Barrack Heights teenager Yasmin Schuldt is one of the many Illawarra HSC graduates ditching the Gold Coast parties for alternative celebration plans.
When the word 'schoolies' is uttered most picture large crowds of school leavers partying at the Gold Coast but there's a growing trend among young people to celebrate elsewhere or not at all.
When the HSC exams finished Yasmin took her surfboard to Killalea Beach known to most as 'The Farm' and decided to celebrate the milestone through surfing.
"It's a nice way to celebrate the end of school just to be out on the ocean [and] feel free like finally feel free without the weight of exams and stress pulling me down," the Corpus Christi Catholic High School graduate said.
The 17-year-old chose to enrol in a two-day program at the Pine Surfing Academy based in Wollongong and then started working for them as a surfing instructor.
"If I had to pick between a party scene or surfing I think I'd definitely pick surfing, it always has my heart."
Yasmin is saving money for a gap year in Europe and will then return to go to university and become a paramedic.
Owner of Pines Surfing Academy Vaya Phrachanh said many sporty school leavers from Sydney have enrolled in their surf classes and they then continue to travel south.
"They just want to do something different come surfing because it's fun and not going out and just do the normal getting drunk," he said.
The Mercury spoke with Illawarra graduates about their celebration plans as they gathered in Wollongong before their year 12 formals.
Huntar Gittoes will travel "down the coast" with his mates for a weekend of surfing and diving.
"[We'll] have a couple of drinks and stuff by the fire by the beach," the 18-year-old Warilla High School graduate said.
Montana Beck said she's "not really big on parties" but is going on a cruise to Queensland with friends and family.
Others are not so keen on travelling in Australia and prefer to save for an overseas trip such as Kanahooka High School graduate Xanthe McCarrol who will go on a Europe holiday with her mum in 2024.
"I feel like not as many people are going [to schoolies] and if they are then they're not going to the Gold Coast as much," Xanthe said.
Similarly, Corrimal High School graduate Mia Griffith is searching for a hospitality job to save up for overseas travel.
The group of Illawarra school leavers said other friends are going to the Gold Coast, South Coast, Queensland, Bali and Fiji.
Keagan Nolan is celebrating the end of HSC with a unique challenge for his trip to the South Coast, NSW.
The Warilla High School graduate was given a budget of $500 from his parents to use only on new experiences.
"I've been given some money and basically kicked out of the house, 'Here's your money, go do something'," he said.
"I'm still not really sure what I need to do, but my parents said 'That's okay, just go somewhere ... you find something for you'."
Across the country, about 30,000 students book with the travel agent website Schoolies.com each year, including 28 per cent from NSW.
"The Gold Coast is still far and away the most popular destination for Schoolies, other popular destinations are Byron Bay and Airlie Beach," a spokesperson for Schoolies.com said.
About 90 per cent of the school leavers booking through the website are staying at the Gold Coast.
Volunteers from Red Frogs Australia attend 14 popular schoolies locations to support young people by making pancakes, walking them home and providing emotional support.
"The most popular destination remains to be the Gold Coast, but we are seeing an increase in Fiji as a destination this year also," a spokesperson for Red Frogs Australia said.
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