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“Forro! You gotta come for a visit mate!” My friend Jonno’s goofy smile and contagious excitement flickered on the screen in front of me as 0’s and 1’s bounce their way around the internet from the Land of OZ to my NY apartment and reappear as my Aussie bestie, “We’ll go for a drive down the Great Ocean Road – the most famous round in the world! We’ll start in Winkipop where surfing is a religion and meat pies are to slay for, then down the craggy cliff line past eternal right hand point breaks, kangaroo infested golf courses and koala stuffed eucalyptus forests! We’ll get the whole crew together and show you a proper Aussie road trip!” Somewhere between the words “meat pie”, “surfing” and “Kangaroo” I knew that I was going to OZ.

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When I first moved to New York City five years ago I struggled to find an escape from the constant press of people, a fix for my need to be active and in the out of doors. That was when I met “Jonno”. I would soon learn that “Jonno” was short for Jonathan and that among other things, aussie’s love shortening their names by putting O’s on the end of them. There was much more to learn from Jonno though than just the strange semantics of OZ.

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Living above a fish market in deep south Brooklyn and riding the train each day out to the Rockaways or hitching lifts out to Long Island to surf, Jonno glowed with an energy that is uncommon in the city. It was the glow that comes from a life connected to nature – and in his case, the ocean. Not long after meeting him I moved into a small room in the fish market, and was quickly introduced to a colorful cast of revolving Aussie travelers; friends of Jonno’s from back home, who flocked to what I soon realized was not just a fish market, but the unofficial Australian embassy of surf and good vibes.

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My imagination was tantalized by dreams of the rugged coasts and sleepy hamlets of Southern Australia where Jonno grew up surfing.

Over the next four years Jonno taught me to surf. I didn’t become a good surfer, but he somehow transported me past the hurdles of my own ego, and showed me that surfing ankle high waves was just as fun as double overhead (not that I would know) if you had the right “mates” with you, and that surfing in sub freezing temps and riding the subway for two hours for those same ankle high waves was as much about the journey and the random convos with other commuters about sharks and surfing in NY as it was about the surf.

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On those long subway rides Jonno would regale me with his infamous “Jonno” stories – long rambling tales with so many twists and turns that I found they could often be listened to while still half asleep and you could wake up at the next turn in the story and it might well have doubled back to right where I had dozed off. But despite my penchant for napping during these stories, my imagination was tantalized by dreams of the rugged coasts and sleepy hamlets of Southern Australia where Jonno grew up surfing.

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Fast forward five years, and a few months after our Skype call, and I’m in a Jonno story of my own, as a whirlwind of surfboards, friends, smiles, high fives, wetsuits and petrol fumes find us hurtling down the Great Ocean road in southern Australia. Over the course of the next week every Jonno story I’d ever heard came to life as we chased Kangaroos over golf courses, surfed beautiful chest high peelers under a full moon, cooked out and had impromptu dance parties in hidden caves, gorged ourselves on every strange Aussie food imaginable, rendezvoused with old Aussie friends from the fish market days and made heaps of new ones, watched crocodile dundee and hung in the trees with doozy Koala bears. All the while with the question “Do you believe in a land down under?”  running through my head, asked very emphatically by a couple guys at work. At the end of our week I found myself not only believing every Jonno story I’d ever heard, but also believing in A Land Down Under and all that those men at work and Jonno had suggested it could be.

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Forest Woodward is a climber, surfer, and photographer living in Brooklyn. You can find his work at forestwoodward.com and on Instagram at @forestwoodward.


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