As I sit here on the steps leading to the sand at Bondi Beach I can’t help but feel lucky. Obviously I’m lucky to live only a 5 minute stroll from here, but I’m lucky to have the option, the time of day and company to enjoy the surroundings.
The water is a turquoise-blue that contrasts with the light sand so that the view is in high definition. Bordering the beach on either side are cliff edges that just finish off the perfect postcard image. The scenery isn’t what makes Bondi though, it’s the people. You get all walks of life. Tourists who come just for the day, their first steps on the sand become a marked occasion, scrunching their toes or feeling it in their hands – some taking a sample in a sandwich bag for their collection back at home.
The locals are renowned in their own right. On any given day, at any time, you could place money on seeing the same characters in their usual spots. There’s the Old Runner – he’s got to be the fittest guy at the beach. Aged 65+ and always donning his bright orange hat (with neck flap for ultimate UV protection) and tiny budgie smugglers, he runs up and down and up and down for hours. Running on sand is difficult enough for the average person, even for 30 seconds, let alone the length of time he can run for. As he goes he collects an entourage who tap in and out when they’ve had enough, but he always continues on. The only person that can rival him is a woman with rock hard abs – with a rock hard chest to match (definitely had help from a surgeon). She runs non-stop and doesn’t seem to ever sweat. She’s a busty blonde who looks immaculate all the time, much to the envy of all the onlookers who are sweating just in the heat of the sun alone.
The lifeguards are a beach attraction as themselves and since starting work down near the beach I see them regularly. A lot of people are clued in to who they are and know all their names, I know a few and that’s thanks to Instagram! At the moment it’s still Spring, so peak season is approaching but they already struggle to make it to the pavilion for their lunch break and back to the tower without being accosted for a photo. I people watch on my lunch break and bear witness that the majority of lifeguard hasslers are middle aged women- usually with a very embarrassed teenage daughter in tow as a guise. If successfully gaining the lifeguards attention, 9 times out of 10 the daughter is the one taking a photo of her mum with him, with the mum then strolling off in a celebratory dance no doubt vouching never to wash again after their brief embrace. One mother knocked on the ‘DO NOT KNOCK, ONLY IN LIFE THREATENING EMERGENCY’ door, to hand in a lost key. Dutifully, the lifeguard opened the door and before he knew it he’d gained a key and a hug in a split second. Trying to warn her that he is busy as it’s the weekend, and other lifeguards are on their lunch break, she persists and asks for a photo, for which he cooperates. Whilst I’m sure they enjoy the fame and attention, there’s a limit when they are obviously on duty and holiday makers don’t seem to understand that.
The fashions are a great indicator of visitor vs local. Soccer jerseys, big brands, shirts, dresses, even heels – anything other than thongs (I still chuckle at this), shorts and a tee really. It makes you wonder if they knew they were coming to a beach and what they expected to find when they got here. The locals are either sipping coffee or exercising. Yoga pants and crop tops are the go on a weekend morning, anything else and you are clearly not dedicated to sweating. I was up and out by 8am one Sunday morning, ready for a quick stroll along the coast. Beat the tourists I thought, I’ll be home by 9 and still have the whole day ahead. Little did I know, I was late. I definitely made it out before the tourists, but what I didn’t account for were the locals. Running, walking, swimming, yoga classes, kids surf competitions, beach soccer. Everything was happening and more. Cafés were booming, the coffee culture here is second to none and you’re lucky to find a seat let alone a table. Queues are out the door most days, some lasting longer than it would take to sit and drink the coffee itself. But this is the nature of Bondi, you wait for that outdoor table to watch the passersby go by, for the coffee thats cheaper to make at home (which is only a 2 minute walk away), it connects you to the surroundings and keeps you involved in the atmosphere of the suburb.
It is customary to wear clothes. Walking around in your bikini is often not a good sight – who shops in the equivalent to their undies alone? Holiday makers do not abide by this unwritten rule and often display unacceptable amounts of pale flesh – and wild hair ‘down there’ – when wandering around town. Shoes, however, are totally optional. Moving from tarmac, to sand, to water is made seamless by not bothering with shoes and it can only be problematic if you’re not constantly keeping an eye on them. It’s very normal to be strolling around bare foot, some people walk a mile or so from their home to the beach with only their wetsuit and surfboard as cargo. If the waves are big then they are sprinting to the beach. Even cycling. There are a higher percentage of bikes parked up that have a surfboard attachment, than those without! Some surfers hold their surfboard as they ride at speed downhill, shoeless on their skateboard, in a wetsuit, to the water. A skill that must be seen to be believed.
We are yet to get on a board and actually go surfing. Living less than 5 minutes from the water, we thought we would be at the beach non-stop and at least learn to surf. We do try to make the most of the coastal walks and views of the beach and local area that can be seen from the headlands at the beach. The South headland, specifically is a personal favourite – and number 1 on my list of suggestions of things to do in Bondi. The pathway starts at the beach and takes you around past Icebergs (the outdoor swimming pool that borders the ocean and gets a good splash if the waves are high enough), along the cliff face and up some steep steps that finish with a view of Bondi, Tamarama, and Bronte Beaches, as well as the ocean for as far as the eye can see! It’s important to watch out for the runners along the path, tourists don’t grasp the concept of keeping left to allow for the oncoming traffic. Often a family from China end up wrapped up in the florescent lycra and headphones of the runner who turned the corner too quickly. It’s entertaining but all too familiar as it can happy to anyone, just be glad it’s not you this time.
Budgie smugglers are rife at Bondi. They do not discriminate against age, size or nationality – though they are usually a good indicator of an Australian as it is very socially acceptable to don them here. Often it is difficult to avert your eyes as they really don’t leave anything to the imagination. I understand that they would maximise tanning surface area and be more streamline than boardies in the water – often a little too streamline! If you’re unfortunate enough to encounter a guy who hasn’t aired his loins over the colder months you also get the added bonus of pale thighs and an overgrowth of winter fur to contend with too. What makes me chuckle is the British aversion to them entirely and the faces that are pulled just after an innocent budgie strolls by. Although, all too often the budgies are worn by an exercise enthusiast and in these circumstances you can see onlooking men wincing at the sight of its contents being shaken about vigourously. It’s one of those fashions that people adopt while they are away from home, thinking that they are part of the culture, but really when they get home and start to show family members photographs of their time away, they quickly realise their error in judgement.
The weather changes in a flash in Sydney. It could be gloriously sunny in the morning and by the afternoon it will be pouring, or vice versa. We had a couple of weeks of very grey (sometimes black), grim clouds accompanied by a lot of rain. Whilst it was frustrating to be at the beach in the rain it made for some good photos and trained me not to bother with make-up most days as you’ll either sweat it off or the rain will wash it off for you!
There are plenty of things changing everyday at Bondi – the graffiti on the promenade is hot real estate for artists to display their work. To paint here you have to ring the council, apply and wait for a slot to become available, sometimes it can take an artist nearly a week to complete their piece. Some works become iconic, these seem to last longer and are very popular with the tourists, while others make little sense and are promptly re-done using someone else’s inspiration. There is usually always a pop-up stall / display / gig happening right outside the Pavilion at the Beach which keeps it interesting and always gathers a crowd!
I was lucky to spend my birthday this year in Sydney and we made the most of our free time by travelling into the CBD to look around the sights and relax in the sun. We spent the week before and the week after applying for jobs and a place to stay so it was great to take a time out of planning real life. We took a trip to the beach for the Wind Festival where we found hundreds of kites of all shapes and sizes littering the blue sky. It was strange to see so many kites on this one day, yet we had never seen a kite on the beach – nor have we since.
Adam and I get caught up in a Bondi Bubble where, despite working throughout the Eastern Suburbs, places seem just too far to make the effort to go to (pure laziness on our part, the CBD is a 40 minute train journey away). We made the conscious decision to live at the beach because we wanted it to be easy to roll out of bed and be at the beach -living in the city would have made it too much like hard work to find somewhere easy to relax. We each work a 7 day week, so finding pockets of time during the day where we can pop down to the seafront or go for a coffee in a local café is difficult but also reassuring to see the blue sky and water and to have a reality check about where we are living right now.
Bondi is just too beautiful to describe.