Guide to Wavesailing in Sydney and NSW
Being right on the coast, Sydney is one of those very rare cities in the world, where some classic wavesailing sits literally on our doorstep. We will regularly see city slickers arriving in the beach car park changing from their office suits and into their board shorts, rushing to get a good wavesail sesh in after work in Spring, through Summer and into Autumn.
Water temps range from 24oC in late summer down to 18oC in the depths of winter and average midday air temperature range from 28oC in summer to 18oC in winter. Many of us sail with just board shorts and a rashie in summer and a 3mm, short or long armed, long legged steamer in winter
Plus, thanks to the Sydney Harbour, Botany Bay and Narrabeen Lake, we have the luxury of being able to windsurf in any wind direction.
The prevailing Sydney wind is SE, but summer (Nov to Feb) brings consistent NNE sea breezes of 15knots plus. As a heavyweight (93k), my most used sail size is 5.8m and the majority of sub 80kg guy’s use 5.3’s.
In terms of wind strengths, it is worth clarifying what we get, as from experience, International visitors can have a varied definition of what “windy” is! Sydneysiders reckon it is windy when they are on 4.7 or 4.2’s. The heavier sailors may use their 4.7’s eight times a year as a weekend sailor!
Wavesailing in Sydney is pretty much split between “North shore” and “Southsiders”, i.e. those who live North of Sydney Harbour Bridge and those who live south. To reflect this natural split, this guide will mirror the same geographic divide.
Sydney Southside Wavesailing
“Southside” is arguably claimed as the top wavesailing area in Sydney, which must be true as we boast the recent Australian Wavesailing Champion – Dan Berry J. (Read the North side write up below for the counter argument! 🙂 )
For simplicity, we will break the wavesailing spots up by wind direction. Starting with our favourite, the N-NE sea breeze.
North-to-North Easterly Winds
30 mins South of the city centre, Wanda is a break on a 14 km long beach. It is nothing short of awesome. There is many an occasion where we have travelled 100 and even 1000’s km to compete around Australia and felt that it is better on our home patch. The northerly wind blows over the low profile dunes making for some great down the line wave riding and bare away jumping with the cross off wind. South of the harbour, there really isn’t another wave riding in a Nor’easter.
There are plenty of other windsurf spots though, many slalom/freeride/freestyle sailors have great sailing next to the airport runway at Botany Bay – more specifically Kyeemagh or on the other sides of the bay at Kurnell, La Perouse or Dolls Point. Kyeemagh is generally rated as the best due to the extra 3 to 5 knots resulting from the wind accelerating across the boiling hot runway. On a hot busy day at Kyeemagh there can be over 100 windsurfers cranking back and forth making for some busy gybing on the inside!
South-to-South Easterly Winds
Coming from the cooler South, the Southerly winds can be a lot cooler and even down to 14oC in mid winter
Again, this beach stars with a cross (South Westerly) or cross on (South Easterly) wind making for great jumping, but wave riding is generally reserved for the more adept. After a couple of days Southerly, the wave faces can be up to 5m so we launch from Elouera Beach (500m south) and sail upwind to “the wall”, where the waves tend to be a bit more manageable. When the waves are too huge, we head off to sail the chop at Kyeemagh or Dolls Point.
After 3-4 days of the Southerly busters, Dolls Point can start working with up to 5 foot waves. Dolls Point is actually within Botany Bay, so it is quite a unique occasion to get the wind and waves working here. When it alls comes together, there can be some fun cross on down the line wave riding and great jumping.
Again, this spot is used when the waves are out of control at Wanda. You can launch into the Gunamatta River and beat up to some waves that break on the sandbanks. It can be gusty though as the wind tumbles over the trees of the Royal National Park. For the more adventurous, you can sail out through the river mouth and into the massive swells of the big Southerly – character building!
Very few sailors “do” Bondi because we are charged to park!!!! But there are some awesome local sailors who really shred down there in strong South Easters.
I personally don’t enjoy “the bra” in straight Southerlies but some notable wave riders will often wax lyrical about epic days down there. I find it gusty as hell, resulting from a huge rock sitting upwind. However, the Bra in a South Westerly is a different story.
South Westerly Wind
Maroubra (aka – the bra)
This is really the only spot for SW wave riding and it really can be epic with down the line wave riding and awesome jumping. There have been some massive jumps made here.
Numerous beaches can be sailed in an Easterly with some fun backside riding but the winds tend to be light, which make for some hard work to get out through the break.
South Westerly Wind
Due to the Sydney beaches generally facing due east, we have to find our fun in the flat water when it blows SW, West or NW.
La Perouse (aka La Per)
No waves but there can be some great 4 to 5ft chop if the Westerly has been blasting 4/5 hours.
Is a bit gustier than La Per but generally Westerlies are gusty in Sydney anyway!
West or North West Wind
This a great spot thanks to the 40-meter rock groynes poking out into bay which offer super flat water to pull together a few freestyle moves.
And to add a different perspective, Tom Hofman gives a run down on Botany Bay sailing spots as he sees it.
In a nutshell I think Port Botany is easily summed up:
Ideal direction: SW (W to NW very gusty, S very choppy do to ocean swell bouncing of wave break)
Kyeemahg (Near Run Way)
Ideal direction: NE, there is approximately 10 to 15 knots more wind than anywhere in Sydney
Kyeemahg (opposite Shell Gas Station)
Ideal direction: NE, S to SE
Details: NE more steady than near runway, produces half meter chop in strong sea breeze, southerly can produce pretty sizable chop especially near runway. Wind is approximately 10 knts stronger near runway.
Ideal direction: SSW
Details: if the wind is 270 degrees south the river mouth is a pretty good spot with step chop for plenty of air time. If there is a big south or moderate easterly swell waves will break over sand bars just off dolls point. Waves tend to be best when the tide is going out as a strong current from the river pushes against the swell coming into the bay.
Ideal direction: NW, also works in a W
Details: Pretty much of a few places in Sydney that will work in strong NW wind. Be aware though, as NWers come of the land they can go from next to nothing to 40 knts in a few minutes… sea grass and muddy entry can be a bit annoying at times
Sydney North side Wavesailing
Love the quip about south side being the top spot in Sydney because Dan Berry sails there! North side must therefore be the spiritual home of windsurfing in Sydney with Mark Paul, Mark Pederson, Phil McGain, Jessica Crisp, Josh Adams and Midget Farrelly all sailing here, as well as the current crop of hot but humble wavesailors (eg Doogs!). Also the international Sony Wavesailing Classic held at Long Reef for a number of years in the 80s with good conditions and results. Just ask Robby N, Pete Cabrinha, Mike Waltz, Angulos etc.
Plus the surfing heritage on the north side and board building are second to probably on the north shore of Hawaii worldwide including our own Simon Anderson inventor of the thruster, and more world champion surfers than we’ve had in just about any other sport. Did I mention that Duke Kahanamoku’s cedar board that he pioneered surfing in Australia on is still o display in Freshy Surf Club today.
What a fantastic city we live in !! North side, South side, up and down the coast all just a short drive away – it doesn’t get better than this!!
North Easterly Winds
Ok let’s start with NE spots
Most northern Sydney beaches have significant headlands that block the clear flow of wind in a NE. Some beaches are sailable in N Easters but many are cross-onshore due to the north-south alignment of the beaches such as North Styne/Manly, Collaroy/Narrabeen, Mona Vale, Newport and Palm Beach. These can still be fun onshore sailing with good jumps however the alignment of Long Reef Beach makes it cross shore in NE. The headland can sometimes cause havoc with the wind if the direction is not quite right. The wind tends to be lighter here than on the South side at Wanda/Kurnell. You can sail off the beach or tack up to Butterbox on the south side of the point itself for clearer air. The very best sailing is when there has been a good ground swell then a NE wind and the Long Reef Bombora is working. This is real quality sailing spot. Late in the day the north end of Newport can get good as the wind backs around a little.
When the wind is predominantly North rather than Nor-East, Long Reef tends to get gusty. Mona Vale Beach is perfect for Northerlies, and the same quality down the line rides can be enjoyed. The north end of Newport Beach will also provide great sailing in Northerly winds.
Flat-water sailors can get their kicks on the Pittwater side of Palm Beach and the western end of Narrabeen Lake. Palm Beach is a beautiful spot for the whole family and the flat-water sailing is excellent here but can get a bit gusty late in the day. Oh and ask someone about the seaplane it can be scary not to know where its runway is!! With the surf beach just a short stroll over the dune you can sail flat water and waves without even de-rigging! The Academy of Sport end of Narrabeen Lake is shallow and short blasting conditions but NE winds tend to funnel in here and are often 5knots windier than on the open beaches.
OK depends a bit on wave height here for small to medium swell Manly/North Steyne, Long Reef (cross onshore), Collaroy/Narrabeen, Mona Vale (cross on), Newport Reef and Palm Beach can all be good. Once the swell rises as it does quickly in a southerly then the beaches start to max out and go out of control, look for the north side of Long Reef Point at Makaha, Brown Water, The Kick (in front of Collaroy Pool – where I have seen gear retrieved from on big days!), Collaroy and Newport Reef to come into their own. Newport, Makaha and The Kick can handle pretty big surf conditions and when its big you should sail these spots with a buddy especially Makaha its a long way out if you break gear, you’ll get washed up the coast rather than onshore and no one will see you out there (apart from the men in grey suits!). When the swell completely maxes you can sail at Sandy Point in Pittwater launching at the boat ramp off Iluka Street.
Makaha provides great down the line wave sailing in S/SE winds. With decent swell, smooth waves will peel off from the point allowing for many bottom turns per wave. When the wind is SE and there is swell, Newport Reef is probably unbeatable. Smooth waves that can get quite big, with long down the line rides. Launching can be tricky. The experienced sailors will launch through the keyhole next to the pool where timing is everything. Launching off the beach is not much easier when the surf is big. But it is all worth it.
For the jumping enthusiasts Long Reef beach in a southerly, although cross-onshore, will provide some of the best jumping around. Long Reef usually picks up swell before anywhere with its Sou-easterly aspect. On a windy day it is rare that the Bombie won’t break. Even on days of small swell the wind usually pushes through some decent steep ramps when it hits the banks. The angle at which you sail off the beach and the distance to the break will have you at full speed at the right time and line you up for the biggest jumps you can get.
Again the north side of Long Reef has a spot for Easterlies. Often after a southerly there will be some swell around but the wind comes right round from SE to dead onshore. Head for White Rock on the east side of Collaroy Basin Beach. It handles big faces that are fat and forgiving (up to you how far inside you dare go toward the rocks) and fun to charge down.
South Westerly Wind
Usually very gusty but can be superb sailing at Long Reef Beach if it’s coming through cleanly its cross-offshore and beautiful! Also Narrabeen Lake at the Scout Centre (north side off Wakehurst Parkway) will have some bullets coming through past the hills for a flat water sail. Both sides of Palm Beach and Sandy Point can work in a SW wind but they tend to be frustratingly gusty on a short board.
The gem here if there is big swell apparently is Box Head. Its a bit of a drive round to Umina but I gather it can get pretty good.
No good news here for wave sailing. Narrabeen Lake and Pittwater side of Palm Beach are sailable for flat water but grab your surfboard instead and sample some of the delights off the north side surf beaches that you can’t really sail at like Avalon, Whale and Bungan Beaches.
One of the best ways to check out the classic NSW wavesailing spots is to come along and join the NSW Wavesailing Series. We are a pretty relaxed bunch who love little else more than catching a nice wave and bashing a few on the way out. Then reliving the experience over a cool beer and BBQ with our fellow wavesailors!
Hope this helps you discover some new spots!
Thanks to Rob Jacobs and Carl Doran for providing the North shore write up.
Coffs Harbour Coast (6 Hours North of Sydney)
Since I moved up here the big thing I’ve found is that there is 45 minutes driving time of coast with dozens of potential hot wave sailing spots.
Red Rock – 35 minutes north of Coffs. River mouth and beach break. Caravan Park on the Beach.
Corindi 30 minutes north. Beach and reef breaks. Caravan Park on the beach. Could be a spot X in NE winds over the reefs.
Arrawarra Headland 30 minutes north. Caravan Park on the Beach. NW winds only.
Safety Beach Just north of Woolgoolga. Beach break just inshore from a reef. Unknown.
Woolgoolga 25 minutes north and home of famous flat top rock, premier sailing spot in sw winds and not bad in a NE either. SW winds regularly blow up here in the morning before it swings SE.
Sandy Beach 20 minutes north. This spot has big potential as an alternative to Flat Top. The beach has a low reef to the north cutting out the chop in NE. To the south is a Geroa type grass point which appears to have the same affect upon the wind both ways. That is both S and N winds seem to accelerate over it.
Emerald Beach 15 minutes north. No quality here but about 500 metres north of the town is a small point which picks up the NE wind coming over the Sandy Beach grass point. This spot has more potential than any other I have seen but it is difficult to access.
Moonee Beach Long stretches of beach breaks extending for kilometres north and south of a small grass point. A long walk over a shallow creek to get to the beach. Caravan Park on the beach.
Sapphire to Korora Several kilometres of beach breaks side shore in a NE and slightly side on when from the south. Reminds me of Kanaha in Highway with the water turning green. Needs a big swell to get the outside reefs working, otherwise just a shore dump. Launch from the Resorts.
Diggers Beach My home break. Nothing to write home about but home is home. Too gusty when from the south but NE scream down a high grass point and hit the water just over a shallow reef. Big jumps but damaging on the body and gear as I’ve found.
Park Beach Reliable cross to cross onshore when NE. Very windy when its on. South winds are a let down and never seem to happen due to Mutton Bird Island. Caravan Park on the beach.
Harbour Only safe place to sail when the seas are up.
Sawtell Appears cross off in the corner when from the south. A bit of a carry to launch.
Like I said, more variety than any other place I have known. As windy a
spot as I can imagine on the east coast.
South Coast Wavesailing
– 1 to 3 hrs South of Sydney
The Illawarra and Shoalhaven area on the South Coast of NSW is without a doubt the premier wavesailing region in the state, and probably the entire east coast of Australia.
The following guide provides an insight into some of the best spots frequently hosting NSW Wavesailing events, and some lesser-known gems, all within a short drive of Sydney.
You could probably sail at pretty much any beach in the area if you weren’t fussy, but with so many awesome spots around, why bother with anywhere else? Read on for the pick of the bunch.
One word..GERROA (Seven Mile Beach. About 2 hours south of Sydney, just south of Gerringong).
This place is a freak of meteorology. Seven Mile Beach is officially known as the windiest place on the entire east coast when a NE kicks in, it is as reliable sailing spot as any. Has a real good knack for forcing E/NE breezes to be NE, or any breeze with north in it for that matter. If its windy elsewhere, its twice as windy here. If there’s no wind elsewhere, its still windy here!
Tucked up in the northern corner of Seven Mile Beach and facing south-east, a NE breeze provides a prefect cross-off shore angle.
The waves are smooth and every ride is a long one. The banks are always perfect.
At its best during the first few NE’s after a decent southerly swell, but even the smaller days provide absolute perfect wave riding.
A good day here is THE day that you would want as your “Groundhog Day”.
Breaking off the very tip of the headland, this awesome break is ideal in a decent size NE swell. Quite a long sail from the beach but its worth it. Very smooth waves jacking up over a shallow reef with section after solid section. When it’s big, it will be barrelling (especially at low tide). It’s too far to swim your gear back to the beach, but there is a rock shelf right there that will do the trick. Plenty of dolphins to keep you company while you figure it out.
If Gerroa can only provide mast-base high surf, then head to the other end of Seven Mile Beach to Shoalhaven Heads. As the day progresses, this place takes the “windiest place on the coast” title away from Gerroa. And where Gerroa fails to hang onto the swell, the Heads sucks it in and doubles it!
Cross on-shore in a NE it provides epic port tack jumping and backside wave riding. As the wind will often swing further north late in the day, it becomes more cross-shore and can provide some great down the line sailing. The wind will blow its nuts off until well after dark. Guys who sail here regularly quite often use sails under 4.0m.
**NB: Try doing the down wind run from Gerroa to the Heads. Great fun!
You certainly don’t have to go as far south as Gerroa for great port tack wavesailing.
Several spots further north around Wollongong will have you smiling just as much. NE forecasts in the Illawarra region are rarely wrong.
If it is forecast to be 20 knots for the region, then Gerroa could easily be 35-40 knots.
If you don’t want 40 knots, then simply stay north and enjoy 20 knots, and more reliable swell. We are faced with tough choices in this part of the world!
If its 30 knots in Wollongong, then forget Gerroa and the Heads (unless you have a 2.0m sail). Try the following spots instead:
Just 10 minutes north of the Wollongong CBD. One of many great beaches in the area, its south-easterly aspect makes great cross-off sailing in a NE. Very reliable in a NE wind as there is nothing to block it. The further up the beach you go, the more off-shore it gets. The reef break off the northern point is awesome. High tide covers the rocks and throws up some very nice sizable waves. The wave face is pure glass even when it’s windy. I don’t just mean, “kinda’ smooth”, I mean it is literally as glassy as if there were no wind at all.
The next beach south of Corrimal, Towradgi produces very nice waves on a regular basis. The northern end of the beach, just on the south side of the rock pool, will give you great down the line wave riding in a Nor-easter. A good alternative to Corrimal if the tide is not right, and also has minimal wind chop as it’s sheltered by the pool and reef.
Just 15 mins south of the Wollongong CBD is the south side of Windang Island. The same angle as Corrimal, it also is great in a NE. Both Corrimal and Warilla pick up swell very quickly and can get pretty heavy.
Sandon Point, Bulli
About 15 – 20 mins north of the Wollongong CBD is one of the most well known surfing spots on the coast with its long right handers off the north side of the point.
What it also provides is a decent NE sailing spot on the southern side. A dedicated local crew of sailors rarely sail anywhere else in a NE. Not even Gerroa!
First place to mention has to be Windang.
The beach on the northern side of Windang Island, at the entrance to Lake Illawarra.
Some regards it as, on its day, the best starboard tack sailing spot anywhere (including Hookipa).
The banks change from time to time, based on how often the lake entrance opens up. When the banks are good and the swell is up, you will get world class wave rides from next to the island, for several hundred metres down wind connecting all the way to the beach.
This place can get very heavy and it has claimed countless masts, sails and boards.
Northern side of Bulli Point, just several hundred metres south of Sandon Point.
Long rides to rival Windang. The perfection of Gerroa on the opposite tack.
Any southerly direction is good, but it’s at its best in S, or S/SE, and approx an 1.5 hours either side of low tide.
Located at the southern end of Corrimal Beach, and directly out from Towradgi rock pool this break is suitable for S or SW winds. Big swell holds very well here, and it doesn’t take a huge swell for it to break. The wave peaks right up and will throw out a pretty solid lip when it’s big. You will get pretty smooth faces and quite a few bottom turns on most of the waves. Easily accessible and an easy down wind sail back to Corrimal Beach.
Pool Bombie, Shellharbour
Just off the pool at Shellharbour is pool bombie. It works in S.W to S.E winds and solid swell. Access is difficult having a scary swim of the rocks at the pool or a safe launch from South Shellharbour beach (the next beach south). The spot consists of an outside bombie that creates big jumps and huge waves to catch, although it is hard to wave ride due to the chop.
The swell then goes through deep water for about 100 metres and reforms onto the real wave. The waves are very smooth and when bigger, very powerful. Very good wave riding but if you fall off there is a slight chance that your gear will get washed into the bay and possibly onto the rocks.
To get in you can tack back to South Shellharbour or go downwind past the harbour to Shellharbour main beach and a walk back to your car. If you decide the main beach option you can catch a wave or two at Cowries (next point downwind past the bay). Probably the smoothest waves you will ever ride, but be careful, the wave breaks metres from the rocks and the surfers don’t like sharing the waves with windsurfers (too bad).
North Gong Beach Bombie
North Beach, just a minute or two north of the CBD (on the northern side of the harbour) provides an epic bombie breaking straight out from the beach. Pretty hairy in really big swell.
Famous for its Nor-Easters, but still pretty good in a sou-wester. The complete opposite direction means cross off starboard tack sailing.
When the swell is up, Gerroa bombie is awesome. The Sou-wester is much cleaner out there with no trees or hills to block it and can be an epic session. Dies out early in the day though so keep your eye on it or you’ll be swimming!
Warilla’s exposed surroundings allow a clean SW wind to get in and, depending on which part of the beach you are on, you can bear-away on some nice waves.
The swell builds quickly here and in any southerly direction you will get some awesome jumping and backside wave rides.
Pretty reliable in a good westerly, the bit of south in it makes it slightly more on-shore but probably more consistent as well. Superb jumping and backside wave riding.
As with the nor-easters, nothing blocks the southerlies either. SW, being the complete opposite direction makes for some very enjoyable cross-off starboard tack wave riding.
Still fun when it’s more toward S and SE with great jumping off the ever-present waves. Check where the waves are breaking at low tide though. A nicely placed sandbank makes even the smallest waves pretty powerful.
Cross-off shore but on the opposite tack to a usual Windang session. Shorter rides but you can line up aerials from a mile away.
Next beach north of Corrimal. NW wind fills in nicely here and the break off the rock pool can provide nice down the line wave sailing.
The most southern point visible from Gerroa, and about 40 mins by car.
Drive to Nowra, turn east and follow the signs to Currarong and Culburra.
This small coastal town just north of Jervis Bay has great exposure to NW winds when most other spots nearby are gusty or even worse.
Nor-easterly swell hits the beach head-on and the NW wind is perfect cross-shore.
Tends to be a bit stronger here too.
The great thing about this area is that every direction is covered. And with the very frequent westerlies we get throughout the winter months, that means a lot more time on the water.
Just 10 mins south of the Wollongong CBD is the northern end of the very long stretch of beach starting at Windang Island. Very similar aspect to Gerroa, but a lot less blocking the wind from the west. Wide open spaces give the westerly a long time to build up to arrive at the beach for some great cross-shore sailing. This beach also holds big swell and doesn’t really get that heavy very often. (P.S another great NE spot too.)
For the flat-water/bump and jump enthusiasts or for those days when there’s a gale force westerly and zero surf, look no further than Lake Illawarra. It is HUGE. When it’s windy it is damn windy. Will cater for all directions. Plenty of grassy rigging areas around most of the lake. Most guys tend to launch from next to the Illawarra Sailing Club on the northern side of the lake.
Cheers Carl Doran and George Westra
That’s about it for the moment, happy wavesailing/windsurfing and please let us know if you have additional spots to be added to this.
Compiled by Jason Juretic
And thanks to the contributors, Rob Jacobs, Warren Holder, Lloyd Ellis, George Westra, Carl Doran