Seeing red with Jughead
Last Tuesday Justen 'Jughead' Allport flew to Tasmania to intercept a Shippies swell. It was, in fact, the biggest swell to appear on the charts for over a year so he wasn't gonna miss it. Sitting beside Jughead was 18-year old Wade Clemens, who like Jug hails from the NSW Central Coast. He's also Jug's latest heavy water prodigy, though their relationship is a touch more tangled than that of the typical master and apprentice.
"Yeah," says Jug, who's 45-years old, "he's gone out with my daughter a few times."
The next morning the two were in the channel at Shipsterns, along with the usual Southern Lords, plus Kipp Caddy and bodyboarder Mike Stewart.
"It was 15 foot plus in the morning," Jug tells me. "That's when the really big waves came through, early in the morning."
Jug had a session, caught maybe six waves without incident before Mike signalled that he wanted a few. Jug sat back and watched the locals, plus Wade, Mike, and Kipp get whipped into some beasts.
Early into his second session, it may have been Jug's first wave or his second, he isn't sure, a wide one swung in, and best of all it slipped underneath the local crew. Now was his chance to go, and go he did.
"I was travelling so fast," says Jug, his voice barely audible for reasons that will become apparent shortly. Though it's low decibel, his voice carries weight - when he says fast, my eyes water.
"Everything was going OK, but I hit the step flying, and it sent me...flying," chuckles Jug at the choice of words, though it was here that things got serious.
"I couldn't land it, and the wave blasted me out in front of it, then I went up and over, and I hit the bottom right in the centre of my back," explains Jug.
The impact rattled him. "It was like an electric shock going through my body. You can think some bad thoughts when things like that happen."
He was relieved, however, that when it came time to swim for the surface his arms and legs responded. Kipp was quickly on the spot, checked his condition, and got him back to the boat.
"I sat down for a while," Jug tells me, "but then I didn't want my back to lock up so I walked around." Zeb Critchlow came over and took him for a spin on the back of the ski, together they had a front row seat as Tyler Hollmer-Cross got one of the barrels of the day.
"I began feeling good again," says Jug.
Meanwhile, the conditions had changed, the consistency dropped away, as well as some of the size - though it was still in the 12-15ft range - and paddling became an option. Jug waxed his 6'4" and rejoined the fray.
The first wave was a small barrel and he got down the face of it OK. The second wave however...
"It was a bigger wave," recalls Jug, "but I thought it had an entry before it hit the step. I thought I could get in under it. My back hurt and I was cold and I knew I had to give it 100% to have a chance."
When he looks at the video now he knows he didn't really have a chance. The step rises up from the flats to join the lip just as Jug is trying to get down it. "I got to my feet for half a second, then..." his voice trails off.
The merging of step and lip blocked the escape route. "I went to pin drop," says Jug, "but the lip hit me in the head and sent me off axis. As soon as I hit I knew I'd broken my ribs."
Wasn't the first time, he'd broken ribs before, so he knew not to overdo it underwater. Movement was going to hurt. "I didn't struggle with the lack of air, I struggled with the pain."
Again Kipp came to the rescue, this time with Mike on the sled. Jug had blood around his mouth and looked like he'd done ten rounds with Tyson. They gently plucked him out of the ocean.
"I sat on the boat," says Jug of his predicament, "sorta worried but sorta not. I knew I was in trouble, but I knew what that trouble was. Besides, I wanted to watch the boys go at it."
The ride back to South Arm was a whole new world of pain, the boat banging into the chop for an hour-something. Terra firma provided relief so he didn't bother with Royal Hobart, he was flying out the next day anyway. So he flew home, drove to the Cenny Coast, did family stuff, and visited the doctor Thursday arvo.
"You don't know how lucky you are," the doc said gravely. The injury list started with a wedge fracture of his T11 vertabrae - courtesy of the first wipeout - a punctured lung that deflated when it was pierced by one of his seven broken ribs - the second wipeout.
They immediately shoved tubes into his chest cavity to drain the excess blood. Jug only just had them removed when I called. He was still feeling fragile, hence his rasping voice.
Over the weekend Jug exchanged messages with Mark Mathews. Mark, who's wife has just had a child, was wondering if the impulse to swing and go changes once you've got kids to think about.
"Well does it?" I ask.
"I might not go the 50/50 ones anymore," answers Jug, "but then if one stands up in front of me I don't think about the odds. I kinda still go."
The doctor told him he's out for between 8 and 12 weeks, but Jug isn't so sure. "I've done them before so I know it's just a matter of leaving them till they feel good. Then you can return."
Before I go he asks about a big swell hitting Shippies later this week. "You reckon the wind'll be good down there this Thursday?"