane and then you just get there. But driving is a different feeling. You’re always doing something, you’re locked right in. We were sleeping on the side of the road on the Nullarbor. There are these little tracks that go 50-100 metres into the bush and then there’s a little spot to set the swag up [a swag is a self contained camp roll, sleeping bag and bivvy bag that rolls]. It’s so clear, there are stars everywhere. You’re in the middle of the desert with absolutely no one else around. There’d be half an hour stints where we didn’t see a car on the road. It was like, what is going on here?! I’m very happy we got to do it - it was a cool experience.”
Wade and the boys did the drive in a couple of days, and dived off the highway to surf the west coast of South Australia. It’s a remote stretch of coast, accessible by 4-wheel drive tracks with water known for its great white sharks. Wade had one particular wave on his hit list, and once they’d found their way to the end of the right track they had a couple of days to wait before it turned on for them. Once they’d got barrelled there they were able to relax into the situation and enjoy the off-grid camping experience whilst waiting for more of the same. They’d driven in with all of the water and food that they’d need – they had ten days worth of provisions and camped and surfed there for a week before having to do the two hour return drive back to the nearest town to restock.
“We made the decision to camp there in front of the wave and ended up having one really fun session. It just made the trip. It made the five days of driving worth it. For three or four hours it was just me, Letty and our mate Ollie out there, and it was clean as a whistle, 6 foot and perfect barrels. That made the drive worth it. Camping out in swags, getting dusty, it was good. It was definitely worth the drive.”
After a week of sleeping out in the desert in swag bags and surfing remote and heavy waves, they still had to drive from Port Augusta to Sydney (about 16 hours) to drop Letty off and then Wade had to do another day’s drive back to his home on The Gold Coast.
“The truck didn’t miss a beat the whole way. We had so much gear in it. There was no way for us to put our swags in the car so the only way to do it was to put our surfboards on the roof and then lay our swags out flat on the boards and tie them down. So the stack we had on our roof was out of control! It was so high we couldn’t even reach to put our swags up there, we had to throw them and hope for the best, then tie them down. We stood out like dogs balls how high the stack of swags was, it was so funny. It was just a wind blocker. Like a giant loaf of bread on the roof. We chewed through the fuel.”
There’s something about a classic surfing road trip that almost all surfers can relate to. It’s not often through that the hours behind the wheel are repaid with perfect barrels as wide as they are tall, but that’s what Wade lucked into and we sure are glad that it was captured on camera and that we’re able to share it. As the northern hemisphere takes its turn to move through autumn, it’s our turn here in Europe to enjoy some more powerful swells; this trip has got us dreaming of filling a van with a few friends, and a stack of surfboards, wetsuits and camping gear, and heading off to find some solid waves.
“It was never going to be easy to get there. To be able to do that drive with all the food and water we needed to survive out there in the desert… you could go a bit crazy out there but to get barrelled just makes the whole trip. That’s what you do it for!”