Sunday, August 20, 2017

Create your own yoga and surf retreat in Byron Bay

Bobbing on the surface of the glassy ocean I’m still fresh with the thrill of catching my previous wave. Our surf instructor is delighted too and offers one of his many teaching metaphors on this trip to Byron Bay, Australia, describing the moment when you make the sweet spot of water that propels the board forward from the crest of the wave. “It’s like hitting the point between the blades of scissors as they close,” he says, sliding his two hands together.

Byron Bay is a hot spot for surfers lured by the promise of this ocean high, of waves that ripple slowly and perfectly for long stretches to the shore. But as well as the surf, the town also has other magnetic draws for tourists: It is a place that offers recalibration and an unravelling, for people who want to cut a break from the grind of the city, or travellers who want a slice of the carefree beach lifestyle. For a week I schedule a string of yoga and surfing classes and resolve to explore the wonders of Byron Bay.

During my stay, the daily surf sessions are the most exhausting and exhilarating. Our guide and instructor, Nathan Folkes, who heads up Mojosurf, keeps track of our progress and of lurking ocean dangers – big swell, or other surfers. Behind his easy-going personality, there’s a deep well of surf knowledge and experience.

Nat started surfing aged eight, and as a young boy would explore the coast between Brunswick and Western Australia, where he moved around with his family. Later, the surfing company was started as a way to avoid having a real job. “We saved money to go surfing. We thought if we could sell surfing it could fund more of our international adventures,” he explains.

In a van with our boards we head along the beaches along the coastline that meet at a point that sticks out sharply from the easternmost tip of Australia. From Belongil’s rugged, vast golden strip and the location of a former whaling station, to the tiny cove of Wategos where the famous walk up the cliff to the lighthouse begins, each beach has a distinct charm.

After our morning surf, we hop on our bikes and cycle through the forest to get to the Byron Yoga Centre for early-morning practice. It’s not just a yoga centre – it serves meals and you can also stay on retreat there. Each morning for an hour we power through a series of demanding postures – downward dogs and warriors – switching on tired muscles and stretching out the lower back and spine, which feels good after long hours paddling. Three vegetarian meals a day are prepared here and sourced from the organic veg on-site – and the food is inventive and tasty. We eat our fill of the granola and poached pears for breakfast and for dinner we heartily devour Mexican treats such as bean-filled burritos and fresh guacamole.

John Ogilive, who 27 years ago founded the original Byron Yoga, developed this new centre from a plot of land that was originally a wild, empty paddock full of long grass. It has since become a community space with three yoga rooms, an outdoor swimming pool, and a growing number of vegetable and flower gardens. His dream is to create a green village: “an eco-centre using solar power energy, compost toilets and rain water tanks to show people how sustainability can be incorporated into their lifestyle”.

We don’t just stick to the beach or our yoga mats. Byron also has many other distractions including great shopping and a variety of alternate therapies. A Swedish massage is a gentle and luxurious antidote to the muscular toll after days of physical activities.

Nat suggests that in the winter the town is better, when it is less choked by people, though he says part of its appeal is the mix of people from all walks of life, the eco-living bohemians or wealthy, cocktail-drinking tourists. “I don’t think there will be another Byron. It’s special if you take what you can from it. If you want a healthy retreat you can have that. Within minutes you can be in an open green field, or in a bar having a Bloody Mary.”

– The Guardian