THE WET SEASON
Denise Cullen is upstaged by her young son at a surfing school on Queensland’s Gold Coast
MY head is a jumble of manic 1960s surf lyrics of the ha-haha-ha-ha-wipeout kind as I emerge, spluttering, from the foaming waves, just in time to see my nine-year-old son coolly riding his board all the way to the shore.
The closest he has come to surfing before today is a single screening of the animated movie Surf’sUp, but he takes to it like a pro. Meanwhile, I am yet to stand up on my board for anything more than a nanosecond and am feeling clumsy and resentful.
We are holidaying on the Queensland Gold Coast for a few days, including this two-hour lesson with the Get Wet Surf School at Dreamworld. Lessons are conducted in the artificial wave pool at Dreamworld’s hi-tech water park, WhiteWater World, which is billed as a perfect learning environment for novice surfers.
No rips, tides, currents, shifting sandbanks, stingers or sharks. But challenging nonetheless. First, our instructor takes us through our paces on the grass. ‘‘ I don’t want to see anyone bringing their foot around like this,’’ he warns, performing an odd manoeuvre with his left leg and shooting us a stern look.
Lying face down, we wait for his commands. ‘‘ Push up. Right knee forward. Left foot through. In the centre. Feet flat. Turn. Stand up. S-l-o-w-l-y.
‘‘ And I don’t want to see any of you paddling like girls,’’ he adds, as we enter the water.
The 2685 sq m body of water in the Cave of Waves creates surges programmed to reach heights of 1.4m. But I’ll be darned if I can stand and ride a single one of these waves. I keep lobbing myself back into the depths, ever hopeful, but as my failures mount, my performance deteriorates.
My arms are aching and my legs are wobbling. The instructor’s directions are progressively more precise and his blithe insistence on addressing me as ‘‘ Mum’’ compounds my irritation.
‘‘ You didn’t get your leg in the centre that time, Mum,’’ he calls as I emerge, sans board, from an upside-down churn. Then later, ‘‘ You stood up too soon, Mum.’’
After a particularly graceless tumble from the board, I decide it’s easier, and probably safer, to splash in the shallows with my sixyear-old and sneak occasional glances at the rest of the action. As the lesson draws to a close, I observe that all the children and many of the adults in the 12-strong group are standing, albeit gingerly, on their boards.
I wave to my older son, who is now prancing back and forth on his board. The instructor turns and spots me. ‘‘ What’s going on here, Mum?’’
One of the benefits of joining a learn-tosurf lesson here is that a day’s entrance to WhiteWater World is included in the price and, because you’re already inside when Dreamworld’s gates open to the public, you’re first in line for your favourite rides.
We head for the Green Room, named for the ultimate surfing experience of being ‘‘ inside the tube’’. Clutching wildly at the handles on a four-seater tube, we plunge into a shadowy 75m flume at high speed. One of my sons is screaming, the other is mute with fear, and I’m trying hard not to relieve myself in my wetsuit.
We swirl wildly around a giant funnel before emerging, white-knuckled and gasping, into a smaller pool.
‘‘ Let’s go again!’’ My nine-year-old is already out of the water and racing up the flight of concrete steps. I divert him in the direction of the Super Tubes HydroCoaster, which is a rocket-like roller-coaster on water, one of only two in the world, with a maximum thrill rating of five.
As we hurtle down one of the exhilarating drops, shouting to the point of hoarseness, I am vaguely aware of a camera flash. When our raft comes to a standstill at the end of the ride, a staffer in a rain jacket approaches me, snapping on a red waterproof wristband.
This practical measure authorises me to collect a photo later in the day. That would be the one of me with wet, matted hair and wild eyes.
Needing to give our blood pressure readings a chance to return to normal, my husband and I decide to nab a couple of deckchairs and let the boys run wild on Nickelodeon’s Pipeline Plunge.
For children six and older, this is by far the most popular part of the water park. Located in an enormous tree fort-style structure, it features more than 100 interactive water options, including four flume waterslides, water sprays, geysers, cannons and (the highlight) a giant bucket that regularly dumps 1000 litres of water over the heads of unsuspecting frolickers.
Finding family restaurants on the Gold Coast where the menus aren’t laminated is a tall order. So it is with a sense of relief and delight when we stumble into Arakawa Restaurant at Crowne Plaza Royal Pines Golf Resort & Spa that night. Fifteen minutes’ drive south of WhiteWater World, the restaurant offers sushi, teppanyaki and a la carte menus. Our teppanyaki meal is a treat, even when one of our boys bolts in panic as the grill explodes in flames; the chef coaxes him back to the bench by performing circus tricks with a bowl of eggs.
This sustenance, along with the sort of sleep that only comes from utter exhaustion, prepares us for the following day at Dreamworld. Open since 1981, Dreamworld is (along with Sea World) one of the big guns of the Gold Coast theme parks, with thrilling rides that need no explanation beyond their names: the Giant Drop, the Wipeout, the Tower of Terror, the Cyclone Rollercoaster and the Claw. Also for adrenalin junkies, Australia’s first motorbike roller-coaster, Mick Doohan’s Motocoaster, opened here last September.
But in an effort to diversify its offerings over the years, Dreamworld has also introduced an interactive petting zoo of baby animals, an extensive native wildlife park and a range of family attractions including a log ride, railway and riverboat.
In this vein, my favourite diversion is Tiger Island, home to six Bengal tigers, four Sumatran tigers and two cougars with Cleopatra-lined eyes. Presentations showcasing the tigers’ athleticism are held twice daily but even outside these times it’s rewarding just to take up a vantage point (from across a moat) and watch the behaviour of these big cats.
I could stay here all day but the boys are badgering to be taken to Nick Central, with 16 rides themed on Nickelodeon shows, including Blue’s Clues and SpongeBob SquarePants . Nick Central is a good family base; toddlers can ride the Dora the Explorer Sea Planes while older children can bump their way around the Rocket Powers Bumper Beach dodgem cars.
The Wild Thornberrys Rainforest Rampage, filled with more than 20,000 foam balls and fitted with guns and blaster cannons, is also a surprise hit, but as the afternoon wears on, I feel so weary my sole contribution to the battle is an upturned cap so the boys can stockpile ammunition more quickly.
Before heading home, we opt for one last whirl of the Runaway Reptar Rollercoaster, billed as a ‘‘ suspended family roller-coaster’’. In other words, it doesn’t go upside down, but still offers plenty of thrills, chills and jarred necks. I’m catching my breath as the ride pulls into the station. My nine-year-old looks at me in delight. ‘‘ Let’s go again, Mum.’’ Denise Cullen was a guest of Dreamworld and the Crowne Plaza Royal Pines Golf Resort & Spa.
Dreamworld and WhiteWater World are located side by side at Coomera on the Gold Coast. Purchase one-day admission passes to either theme park or buy a two-day World Pass ($102 for adults; $68 for juniors, four to 13), which allows you to hop between the two. The Get Wet Surf School offers lessons at WhiteWater World three mornings a week. www.dreamworld.com.au www.whitewaterworld.com.au www.getwetsurf.com www.royalpinesresort.com.au
On a roll: Standing room only for the writer’s son at Dreamworld’s Get Wet Surf School, main picture, and limbering up, bottom right; Nickelodeon’s Pipeline Plunge, top right