Watch and read: 2019 DP Battle Royale
Putting all numbers aside, there are only two ways a surf forecast can be wrong. And one of those ways is infinitely more preferable than the other.
After a one year hiatus, the Illawarra’s biggest surf contest, the DP Battle Royale, returned in 2019. Only this time ‘round it wasn’t run by Dylan Perese of DP Surfboards but by Scarborough Boardriders. Dyl kept his name on the sponsor’s list but Colonel Christian De Clouett organised the troops, ably supported by committee members from the northern Illawarra boardriders club, plus Steve Harrison, the engine behind Surf Tag and the Lifeline Surf Classic.
The format for Battle Royale pits the best local surfers against invitees from elsewhere, generally between Sydney and the far South Coast of NSW, though Soli Bailey from Byron Bay is a past winner so the rules aren’t fixed.
The Illawarra has form on the board regarding inventive contest formats. For ten years during the 90s, the late Roy Norriss successfully ran the Konica Skins at a wave previously considered off limits to comps - Sandon Point.
The key to Roy’s success? Fill half the draw with locals, pit them against the best surfers in Australia, let them share in the prizemoney, while the parochial crowd mingled with stars up on the headland one moment then bayed for their blood the next.
Roy removed pro surfing’s Fourth Wall by inviting local rippers onto the stage. The DP Battle Royale continues the winning formula.
However, this year’s Battle Royale hit a snag with the Tasman Sea going into early hibernation. In the week leading up to the contest, charts were eagerly scanned, each model run anticipated, hoping that something, anything, would emerge for the weekend to come.
It started looking grim and I informed Colonel De Clouett that he should put some contingencies in place. Scout every available bank, check them right through the tides, the pickings would be so slim that success would hinge on inches and degrees. At least the weather would be good.
Most contestants will never appreciate the pressure contest organisers feel during such times. They’re optimists by nature, it couldn’t be any other way, but that still doesn’t make for easy sleep when the forecast is small and the charts won’t budge. Images of sponsor banners on an empty beach fill their fitful dreams.
One last phone call before the day and Colonel De Clouett has made up his mind. A southerly change came through, the trailing fetch was deeper than expected, hence the waves were bigger than forecast. The energy was heading towards Fiji, there's little behind it, but it doesn’t matter: the Battle would begin at Stanwell Park on the ‘morrow.
The next morning I drive up from Thirroul, passing tiny waves at the north end of the beach, and also at Austinmer. The coast is barely surfable and I grimace inside, my faith slipping down to the footwells.
Parking behind the surf club at Stanwell, a renowned south swell magnet, I see spray flying from over the dunes. Breaking into a jog, the south end of the beach becomes visible and I see two banks, a left and a right separated by a channel, each pulling in clean three foot lines that spiral 50m to the sand. The sun is out and the wind is offshore, the beach is looking a million bucks.
There are only two ways a surf forecast can be wrong, and I got it wrong the right way by undercalling it. The hindcast showed winds exiting Bass Strait built a small swell that improbably refracted almost 180° back towards the coast. All the models flatlined, there was nothing I could see, however Ben Matson - who was on annual leave at the time - is adamant he would’ve called it. Obscure though it is, it’s one of his favourite swell windows.
I sit down inside the beach tent as Colonel De Clouett gives me a wink and fires up the PA system: “And I’d like to say thanks to Swellnet for the wonderful forecast!”
The wind stayed offshore all day, and the swell just kept delivering from that obscure source. By reports it was the best Battle Royale yet. The local crew took on hot surfers from Sydney and the South Coast with Scarborough Boardriders own Nic Squiers beating Dean Bowen in the Men’s final, and Skye Burgess winning the Women’s. Squiz has just landed in Hawaii to contest the Haleiwa and Sunset 10,000s.
The Colonel wants to thank presenting sponsors 4020 Beer, Beaches Hotel, plus Vissla, SisstRevolution, Ocean & Earth, Illawarra Woodwork School, Futures Fins, and, uh, Swellnet for the wonderful forecast.
Video by Sam Tolhurst