North of Perth is one of the harshest environments Australia can dish up. The Gibson and The Great Sandy Desert conspire with a rugged, dangerous coastline to remind travellers of their human frailties. The same booming surf that claimed many a seventeenth century Dutch ship, aiming for Batavia (Jakarta), now attracts surfers who aren't afraid of a challenge. Geraldton and Kalbarri form twin outposts of civilisation 500 kms (300mi) from the capital, where a hardy crew of locals ride epic offshore reefs, which can be quite sensitive to the constant swell and strong winds. Knowing where and when is half the battle. Knowing your limitations is the other.