For many here 6/7 ft is pretty much not a big deal. For me it is.
I paddled out over the weekend into 6 ft +...I made excuses for an hour, had a coffee, was going to go home but eventually thought fuck it...got changed and headed out.
I can say...I was shit scared and got 3 bombs on my head. I got under the 1st..half under the 2nd and dragged back over the falls...and on the 3rd bailed my board and thought I was going to drown.
Sat around for 60 minutes, pretended to not make the 1st couple of 6ft waves.
Once again, though fuck it...paddled into the next 6ft..dropped in..bottom turn..set a rail...was pretty good. Got 2 more waves..went in exhausted.
It's pretty fucking epic to finally surf...what I call BIG.
Who remember their first time being scared but pushing through it.
Yes when I lived in Yamba many years ago some locals took me out to a break called spookies where I road a semi gun for the first time. I remember spending the first hour sitting on the outside dodging rogue sets until I was inevitably caught in the inside with the locals on the outside paddling back out looking at me screaming go as some big sets rolling in.
Once I started paddling I felt the speed build up underneath me which was so different from the usual shortboards I was surfing and the feeling of racing down the huge face was really something I will never forget.
Shortly later I ended up in the same position again, except this time I was too far in the inside and the set that was coming was so fucking massive I had never seen anything so big before and it was already starting to feather some way out I knew I was going to get it, in fact, I honestly thought that this could be the end, my heart was so far in my mouth I just couldn't breathe I just froze and then in slow motion, I bailed off my board and I tried to swim as far down as possible even though I knew it was going to be useless to avoid what was coming. The beating was quite bad and I did lose my board and ended up floating back to the beach where I was still shaking when I got out.
After spending a lot of time now in Indo and gradually working my way back up, I have reached the conclusion that the experience for me is really only mental and once you let go of your preconceived ideas of how a massive set may treat you if you are in the wrong position makes it easier to surf bigger waves IMO.
Good onya RK
Great story mickseq. It’s just getting that scary factor mastered. It gets less intimidating each time. I personally have reached my size limit and are happy in anything up to 6/7. Any bigger and I will leave that to a younger fitter crew.
"After spending a lot of time now in Indo and gradually working my way back up, I have reached the conclusion that the experience for me is really only mental and once you let go of your preconceived ideas of how a massive set may treat you if you are in the wrong position makes it easier to surf bigger waves IMO."
Not really. Once you get a two wave hold down or really slammed into a reef trying to tube-ride big surf you quickly realise there are very real physical consequences.
Size is only one factor big difference between a six foot sand bottom wave that is below 14 seconds to a 6ft coral reef wave that is 14+ seconds.
Obviously shape is also a big factor and water depth etc even water temp, not to mention amount of water moving around.
This is a LONG WAY out of the range of what most of us will surf, but Nate Florence has some decent advice about handling big wipeouts.
That was decent. Also his one about duckdiving vs bailing was good. https://m.
heart pounding after watching that.
Nathan Florence is unbelievable, he is on a higher level
To me personally,it's not really the size of waves,its the bottom, and how and shallow it is and speed u are travelling, I was at g-land in my early 20's and was travelling on a double up speedys is known for and I just drove and drove and drove,it was such a good view but I couldn't enjoy it cuz of how dangerous it was getting,my face must of been a look of horror cuz I knew I wasn't gonna make it when it ran past me, to my horror when the shocky hit I bounced up and could see how shallow it was,I braced and didn't hit too bad,! Popped up to hoots and everyone cheering and stoked onlookers, I could not believe I escaped serious injury!! people get messed up at g-land
I was reliving this in my head that night in my mozzie net and I tensed up still can't believe how lucky I was
Next day I shoulder hopped, my mind getting better of me,I couldn't put myself in that position again, went home that year with my mind playing games,it took a couple of years to get back to that gear with hollow, shallow waves from before that session in g-land. I still think mind plays up on me,
Love the G-Land story lottolonglong - can picture all that unfolding. Had a few lesser versions of that happen to me on down the line waves and holy shit the panic that takes over you when you realise there's no way out.
And totally agree with your Freeride. I got caught thinking that it was largely a mental game until a genuinely terrifying top to bottom 8 foot set shook me out of it and I was reminded of the raw unrelenting power of the ocean. Sometimes it feels like the ocean responds to you in some ways, but when sets like that charge down a reef, I felt very very very small and very very very scared. Hate to think what could have happened if I'd been 10m further inside or a bigger wave had been behind it.
I love how relative it all is. Sure there is an elite where fear kicks in at the 20ft mark...but for many its relative to what you've seen. I remember being out at Cloudbreak with 8ft+ sets closing out the pack...duck diving walls of stream training whitewater just thinking "do...not...let...go...".
Im sure I had compression marks in the rails from being spun upside down..."Jesus! marks" we used to call them a kids.You only not how hard you were clinging on once the adrenalin subsides!
For me it was when I was a 12YO at big aussie pipe many many years ago... I remember some blokes saying to me in the line up "you shouldn't be out here" … I caught a set wave terrified got a big barrel that spat and made it. I was hooked ever since.
I still get scared up in NW WA every year and when surfing big deep water open ocean waves in SW WA. I think your tolerance increases as you do it more , get uncomfortable the start all over again … I still enjoy the butterflies at 40 YO
Loving everyone’s perspectives. Thanks for the stories.
I was younger, first surf trip further than a roady down the coast. First time surfing coral reefs.
My brother and I went to the mentawais. Had started to cut my teeth on relatively benign and manageable days at places like Lance’s left and thunders. Finally an opportunity at Lance’s Right came up. Not a drop out of place, perfect Lances, only problem for this first timer it was 6 foot.
I can remember never feeling so scared in a lineup. There was nowhere to hide. It was you and the peak come barrel or you and the peak come surgeon’s table. No shoulder hopping, no smaller ones to ease into and only a handleful out.
Suffice to say only made one wave, second attempt got flogged and subsequently spooked enough to head back to the boat and cheer on those experienced enough.
..........what I wouldn’t give for a day like that now
Playing with the right, caught on the inside at Mains with an 8'6" and quadruple/quintuple overhead square barrels lining me up. Terrifying. Got sucked over in the lip of one. So much adrenaline was almost vomiting. Paddled back out and got a bomb from even deeper :-)
I remember my first time being out of my comfort zone and surfing a foreign wave on a moody, overcast but pumping day.
It was a weekend trip away, 3 hours from Adelaide with one of my good mates. Pumping and solid Pondie for the late session on a Friday evening before my mate got slammed by the shorey right, dislocating his shoulder and unable to get it back in. Even with guys on the boardwalk trying to force it in unkind ways. Glad they didn't budge it as they would have broken his shoulder!
So the long drive to Yorketown hospital, a longneck picked up along the way to try and ease the pain and take the mind off it. Over an hour later, we went into the hospital and the nurse told us the doctor wasn't far off, he lives across the road. Perfect, well old mate must have just been finishing off a nice bottle of red or something as he took 45mins to show up and then worked the shoulder back into place, over 2 hours since it first popped out.
I was ready to go home to Adelaide but my mate knowing how good the waves were going to be the next day said nah mate, pain killers will sort me, I'll just sit on the cliffs and take some snaps. What a legend!
We set up camp above the regions Surfing Reserve and come the next morning, SH was kinda busy and to the left there was sand packed in where it's usually scarce. A big long and fast right-hander just like Winki was breaking into the beach and with only one or two others out (can't quite remember).
Fumbling for a rock -ff access point I found a key hole and paddled out. It was a lot bigger than I thought it was from up on the cliffs, 6ft to nearly 8ft and the biggest surf I'd been in. I remember not making a couple and being held under in boily water for much longer than ever before, not even certain what was below me. Counting to 10 and trying to relax while climbing the leggy a few times. It was scary but also epic as I worked my way into the best waves I'd have yet to ridden.
My mate got some snaps and this is on of them from that morning.. Nothing great but seeing as this was the first sizey surf I had been in, it's got some nostalgic value.
Thanks all for stories...good to read all the experiences.
Love to add my own but I’ve never been scared out in the surf....
It seems like every year I return to the Nth West there’s decent swell hitting when I arrive . After spending the drive there reliving past glories in my mind and trying to refire the muscle memory needed to surf those waves , I invariably reach the lineup and feel like I’m surfing it for the first time. And I’m always intimidated.
I’ll spot crew I know and they’ll ask as they paddle back to the takeoff..” what the fuck are you doing out here ? “ and I’ll be forced to admit that I’m way out on the shoulder. Every time.
A few surfs later and it’s back in the groove and getting the confidence back.
By the end of each stint I’m paddling past the new fish in camp and laughing at them cowering on the shoulder and try to convince myself that I’ll never be back there.
Day one , next season...” Are these waves somehow more intense than last year ?”
Haha Blowin - relate so well to that. Got to Ulus last season on a big swell, outside corner breaking, low tide, had slept about 5 hours in the last two days. I could tell if I started the whole "just going to watch for a bit" routine I'd be there all morning so I just went out. As soon as the sweep took hold of me and I started the ordeal of paddling out I was asking myself "holy shit, has it always been this hard or am I just really unfit? How the hell am I going to get back in!?"
Nice Craig! How long ago was that? Have never surfed that spot and for that matter haven't really seen it breaking properly. Looks like it'd get big and lonely. And feel sharky AF.
Certainly puts it into perspective when the Pipe Masters is on and they’re rabbiting on about how it’s some rookie competitor’s first time out there and it’s bombing.
Amazing skill set , extreme fitness ....doesn’t matter. They’d be shitting themselves.
Craig’s wave does look nice.
Yeah I thought it might have been around then.
I hope you bought your mate a few more beers for sticking around!
This is like that Canadian Club add where someone says "I dont like beer..." and everyone finally owns up. Theres so much bravado in surfing that growing up you felt like a failure if you weren't paddling out in all circumstances....now someone says "I'm freaking out when its double overhead"" and all these cool tales come out. I love it. Makes you feel normal!!
a few years ago, i blacked out, regained consciousness washed up on shore and having a seizure. still pretty skittish around anything of size. just the smell of the sunscreen i was wearing that day gives me a sense of dread.
Had some wipeouts at Main break Margs and Ulu's will stick in my head forever. I'm missing the big stuff on the east coast!
Wow chook, mind sharing the story?
Great thread, and some great stories here crew.
"Who remembers their first time being scared but pushing through it."
For me, that'd be a session out at box head when I was 14, way out of my comfort zone. Picture spooky brown water, the kind where you can't see your legs when you're sitting on your board, slight onshore breeze, waves breaking a long, long way out from any shore (for anyone who knows the spot, it was breaking out past the outside channel buouy). Big too - we got the water taxi across from palmy and there were waves breaking off lion island that must have been 10-15ft (though memory may have embellished that). Box itself would have been 8-10ft, maybe bigger.
Only a handful of guys out, and with the length of that wave, you can go a long time without seeing anyone else.
First wave, just after jumping off the taxi, I was too deep and too late, but my old man and uncle were hooting and calling me into it. Pitched. Didn't even get to my feet. I expected that I'd hit the bottom, but nope! Instead, I was held under and dragged for what seemed like a minute (probably 30s in reality). When the wave finally released me I was full-blown panicking. Couldn't see which way was up, didn't have the presence of mind to feel for my leggie. Guessed a direction and swam; turned out that direction was down.
Eventually got to the surface, just in time for the second wave to hit. Rinse and repeat. Managed to get a few breaths after the second wave, and then managed to get washed to the channel. Long, slow paddle back out against the tide. Sat on the shoulder for at least an hour after that, in full on fight-flight-or-freeze mode. Eventually summoned the courage (and recovered the energy) to have another crack. This time, I was in the right spot. The wave linked all the way through to Umina beach -longest wave I have ever ridden to this day, by far. And yet I didn't do a single turn; just set a line and trimmed. Too scared of falling again!
Water taxi was there to pick us up by the time I got back out, so no more after that.
In a funny way, that session has been a great comfort to me ever since. Any time I'm in bigger waves (relative to my experience); knowing that I got through that unscathed as a panicked 14 year old kook helps me stay calm, knowing I'm a hell of a lot fitter and more experienced now than then.
Far out chook, that's heavy.
If it's affecting you, might be worth seeing a psych to work through it.
there's not much more to the story...it was no big day at ulus or sunset.
just a summer morning a with a cyclone swell at a sydney beach -- a novelty wave at that. set twice the size came through. after getting under a few waves, panicked and tried to ride one in.
the weird thing was how normal everything was on the beach after i came to. mum and babe playing in the sand. girlfriend wanders back from the cafe with a coffee. "how was your surf?"
pops - yeah, pyschologist might be a good idea. although there's plenty else to work through before we get around to "the wave".
Early morning desert point, really inconsistent,whirl pools and current running thru the lineup.We jumped off the dingy only 3 of us out ....knew there were waves around 6ft coming thru in 5 wave sets.Another guy gets dropped off 15 meters inside......just as a set is coming but a whirlpool has him within arms length of me in seconds.Sets stacking up and wer'e all caught inside ,ducked dive first wave and ol mate is banging into me under water,got to the surface next wave bearing down, ,tell him to fuk off(really not his fault...i think )shoulder to shoulder under we go but hes let go of his board and now the things wrapped around my legs,cant kick and starting to panic,hit the surface and tell him to undo his legrope otherwise its lights out cause the 3rd wave is upon us .Down again im seriously fucked by now but his board releases underwater and so does he .Now washed in away from the worst of it .... floated into the beach totally fuked,board with a hole right thru it fin missing but couldn't believe my luck...never saw ol mate again so not sure what happened to him but that was it for me that day and didn't catch a wave.....
My first time in seriously big waves was a cyclone swell on North Straddie when I was about 14-15, so I'd only been surfing for 2-3 years at that point. The waves were capital-S Solid out of the ENE and were wrapping around the very NE corner of the island then running for hundreds of metres into the rocks at...
Look, the breaks at Straddie are that well known that I wouldn't be giving away any secrets by naming them, but I just can't bring myself to type the words. Look at Google Maps and you'll work it out pretty quickly...
My three older brothers all surfed, but for some reason they all found good reasons not to paddle out that day. I ummed and ahhhed for about half an hour, but I finally decided I'd kick myself forever if I didn't give it a crack, so I grabbed my board, ran up to the point and paddled out in the lee of the rocks offshore. Somehow I made it out before the next set hit, which was good, because when it arrived the waves were at least double or even triple overhead. I was shitting myself - way out of my depth and jittery as all fuck with all the adrenaline coursing through my veins.
I sat out the back for at least two hours, paddling for the horizon whenever a set appeared, not even thinking about actually catching a wave, just in pure survival mode. Eventually though, the chemicals wore off and I figured it was about time to man up, so I paddled in to where everyone else was sitting, and waited for my turn. It came not too long after. The crew was spread out over a pretty wide playing field, given the size of the swell, and when the set came through I happened to be right there in the spot. I paddled like a mofo and forced myself to keep going when the wave jacked, hardly able to believe how far down it looked as I felt myself pushed over the ledge. I swear my toenails left indents in the fibreglass, gripping for everything they were worth when I stood and freefell into the abyss, but somehow I made the drop and was off.
The ride itself wasn't particular memorable for any huge arcing turns or stalls under the lip, but I rode that bastard all the way in to the shore, just trying to stay with the power source and keeping out of reach of the whitewash. One wave caught in about three hours of surfing, but I never for a moment felt like I hadn't achieved something and I still remember every single instant of that ride almost 30 years later.
Nice one surf starved, the way big swells unload at back bank Main on Stradbroke is so open ocean, the amount of water moving is something else. Seeing those things march in and line you up is bloody intimidating. Deep water hold-downs are a given, you can spend a long time underwater on only 6ft days.
One day back in the mid-nineties a mate and I paddled out down the beach on a big heavy south swell. Looked about 8ft from the beach and I was already nervous surfing a top to bottom beachie at this size.
We’d just got out to what we thought was the back when we saw a beast on the horizon, we could see this thing coming from hundreds of meters away. Paddled our arses off and just managed to punch through as this thing started to pitch.
Later on the beach, the fella I was with who is a commercial fisherman, free diver and hellman not prone to exaggeration was calling it 12-15ft, thick and heavy, breaking top to bottom.
The short story is, I turned around and carefully paddled straight back in - I’ve been scared by plenty of waves but I’ve never been so sure that if that particular wave had landed on me, I would have drowned.
Wise move AndyM.
No regrets and no shame Pops ;)
"He who baulks and runs away lives to fight another day" ;)
“He who hesitates is lost”
Fuck hesitating, turn around and head for the beach!
After spending the best part of 20 years living down the bottom end of Yorke’s and chasing almost every swell that formed in the Bight over that time, I have a grab bag of sketchy experiences I could relay. But the one surf that sticks in my mind for pure madness, danger and evil was a huge day in the early 2000’s at Ethels Ledge, a fickle slab of reef in the Innes National Park. The place is a swell magnet and is often good in smaller swells. When Pondie is two foot it’s usually four foot plus out at the Ledge.
I was fully expecting to surf 4 to 5ft Pondie this day but luckily I’d thrown a 6’ 10” pintail into my wagon because I thought there was a chance that the conditions and swell size was right on the threshold to surf the Ledge.
I’d been putting in plenty of time out there for the decade before and felt I had an intimate relationship with the wave. One problem was Ethel’s had received a lot of hype in the preceding few years and it was getting harder to score it without a travelling posse of wanna be pro’s turning up with photographers in tow every time it was on. It had started appearing in surf videos and magazines on a regular basis and us local surfers were calling it ‘Kodak reef’.
Even Mick Lowe, who was on a tear in his pro surfing career at the time and had earned a second place result to Rob Machado at a huge Pipe Masters event the preceding Hawaiian winter, came down with Mick Campbell and photographer Tim Jones and redefined how big Ethels Ledge could be surfed.
The day in question was the complete opposite. When I rocked into the car park a solitary vehicle was perched nose up to the edge of the cliff overlooking the wave checking out a big clean summer swell. I pulled up besides and saw it was Andy Smyth, a keen surfer from the South Coast(of Adelaide) who regularly made the 4 1/2 hour drive over to the peninsula when it was pumping.
It was about 6 to 8 foot but occasionally a bigger set that looked 10 foot would wash through. The depth of the channel next to the reef was such that it was holding but it looked as heavy as any wave I’d ever seen. If I hadn’t witnessed with my own eyes what the two Mick’s, Lowe and Campbell had taken on the summer before I would of thought it unsurfable. After a short discussion with Andy who doesn’t mind having a dig, we decided we were both keen so we suited up and paddled out.
The paddle out was deceptively easy. A huge amount of water was rushing out of the channel in between the long period sets of waves. We both got dragged out to sea beyond the impact zone before we paddled across and sat immediately behind the ledge. It was possible to paddle out wide when the bigger cleanup sets came through and we caught a few 6 foot plus waves. I really didn’t want to fall off and get caught inside so I just played it safe and I didn’t try and get as deep in the barrel as I usually would.
Before long an extra large wave came through. We both saw it coming from the proverbial mile away and scrambled out to sea as fast as we could. Ethels Ledge is the sort of wave that drops off really deep about 20 metres beyond the reef so we got to relative safety with plenty of time as a thick slab of water passed beneath us and unloaded in the zone. Then a huge volume of water blew out from behind the wave as the lip slammed into the shallow reef and, with nowhere else to go, ejected at least 10 metres in the air. Bathtub sized chunks of water were falling out of the sky as we sat out the back behind the maelstrom. It was like we were under bombardment and I had to hug my board to not get knocked off it.
At that moment I was rattled as I’d never felt that kind of energy in the ocean before. Still we both managed nervous laughter as we resolved to get the next wave in.
Once on the beach I felt a wave of euphoria rush over me to have taken it on and I felt really in touch and confident surfing out there for many years after.
Of course time catches up with us all and last summer I headed down there from my now home base on the Goldy for my annual two week pre Xmas camping trip. I had the opportunity to surf it around 5 to 6 foot with a couple of my old local mates. We all got flogged. Fuck I shit myself and wondered how I used to surf it like that......
sick story roadkill loved it.
westcape 44's dark gloomy and cross shore. 20 years on i still remember that beating.
Had a handful of surfs in the 6-8ft range and wonder how I would go if the opportunity to test the limits above that arose.
One that stands out was day 7 or so of a ten day ments trip. Knew a swell was on the way and conditions meant we found ourselves at Greenbush late that afternoon. 6ft+ and doing its thing with a rising swell. Two other boats, one Boat spectating and the peak populated by Brazilians from the other boat. They were having a dig with varying levels of success. As the light started to fade they started to transition to Bintangs so a few of us including our Aussie guide had a dig. A relatively straight forward place to get your head around in terms of mechanics but it comes down to balls in the end. I was not looking for a big one necessarily, got two that I didn’t make and you could feel the swell wanting to pulse.
Light continues to fade and it’s harder to gauge size. Black line on the horizon and the puncertainty of whether its the light or a set means we all start looking each other. Our guide calls it with a “fucken outside”, my guts drops as it’s obviously the biggest wave that afternoon and we all scramble for the horizon as the ocean seems to grow ahead of us. The wave seems to stop moving forward, goes black and just grows and stands still as the trough drops out and I just make it under that one and then more easily the next two. The first one is like a mountain exploding and that’s enough for me. Get back to the boat on dark.
Next morning is 6-8ft and proper cooking and I Paddle out and sit on the shoulder watching. Out of my interest zone that day.
Eventually we get sick of watching our guide getting the sickest waves I have ever seen and we mutiny our way to rags right in the speedboat and gorge on 4-5ft pipes for the rest of the day. Seeing green bush like that in the morning into surfing the most perfect barrels I ever have at rags still ranks probably the best full surfing day of my life.
Would love to see what I would do in that size and scale again four years on. Like to think I’d have a closer look.
Loving these stories.
Yorkessurfer, I was down there when the Micks hit it and had a couple of surfs with them (well I was shoulder hopping and they were sitting incredibly deep). I was a naive 17 year old lidder at the time. Had one morning before they came out when I thought I was going to drown. Worst beating I’d had up til then. The day before or after we all got some sick ones which I still remember. There’s something about pulling in there and seeing the headland in the distance.
Surfed there just before Christmas (I’m Vic based now so only get to Yorkes once a year) and we had the ledge one morning. No one out. Solid early on a rising swell. We were doing okay(ish) but then the swell kept kicking and a terrifying, long period 6ft plus set hit. Incredibly thick and powerful. We all packed it in after that.
As a side note, I met Andy S in Rote a few years ago. Going by his Instagram, he scores a hell of a lot!
He definitely likes taking a photo.
Great thread. I am not afraid to admit I am soft... a 3 ft beachie is fine by me, 4 ft if the paddle out is not too bad. 5 to 6 ft and it has to be a pretty formed wave with a reasonable channel. But hey, I still enjoy my waves as much as anyone. Went to Indo last year, unfit and unsurfed for a couple of months, hoping to ease into it with some shoulder high waves before working up.. It was pretty much 4 to 6ft from the get-go and just got bigger. I shoulder hopped a lot and once the swell got bigger struggled to the point I'd head in once I caught 3 or 4 waves on the head and could see the next set bearing down.
2 wipeouts, years apart, are the ones that have stuck with me and shaken me up.
The 1st one was a surf with VelocityJohnno, at place in WA that only starts working when all the other local breaks are out of control. Blew the takeoff and on the way down, somehow got my leg caught between the fins. The board dragged me most of the way to shore with an incredible pressure on my leg, felt for sure my leg was broken such was the pain. It turned out just bruised but still walked with a limp for a week. Struggled with steep drops for months afterwards.
A few years later, a west coast break in North Island NZ, Maori Bay for those who know it. Carpark at the top of a cliff and a walk down. Black sand and black rocks meant water visibility of about a foot. It was way bigger than I thought once I was down at sea level but wasn't prepared to do the walk of shame back up the cliff without having given it a crack. First wave wipeout and snapped leggie. The swim in was super difficult with the amount of water moving around and every time I got rolled by a wave on the swim in, trying to work out which way was up in water that cloudy was unnerving. Finally got in but wasn't something I needed to do again in a hurry. Certainly made me question surfing such an isolated break at size again.
I used to love surfing bigger waves, but after getting smashed a few times now I'm happy to watch LOL. Back in the early 80's a couple of us were out at Ulu having a bit of fun riding 4 footers and then every wave in every set just seemed to be getting bigger. It seemed like there were about 15 waves in every set. Wave after wave after wave and each one seemingly bigger than the last one you just struggled over. We just kept paddling out to get over the next one and after what seemed ages it was like, sh#t how do we get back in? Anyway this set approached, I was in the spot and just went for it (message to self NEVER listen to your mates calling you in). Made the take off and it was pedal to the metal. .. . . but I was to high up the wave. Smash! Wave pitched me and hit me like a concrete truck on steroids, then it threw me into the tumble washer and then just ran over me a few more times for good measure. When I finally worked out which way was up and that I was still alive I managed to stand up in knee deep water with lots of cuts and bruises. Couldn't surf (or move) for a few weeks after that one, and think I was lucky to get away with it.
Must be great to have the skill and courage to enjoy riding the monsters.
Great stories - the ones that really get me are the building swell at big slabby reefs. I was literally tensing up reading the Greenbush yarn. They scare me more than almost anything else.
First day I ever paddled out at Watu in Java, I turned up and saw a 3 footer peel along the right with only one person in the water. Didn't watch for a second longer and just paddled out, noting how shallow it was but no big deal at that size. Get closer to the other surfer and realize it's Pepen Hendrix and he tells me that "it's fucking pumping!" and he is fully charged on adrenaline, gripping his rails and just lit up with energy. Figured out why when the next set appeared. Terrifying big blue-water steamrolling into the shallow reef, it had the look of something that had travelled a long way to get there and wasn't slowing down. Having not even watched the waves for more than 30 seconds, I was certain it was going to close out the channel and kill me on the reef I'd just scraped with my knuckles paddling out. Pepen starts screaming and hooting to himself, a man possessed, paddling deeper to the rock while I was heading out to sea as if my life depended on it (I thought it did). The first wave was a very solid six foot, the next a few feet bigger. I was muttering to myself "fuck fuck, stay calm, fuck", heavy with regret for thinking I belonged out there. Pepen swings and goes for it, and to this day it's the wildest and scariest thing I have ever seen someone do on a surfboard. Jacking and raw, the water audibly sucking up the face as it goes beyond vertical. He has less than 30 cm of rail in the water, high up in the face with an unfathomable chasm of vertical space between his board and the flats of the wave. I have a clear memory of noticing how the tendons in his neck were flared and he just had a totally wild-man look on his face. It pitched him as I got over the crest of the wave, water still drawing off the reef as he freefell. The whole thing, even as a by-stander, was just so violent and sudden and unexpected. I've been in some bad car accidents and honestly the intensity of the situation was very similar.
He was fine but visibly rattled, and after regaining some composure I took advantage of a brief lull and paddled as hard and as fast as I could back to the beach, still worried that what I now know as a very deep channel could close out as I tried to make it back in. Never been tempted by a slab ever again.
Gary can think of a couple of times he was terrified of the ocean; one successful, one not.
The unsuccessful one first. Gary was lurking just past the end of the Great Ocean Road with a new Step-Up and a swell on the horizon. He took the board for its first surf the night before to get used to the feel in a very spooky solo surf at sunset at a spot with a decent swim in and then 15min walk to the carpark if anything went wrong. Feeling emboldened by surviving the night before, the next morning Gary left before sunrise and headed east down the ocean road. Grey skies and bombing swell, Gary checked a number of spots and all too big with not a soul around. Finally pulled up to a well known big wave spot and drew a sharp intake of breath when he saw a couple of cars with 8ft+ guns hanging out the back. Figuring he'd driven all this way, Gary took himself down the hill with board and watched it for an hour or so. The wave itself was fairly playful compared to what this spot can handle - mostly 8ft with the odd 10fter - but what undid Gary was the entry and exit. The entry involved a 3-4m jump off a cliff right next to a ledge which was manageable enough when you watched a few people do it, but the exit involved a very long paddle into the nearest bay; a good couple of km away past all sorts of mysto bombies and cliffs. Weighing up options, Gary decided this was beyond him as a solo traveller and went back to home base where his pent up froth saw him paddle out alone at a spot that was way maxed but close to town and comparatively benign. Gary had never been so happy to be rolled by 6ft closeouts, comforted that he could just paddle back to shore whenever he wanted!
The more successful one was on Gary's first trip to G Land, taking the same step-up (that was bought in preparation for the trip). First day as the boat rolled up and there is 5-6ft+ of beautifully aligned South swell pushing up the reef. Gary, having never been there before, wants to ease into it but also knows this direction is rare and ideal so he paddles out up at the ledge. After taking his time and getting a few without incident, he sees it on the horizon. The Lump. Gary wants nothing to do with it so he starts paddling early. Unhurried, but with the full intent of getting out of harms way. When the wave comes it's a good 8 footer with a nice taper and Gary's early paddling has put him in perfect position to catch it. Eyes widen and Gary turns, puts in a few hard strokes and manages to find a clean entry. Toenails in the wax off the bottom, the wave stands up and it's the biggest wave Gary has ever caught. In the moment, Gary pumps like he's never pumped before (which is really saying something!) and starts careering down the reef at warp speed; high line, low line, up and down. Section after section. Facey after Facey. Fins vibrating and humming with the speed. Somewhere down the line the wave races off and Gary escapes safely, twitching from adrenaline. Nothing for the rest of the trip came close.