On Any Sunday (with eight foot of south swell)
Under the COVID-19 Stay at Home orders, I've spent a lot more time swimming in the ocean locally with my water housing. More so as an escape from the crowds and when the surf's not especially interesting. From sunset swims and capturing the full moon at night it's been a great outlet and a new form of creativity the last couple of months.
Then came the weekend, when an oversized southerly swell from a deep, stalling Tasman Low battered the coast, leaving only a few spots for the crowds to converge to. Any other weekend I would have hit the road, but instead with swell on the local reefs at home I thought I'd go for a couple of swims with the water housing instead of hassling at the marquee breaks.
A great upside of swimming on the inside taking shots is the feeling of surfing every one of your mates waves and feeding off the stoke they get. You get to see all the action from the best seat in the house.
After a large kick in size Friday, I hit the surf just before the sun rose Saturday morning and linked up with local grom (17yo) Lachie Meakes. It was slow but he got two back to back bombs within 10 minutes and stood tall and casual under heavy water.
Following a beach check that revealed uninspiring closeouts, I went back out for the late session at the reef hoping for a little more action on the low tide. While not ideal it still gave me another chance to get familiar with the very unforgiving rock ledge and rock-off while also nailing a couple of moody shots of Lachie again and Mitch Hardakar.
Sunday started a bit smaller swell wise, but raw and windy on the coast. I paddled out for a surf at North Steyne just as the swell started to jack late morning. Paddling out on my 5'9" and being met with rising 6ft surf, I quickly switched for the 6'8" and enjoyed some big drops that lead mostly to closeouts. Out in the surf the swell started to kick more noticeably as the local bombora roared to life, showing off consistent 10ft+ sets which wedged into Queenscliff at a roguey 6-8ft.
I got word that the local slab from the day before was starting to work and after a big lunch headed to the headland car park. The trickiest part was getting a spot, with the car park gridlocked though without too many surfers in the water. Lucking into a spot on the second go around I grabbed my gear and climbed the cliff to check the surf. The swell had increased significantly and there were now 8-10ft wedges doubling up and then slabbing off down the line across the boulder strewn reef.
I eyed the rock-off spot and it looked deadly as sets steamed through, sending shoulder high torrents of water across a 50m ledge which then reverberated below sea level next to the barnacle riddled shelf for the next minute or so. In between sets though it looked eerily calm and the perfect spot to enter the water. Unnerving. While on the cliff Sam Nolan chipped in easy as you like to an absolute cracker while Matt Chojnacki rolled in on his 7'0" McTavish single fin.
With the waves being beyond my capability, I made the decision to swim out and try and nail some shots. To be a part of the raw and powerful swell energy but also without putting myself in too much danger, besides that rock-off..
On the way down I noticed another photographer ahead of me. He took a dicey route along the exposed ledge, walking a tight line inside a massive boulder that if a set came, would funnel all the water out and over. By the time I got down to the edge of the flat ledge he was gone but no more than 30s later a proper 10ft set roared through. The sight of the very real consequences from stuffing up the rock-off and ending up in the 'key hole' (in truth a hidden shelf that surges dry, then gushing out towards the inside ledge of the reef proper) was terrifying. The set did as I saw from the cliff above, projecting shoulder-high water up and right into the corner I was standing in. Lucky I was prepared and held tight on a large boulder as the water washed over my head. Two more of these and the reverb started to settle.
Timing is everything, and sighting a gap in the ten metre seas from sea level is something I would only advise to the most experienced. I made my run and entry into the water swiftly and without hesitation, followed by a rapid swim south, against the sweep sucking into the 'key-hole'.
On arrival to the back of the lineup I was greeted with familiar faces but also the most raw mountains of ocean swell I've ever been in. The scale of it was mind blowing and to see the ocean swells with no attenuation, then abruptly lifting skywards on feeling the ledge was hard to comprehend.
I also got word that the photographer before me had cut across the key-hole and copped the 10ft set on the head, laying limp and needing to be helped by some of the boardriders. He wasn't in a good way and slowly made the swim back to shore, a kilometre away.
With the increase in size and energy I couldn't sit anywhere near where I was the day before, so I positioned myself just inside on the edge of the reef where I could get the wedging peak which would double-up and barrel on the best ones, and then launch into the next barreling section down the line.
After nailing a few shots I started to get more confident on my positioning in the lineup, just safe enough to dodge any wide ten footers. Knowing most of the crew in the lineup, someone caught my attention with a super late attempt at an inside double-up, only to pin drop from the lip.
When they resurfaced right on the take-off and not down the line I could make out an OuterKnown logo on the wetsuit. Not only this but a bald head and carbon strip Tokoro.. I couldn't believe it. I knew Kelly Slater was on the beaches and surfing around the local haunts, but to then have him out at a heaving slab and to be in the water to document it from such a unique angle, I was beside myself.
The next hour or so were a rush of adrenalin and joy. I had the GOAT taking off deep and late right in front of me and then, on the paddle back we'd be frothing on the locals pulling into these heavy slabs. The stoke was pure and the vibe chatty though busy.
Barrels, wipeouts and everything in between went down on a grey and showery Sunday evening, only to give way to an intense and burning sunset.
Justin Turk on one of the Waves of The Day.
The day ended with Kelly and the local crew in the car park, sifting through photos on the back of the camera, reliving all the rides we'd just seen go down. A Sunday evening and weekend to remember.