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Queensland: The aptly-named Surfers Paradise

Try as I might, I just couldn’t stand-up on the narrow surfboard. Again and again, waves surged under me, then tipped me into the warm and glorious waters off the beach at Surfers Paradise.

Queensland: The aptly-named Surfers Paradise

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This suburb of the Gold Coast, a city in Queensland on the east coast of Australia, is well named. With a reef break that offers consistently good waves, it’s a major draw for visitors from around the world, and me, a hopeless novice surfer filming a TV series about Australia.

I had tried to surf once before, on the world’s longest natural beach at Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh. The waves there undulated pleasantly and harmlessly. Not so at Surfers Paradise. As the hours ticked by, and my attempts to stand went well into double figures, the BBC crew hoping to capture the crucial moment had almost given up.

Finally the patient teaching of the instructors from the Cheyne Horan surf school paid off. “More to the front of the board,” they were hollering at me across the waves. “Leap up with one fluid movement.”

The advice paid off, and eventually I managed to get two feet planted firmly on the board for at least 10 seconds, before I crashed into the water yet again. By the end of the lesson I had a bruised bum from hitting the sand, and I had accepted the painful reality I might never become a professional surf-bum.

No matter, because even for those not blessed with natural ability to ride waves, Surfers Paradise has plenty of other distractions. With theme parks, long beaches, skyscrapers and busy nightlife, some Aussies from the more sophisticated southeastern cities look down their noses at the Ibiza-life of Surfers. The area is a much-denigrated Australian weekend destination for party-goers and foreign tourists wanting a quick taste of the Aussie lifestyle. But I loved it. It’s a bit like Blackpool crossed with Miami.

I was late getting back to my car after my surfing lesson, and to my amazement a couple of leggy young women, wearing little but gold bikinis, heels and Stetsons, were topping up the parking meter, which only had moments left on the clock.

The girls were the famous local meter maids, who put a few coins in meters to save motorists and also give out flyers for clubs and events. Their official job requirements are listed as: ‘Good attitude, pleasant manner and a hot body in a bikini’. Originally introduced in the 1960s they’re still going strong despite the advent of modern inventions such as ‘feminism’, ‘political correctness’ and ‘the 21st century’.

After the girls tottered down the road, I went off to meet other local institutions, including endangered koalas, and a motorcycle gang called The Finks, who the local police accuse of involvement in all manner of criminal activity. With around 40 ‘outlaw motorcycle clubs’ across the country and more than 4,000 official members, Australia has quite a problem with biker gangs.

Filming with the heavily tattooed Finks, one of the burliest groups of blokes I have ever met, was one of the most extreme encounters I’ve had anywhere in the world. But then like the rest of our filming trip, it was a great reminder that Australia’s not all just cricket and kangaroos.

Simon Reeve is the presenter of Australia, the recent BBC2 series, which is currently available on iPlayer. He has travelled to more than 110 countries, making television series for the BBC including Indian Ocean, Equator and Tropic of Cancer. www.simonreeve.co.uk