• "Just come on over, there's been waves every day!"

    The tone of the message was chipper but the reply required some tact. After all, as every surfer knows, there are waves and then there are waves, and for this trip we most definitely sought the latter. While it sounds awfully haughty, only the best would do. So we gave our non-surfing island contact a discrete explanation on the subtleties of wave quality, and went back to watching the weather patterns.

    Twice we'd almost pulled the trigger on this trip, but both times a duck would fall out of line: the storm would be downgraded or the forecast winds would change. Everyone grew weary of last minute no shows, yet we grimly held tight while our island connection grew increasingly frustrated – there'd been waves every day!

    The trip was a combined project between Swellnet, photographer Ed Sloane, Rip Curl, and the island tourism board. Each had a role to play and ours was to keep an eye on successive Southern Ocean storms, follow their track, and then predict the outcome.

    Late last month a promising storm appeared on the model runs, all parties were notified and like generals before battle they were given six hourly updates. It was late in the season, there'd be little chance of another swell after this one, but each directive reported it holding true to early predictions. A tight cluster of isobars trailed deep into the Southern Ocean with perfect alignment back towards land. This storm looked to be the one.

    It was, however, gonna be tight. Monday was the glory day yet by Friday a firm decision still hadn't been made by all parties: flights had to be booked, accommodation found, transport too, and most importantly, Rip Curl, who were stumping up the talent, were yet to assemble a team.

    The call came through early afternoon on Saturday, about the same time as the Geelong Cats were running onto Kardinia Park. From high in the stands, Neil at Rip Curl called to say he'd lined up a crack grom squad in Harry Bryant, Jackson Baker, and Joe Van Dijk. Each surfer was scrambling, the plane would fly tomorrow. The trip was finally on!....despite the fact there'd been waves every day.

  • When an incredible storm presents itself on the wave models, surf forecasters are prone to tunnel vision, little else besides size, period, and direction is registered by those screen-bound boffins. But ask yourself, what else needs to be known? Local wind speeds? Temperature? Got nothin' to do with the waves, all that stuff is meaningless.

    ...but not when you're flying headlong into the teeth of the incredible storm it isn't. Or when the surface winds are blowing over 90 km/h across the airstrip forcing the six seat Cessna into a crab ways landing. Local winds sure aren't meaningless then, and nor are the temperatures when, after the first night, the island residents wake to the coldest morning in living memory. Harry, Jackson, and Joe are shocked. They've never been that cold.

    The temperature at sunrise was 3 degrees but the apparent temperature – the wind chill – was a frigid minus 9. Snow fell across the island, including the beaches, and even during the warmest part of the day the mercury barely nudged over 10 degrees before descending back toward zero again.

    “If it wasn't for the waves,” said Harry, “there's no way we would've gone out.”

  • The island's premier wave is, somewhat surprisingly, a beachbreak. At these latitudes, wild storms lend themselves to slab reefs and sheltered points, and the island has a few of those, yet on the north east coast is a long beach that benefits from a rare assembly of natural features.

    Large south west swells wrap around the top of the island crossing shallower water as they do. The underwater topography – whatever mountains and valleys lay down there below the surface – cause the refracted lines of swell to split, bend, and then approach the beach at various angles of incident.

    “The trick” says Harry, “is to judge where the wedges are going to meet and be in that place. They're semi-random but if you watch them long enough you can see the pattern.”

    Where the waves meet they stand up in a wedge, jack quickly in size, then offer a side-splitting barrel each way. It's not easy pickings though, the lineup is dynamic and the sweep relentless. “You really have to hunt down the best ones,” says Harry.

    The waves are a fraction the size of those hitting the exposed coast, refraction withers away at the swell lines. Yet these waves have wrapped 180 degrees breaking back into the wind that created them. The whole beach is offshore. And though the wave size varied, for the entire duration of their trip the beach remained just that – offshore.

  • The island isn't a secret, it's been surfed since the 60s, and even went through a sunshine period in the 90s when it became a favoured getaway for pro surfers. Kelly Slater, Tom Curren, and Derek Hynd have all made numerous trips to the island.

    Joe Van Dijk grew up hearing stories about the island, but those stories didn't star the aforementioned pros, rather they were firsthand stories from Joe's dad Robbie. Robbie Van Dijk was a Bass Strait shark fisherman in the 70s and 80s when he surfed the island's best waves off the back of a boat.

    Joe is clearly proud of his old man and his early forays in these waters. For years Robbie did the rounds of this island and the islands further to the east, chasing sharks and surfing desolate, little-known reefbreaks. “Yeah, they're out there...” says Joe, his voice trailing off.

    But did he mean sharks or lonesome reefbreaks? I leave the question hanging, figuring it's best to leave some mystery either way.

  • When Slater and Curren and Hynd were visiting in the 90s it seemed the island was on the edge of real exposure. After seeing this beautiful untouched outpost the hordes would surely come, and yet now, almost twenty years later, crowds are still a rarity. In fact our crew only saw a handful of people surfing at all, which may have had something to do with the Antarctic temperatures, though that's the exact same reason the hordes have stayed away – when there's swell it's often frosty.

    The locals who stay, who hole up through winter and see out the relentless south west gales, who eke out a living on the land or in the few industries, are a hardy breed indeed, and they certainly deserve their waves.

    Every surfer has their own vision of Eden, and the local surfers have found theirs, yet their surfing arcadia is forever imperilled by crowds coming from the north and the south. It hasn't happened yet but it might and the thought causes anguish.

    To complicate matters further, the economy of the island is shaky and tourism is seen as a financial salve – including surf tourism. The surfing locals we spoke to were conflicted about a potential rise in visitors.

    “It's gotta be done the right way,” said one local. “The local businesses have to benefit.” He worked at a company that stood to benefit from increased tourism so accepted the pragmatic reasons, and yet he shunned a carte blanche approach. “It's all about finding the right balance.”

  • Once, while searching for waves on the southern part of the island, the lads were brought up short by a locked gate. The surf might be pumping on the other side but they'd never know, the only access to it was through the gate.

    One of their hosts knew who owned the property, so they darted back up the road to a phone booth, found old mate's name in the book and gave him a call. A short explanation, followed by an equally short wait, and the gate was being cheerfully opened. “Come on through fellas!”

    The crew experienced similar displays of hospitality all over the island. While surfing the beachbreak the mayor of the island walked over the dune with a bunch of schoolkids to watch the show. They later bumped into the mayor in the local pie shop – as you do.

    “They're a proud bunch.” said Harry of the island's locals. “Very self-sufficient but happy to see new faces. We were treated like that wherever we went.”

  • As cheerful as the locals are the island is suffering an existential crisis of sorts. “We need at least 1,000 people on the island to make business here viable,” says Jim Benn, a local councillor, “and we've currently got 1,200. Now, if the dairy were to close, well...” Jim allows the thought to drift away, as if it's too uncomfortable to give voice to.

    King Island Dairy is the main employer on the island, producing and exporting the products the island is famous for. The business community would like to shore up their future and to this end various projects have been proposed in recent years, each with the goal of stimulating local business. In 2013 a wind farm was planned, and then subsequently dumped amid green energy politics, a tungsten mine in the island's south-east that closed in the early 90s is awaiting final approval to re-open, and recently a pair of golf courses – that cost private investors $27 million! - were built on the island.

    Many folk are pinning their hopes on golf tourism to resurrect the island's fortunes. “But that's a summer thing,” says Councillor Jim, “and the winters here can be long, but as you've seen they can be incredibly good for surfers.”

  • Swellnet would like to send out a special thanks to these people for helping make the trip happen:

                Ed Sloane Photography
                Neil and Flano from Rip Curl
                Eddie from King Island Surf Safaris
                Colin from Vortex Air
                Jim Benn from King Island Tourism
                And the entire King Island community for their unbelievable hospitality.

Comments

idontsurf's picture
idontsurf's picture
idontsurf commented Thursday, 20 Aug 2015 at 4:06pm

I didn't realise swellnet gives a surf forecast for this place!

WarHawk's picture
WarHawk's picture
WarHawk commented Thursday, 20 Aug 2015 at 4:33pm

Cool article. Cool story. Does the eastern side still benefit from swells in the warmer months? Would love to make the trip from vic. See the dairy and beef available. Spend some good time down there. Better bring the golf clubs too i suppose.

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Thursday, 20 Aug 2015 at 5:05pm

Yeah it picks up SE-E/SE windswells through summer, you just need a wind change to clean it up.

Dave The Troll's picture
Dave The Troll's picture
Dave The Troll commented Saturday, 22 Aug 2015 at 2:10pm

East coast waves few and far between - perfect shape but tiny - caught Naracoopa once about 6-8' rolling down shore towards jetty - but there was a huge, deep low that sat between Oz and NZ for about 5 days generating swell - lasted one afternoon! - snapped 2 boards!
Occasional waves at City of Melbourne bay.

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Thursday, 20 Aug 2015 at 4:45pm

Great article and beautiful photos.

And the cheese from there is first rate!

Watashi wa metabo oyagi desu.

clif's picture
clif's picture
clif commented Thursday, 20 Aug 2015 at 8:29pm

You've blown a secret spot! How dare you!? What right do you have!? It's an outrage!

"Don't try. That's very important: not to try." Charles Bukowski

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Thursday, 20 Aug 2015 at 9:13pm

...and we're going to NE England next. Nothing is sacred.

esky_lide's picture
esky_lide's picture
esky_lide commented Friday, 21 Aug 2015 at 8:02am

Dont even think about exposing that coast. So desperate for clicks onto your site that you need to expose places that don't even come up on most surfers radar or knowledge.
How about putting money and time into fixing Australia's east coast wave predictions. Still get massive variances in south swells compared to what your charts say. And perhaps money would be better spent if you could get somebody to actually 'observe' the 'observed' spots at 7am instead of having the same guy give a generic 'observed surf report' for the whole region of Sydney's beaches to Newcastle. Perhaps get him to actually check the surf instead of checking cams. Or just don't report it and wait for the 8am actual report with real photos. Then you will get more clicks from me.

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo commented Friday, 21 Aug 2015 at 8:12am

How about you ride your esky lid all the way over to coastalwatch and stay there.

geoffrey's picture
geoffrey's picture
geoffrey commented Friday, 21 Aug 2015 at 10:30am

classic reply!!!! hows this bloke wanting more accurate and exact surf reports from the people who check it for him but doesnt want other spots exposed. think you need to pick a side before you go to battle big fella.

Blob's picture
Blob's picture
Blob commented Saturday, 5 Sep 2015 at 7:12am

Valuable feedback I reckon. Fridays rating was 2 or 3 out of ten but it was probably twice as good as that. Swell could have jumped mid morning though...

upnorth's picture
upnorth's picture
upnorth commented Friday, 21 Aug 2015 at 4:12pm

stunet wrote:

...and we're going to NE England next. Nothing is sacred.

No need to make such a long trip, a word from one of the local crew should tell you all you need to know.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ZMBJeFkOUDk

Dave The Troll's picture
Dave The Troll's picture
Dave The Troll commented Saturday, 22 Aug 2015 at 2:17pm

Strange!! .... it was a secret in 75 when I first went there - it periodically shows up in surf mags as new generations rediscover it - and then it becomes secret again - KI has a magic and wildness of its own that defies exploitation - it's not for the faint-hearted - I hope it stays a well-known secret for those intrepid enough to experience it

deckstrus's picture
deckstrus's picture
deckstrus commented Thursday, 20 Aug 2015 at 8:39pm

Great article!!!

Small typo though - 2nd last parra - last sentence "recently a pair of gold courses" (perhaps a smarter investment!) but I guess you meant golf :)

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Thursday, 20 Aug 2015 at 9:12pm

Thanks for the proof read Deckstrus, I only checked it 57 times.

locii's picture
locii's picture
locii commented Thursday, 20 Aug 2015 at 10:01pm

And one more ... not that I want to turn this into a spelling bee.

Every surfer has their own vision of Eden, and the local surfers have found there's,

should read:

Every surfer has their own vision of Eden, and the local surfers have found theirs,

Thanks for the beautiful article.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Thursday, 20 Aug 2015 at 10:07pm

Now that's just embarrassing.

Fixed it and flagellating myself.

uncle_leroy's picture
uncle_leroy's picture
uncle_leroy commented Thursday, 20 Aug 2015 at 9:46pm

How old are the groms?
Last photo, def looks like beer and emptys on the sand
Wouldn't want mum finding out.......

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Thursday, 20 Aug 2015 at 9:52pm

I like the layout too. Kind of got a bit of a Surfers Journal feel to it.

(either that, or the Windows 10 upgrade has altered the font?)

Watashi wa metabo oyagi desu.

adzy4558's picture
adzy4558's picture
adzy4558 commented Thursday, 20 Aug 2015 at 10:39pm

The island should stay the way it is. U make out that your good samaritains for going there and surfing there then exposing it just to get a good story. You are just another bunch of dudes trying to make a name for themselves and that goes for that stupid ki surf safaris who aren't even locals so most of the money goes off island anyway, if you going to go there surf and expose it at least own the fact that thats all you are doing there nothing else. If they really cared about the island the good people and real surfers that live there then really experience it and give back to the island. Any surfer would know that the surfers on the island wouldn't want more surfers there. Its remote, windy, cold, expensive and it should stay the way it is, not over populated so that it makes it a more special place to visit. 

freddieffer's picture
freddieffer's picture
freddieffer commented Sunday, 23 Aug 2015 at 10:51am

Thanks for the awesome story and photos boys.
Will take the missus and make the island my next holiday.......... in the 2015/2016 summer.

omnia's picture
omnia's picture
omnia commented Thursday, 20 Aug 2015 at 11:05pm

Great piece, and the island will be better-off for it. The Bass Straight islands and Tasmania need more exposure, they are great wildernesses with huge potential for adventure tourism such as this article is based on. There are tons of waves going unridden every day and we only ask for quiet respect from blow-ins.

omnia

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Friday, 21 Aug 2015 at 7:14am

Don't think surf tourism is going to take off there. That hero wave doesn't break often enough and the open, exposed side of the island is just hard work.
I went there with the family with a view to living there and the local people were nothing but friendly and hospitable and worried that the islands shrinking population might see essential services shut down.
Spent 3 days driving around the Island from dawn to dusk and didn't see another surfer. Had some small fun waves with not a soul in sight.
Amazing part of Aus and the cheese factory is worth the cessna ride in.
Still a part of me wouldn't mind collecting kelp as a way to make a buck. Too cold, too remote, too inconsistent for this soft cock to move from the north coast.

btw, amazing shots Ed Sloane.

Smitdoggie's picture
Smitdoggie's picture
Smitdoggie commented Friday, 21 Aug 2015 at 11:32am

Had a brief work trip to the Island many years ago. Felt like an Australia long since forgotten in the cities. The best cheese and yoghurt EVER. Still ashamed of my display of gluttony that day. Great place and great story.

cjac6077's picture
cjac6077's picture
cjac6077 commented Friday, 21 Aug 2015 at 11:46am

Great piece and an impressive display of grammar critique from the gallery. I'm curious about the apostrophe in 'winter's' ... "says Councillor Jim, “and the winter's here can be long, but as you've seen they can be incredibly good for surfers.” "

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Friday, 21 Aug 2015 at 11:50am

What apostrophe? You must be seeing things cjac...

Andy_Chiz's picture
Andy_Chiz's picture
Andy_Chiz commented Friday, 21 Aug 2015 at 4:12pm

No mention of the main man who used to grace the shores of King. Would be nice if it wasn't named

SeanDavey's picture
SeanDavey's picture
SeanDavey commented Sunday, 23 Aug 2015 at 8:08am

Yeah. I'm with Andy Chiz on this one.

rh-taxi's picture
rh-taxi's picture
rh-taxi commented Sunday, 23 Aug 2015 at 9:02am

Gotta keep the sponsors and clueless happy I guess, who's exposed next?

garyg1412's picture
garyg1412's picture
garyg1412 commented Monday, 24 Aug 2015 at 4:15pm

All I can say to potential blow ins is if you're game enough to experience a crab landing at this airport in a 6 seater Cessna in 90km/h winds with hail hitting the windscreen then you deserve some reward. Actually come to think of it you would be safer to keep heading south and surf 15 foot Shipsterns!!!

wellymon's picture
wellymon's picture
wellymon commented Sunday, 6 Sep 2015 at 12:56pm

Geez spelling Bee's all round.

Great article, great shots, great place, great stuff

Our brains are too small at the moment to comprehend the reality of what's happening in our forests . We're only just waking up so to speak . The big problem is we think we know everything, we are specks of dust on a timeline and we know nothing .