THE WET SEA­SON

Denise Cullen is up­staged by her young son at a surf­ing school on Queens­land’s Gold Coast

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Holidays Afloat -

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.

Check­list

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

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