They were calling it a one in eighty five year event – a wind and swell combination of epic proportions.
If you live on the east coast of Australia then you are familiar with forecasts not delivering to expectation. They either fade away before arriving or come with hideous wind and directional issues.
Not this one.
On Sunday the swell has arrived along with gale force onshore winds and rain. The ocean was very very angry and unleashing that full fury on the coastline. Millionaire housing rows were erased from their beach front locations along with huge edifices of shoreline. Its a level of raw energy more comparable to a winter storm steam rolling out of Antarctica into the tip of Africa than the eastern seaboard of Australia.
We spend the day tracking the upward trajectory of the wave buoys and the offshore wind down the coastline in hope and trepidation. By dark it has got as far as Newcastle and by 7:48pm it finally swings. Most of the wave buoys are already offline. There is the sort of hesitant, nervous realization that this is really going to happen. The physical and mental preparation begins, big boards, leashes and flotation if you have it. The visualization and story boarding of situations and outcomes in your head. Its a model that runs late into the night. The wave buoy has climbed to 10m.
Monday is filled with expectation, sleep was hard and most the crew are already on the WhatsApp blower before light. 8’8 gun in the car, I head to Fairy Bower parking lot for the agreed 6:30am meet.
The Bower parking is heaving with buzzing excitement and the whiff of brown adrenalin. There are big, clean swell lines sweeping round the point and into the bay. From a distance, the bombie looks pretty unruly with giant waves breaking the width of a football field. Deadmans is for dead men and Winki is turning itself inside out. Bower looks to be the pick and we start to wax up the big boards. Zeb Taylor, Pete James and myself head in first with Joel Menz and Ash Boler behind.
Paddling out from Shelly beach was an experience - its the first time I have ever had to negotiate a 2ft shore break at a land facing beach! We paddle through the sea foam soup and standing waves being generated by the contention of the sheer water mass moving around. The sea is full of debris and I imagine we are paddling through the remnants of the nearby devastated Bower café.
The crowd on the Bower is already filling in with big wave hungry hellmen and those out there for the view and a shot of that good old brown adrenalin. I manage to sneak 3 waves through the building pack. It feels good to get a few under the belt and an obligatory pounding on the inside. Zeb and Pete call it a session and head in. While Joel and Ash have already been co-oerced out to the Queenscliff Bombora.
Looking over, I can see a few small dots representing humans blinking in and out of the rolling dark watery mountain ranges and their wispy tops. Its always a long paddle but today, between those big sets it just feels that much longer.
Joel, Ash, Stefan Marseller and Sam Day are in the lineup. I don’t know the other guys but we are all sitting a long way out to sea. Its the nervy stance of the deer who have scented the approaching wolves.
The first 10-12ft sets come through, draw off the bowl and then proceed to freight train barrel through. Its crazy and unlike anything I have ever seen.
While most bide their time, Stefan and Sam are having a dig at everything that swings through. Its inspiring stuff and pushes the pack to get more involved.
With the bowl so defined, I paddle in for a smaller one. As I take off, there is a bit of wind up the face causing me to lose contact with the board – the good news is I find it again but the bad news, its in the side of the arm.
3 sets on the head later, flogging out the way, the arm still works and I head back out.
In between waves, we sit there waiting – the horizon bulges and there is a mad scramble out to sea.
The only way I can describe what happened next, is to compare it to the movie The Hobbit. There is that scene, where the hobbit is climbing through the treasure in the old dwarven ruin and all of a sudden the treasure begins to shift, move and rise around him. Beneath it, an enormous dragon is stirring and bit by bit, its vast girth is revealed as it shakes its way from under the gold.
This wave is the drake and I’m the hobbit shitting himself. Staring at that dark, slabbing behemoth as it ascends out of the deep and transforms into a vast roaring cavern – was like gazing directly into the emerald eye of the dragon – its completely spellbinding and you dont want to blink or look away in case it devours you alive.
This wave is the drake and I’m the hobbit shitting himself.
Its easily the biggest wave I have ever seen up close and in its green hue could be easily be mistaken for a Mavericks cover shot. Stefan gets an even closer look as he is forced to dive off the front of his board and through the barrel to escape under its thunderous lip. I still don’t know how he didn’t get completely immolated in the process but he survives.
The entire lineup is in shocked awe at the raw power on display.
A few sets come through and a dark peak shifts up toward the bowl. Now or never – this is my turn. Head down I paddle and feel the surge forward as the board accelerates. Popping up I set my feet and can feel the rail knife in for the drop. Its a bottom turn that is over in a nano moment but feels like minutes. The wave face is enormous and I can feel the thunder running through it. In that elongated, frozen moment I look at the looming section and a voice in my head goes “going to get the biggest barrel of my life”
While already contemplating my victory lap, I lose the rail to forces undefined (kook) and plunge into the wave face. This is going to get ugly, so I pull into a ball and prepare to equalize as the wave draws and squares me up. The compression on impact is incredible, my Surf Ears are ripped out and my FCS leash separates instantaneously. Without the board I get driven deep and end up equalizing twice before the ragdolling eases up. All that free diving is paying off!
Without the leash to climb, its a laborious swim upward through the heavily aerated water. Hitting the surface I check for another wave before taking a breath. Not only is the board separated from me but its torn in half with only the rear section in sight.
The paddle out was long – its even longer heading back on only 5ft of broken fiberglass. On the upside I make the Channel 7 News – guess thats my 5 sec of fame done!
Still stoked on catching that wave. A once in eighty five years event for the moment of a lifetime. Totally worth it
|Has spent over 30 years of his middle aged life trying to spend more time in the ocean. Likes to surf, bodysurf, free dive and pretend he enjoys chasing big waves.|