The best stories of 2020

Stu Nettle
Swellnet Dispatch

"2020 is a year that promises much clarity."

Yes, I wrote that line. Penned it this time last year.

In my defence, when I wrote it I couldn't have placed Wuhan on a map - hadn't even heard of it to be honest. Nor had I heard of now-familiar terms such as 'iso' or 'social distancing', nor even knew what a coronavirus was. By the time I'd learnt about the lurgy that wears a crown, the world was on a new and unexpected trajectory, and it wasn't clear what the destination would be.

Here at Swellnet, the editorial bounced between a microcosm of the wider world in 2020, with all its heaviness and dread, and a saviour from it when surf talk became a reprieve from too much reality.

As such, the best stories of the past year are a mixed bunch, alternately filled with angst, humour, good journalism, cheap laughs, and shit hot waves.

Bypassing The Pass

In 2020, the East Coast of Australia had its own version of severe inequality playing out in front of our eyes. Yet it wasn't income inequality nor class or privilege determining fortunes. It was sand inequality.

Every sand-bottomed pointbreak on the north coast of NSW and south-east QLD had not only an abundance of sand but in most instances it was impeccably formed too. At Byron Bay, the Pass had a Saharan-size bank that some locals were calling the best in two decades. It caused Swellnet to trawl back through the history books - back to 1828 in fact.

Kelly Slater and the Angriest Summer

When, during the height of the Australian bushfires, the eleven-time world champ posted a photo of a charred kangaroo on Instagram he nominated a "lack of back-burning" as the culprit without making any mention of climate change. The absence was conspicuous, noted by a raft of his followers and Phil Jarratt too, who penned this piece for Swellnet.

Covid-19, Swellnet, and the way forward

"To say that we’re in at time of unprecedented upheaval seems kinda irrelevant now."

2020 was the year that everyone had an opinion on everything and they let everyone else know about it. The phenomenon kicked into gear once the reality of COVID set in, and by late March 'solutions' were more popular than bog paper at the local IGA.

Being a media outlet, Swellnet was both megaphone and punching bag, and it caused Herr Matson to step up to the stage for the final* say on how the business would be run.

*925 comments! So many it slowed the site down.

Local caaarrnt’s existence vindicated

Google Analytics tells me the story about Artie Cook's traumatising rock jump at Toonalook Point is Ding Alley's most popular instalment. Yet it's not my favourite so bugger quantity, we're going with quality, and for mine this one delivers.

Got spare time this summer? Read the complete Ding Alley collection here.

Tasman bombing range

Waves in 2020? But of course! Every coast had their share, but it was the East Coast that had a winter for the ages with back to back (to back) swells that kept the COVID crowds entertained.

In this gallery, Craig clipped his wings and stayed close to home, photographing a couple of heavy water ledges around Manly.

Click for another of Craig's galleries from a season of plenty.

Heavy water code

Well, there's heavy water and then there's The Right. When a young surfer was held down for five waves at the world's thickest wave, it caused a reassesment among those who surf it: some are backing away from the wave, while others are ensuring that everyone out there has the training to perform the next rescue.

"Who’s got my back?" Asked Shane Ackerman. "I’ve got theirs, I’ve done all the training, I take big wave riding very seriously, but who’s coming in for me?”

Eyes wide open

From deadly wave to man-eaters. Two stories linked by diver, surfer, and humanitarian, Shanan Worrall, who co-ordinates safety and rescue programs - see previous story - and also makes Shark Eyes, adhesive shark deterrents to circumvent ambush predation.

As electronic/magnetic deterrents find a dubious foothold, Shanan argues for something simpler, and is now putting his money where his mouth is.

Justin Firgaira on being down for a four wave count

Oh, you want a good news story? Well howsabout ol' Justin Firgaira, the South Oz bodyboarder that come a'gutser at Knights Wedge, was knocked cold, and then stayed down for a four wave count only to be rescued by mates. All of which was caught on video.

Even if it was the only rub of the green he had, 2020 was a lucky year for Justin.

A dive into the food chain

Go on, tell us another shark story!

With arguably the most at stake, surfers have a perverse need to share and exchange stories about the men in the grey suits. They're oddly comforting, especially when they increase our familiarity with those unknowable creatures. So it was when a close encounter on the NSW Mid North Coast became the springboard for a meditation on man's ongoing relationship with sharks. Penned by 'Carcharodon Dundee'.

A twelve pack of Lance Morgan

Fuck politics, disease, and disharmony, it's waves we're here for and late in the year photographer Lance Morgan delivered a dozen images to distract us.

They were most welcome.


zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Thursday, 24 Dec 2020 at 11:38am

Did you mention sharks?

So ferocious.

Cheers SN.


Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Thursday, 24 Dec 2020 at 11:49am

Your jeans feel so good on my jeans !

bipola's picture
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bipola commented Thursday, 24 Dec 2020 at 3:26pm

faaaarrrk sharks and drop ins

bipola's picture
bipola's picture
bipola commented Thursday, 24 Dec 2020 at 3:27pm

the END is nigh

goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot commented Thursday, 24 Dec 2020 at 3:52pm

Pretty short list Stu.
Reckon there’s been a few more than that!
Where do ya stop though

MRsinglefin's picture
MRsinglefin's picture
MRsinglefin commented Friday, 25 Dec 2020 at 6:20am

Job keeper and Job seeker = more new boards = more surfers in the lineup from sunrise to sunset.

Spuddups's picture
Spuddups's picture
Spuddups commented Friday, 25 Dec 2020 at 6:28am

Another good year of Swellnet content. Thanks for all your hard work felluhs.

Island Bay's picture
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Island Bay commented Friday, 25 Dec 2020 at 6:57am

Hear hear!

Incredible effort.

rrr's picture
rrr's picture
rrr commented Friday, 25 Dec 2020 at 7:20am

more gold from toonalook next year !!!

san Guine's picture
san Guine's picture
san Guine commented Friday, 25 Dec 2020 at 8:52am

Thanks Swellnet and all Swellnet contributors. Looking forward to 2021 and putting 2020 in the rear view mirror. Hope you all get some waves over the Christmas / NY season!!!

batfink's picture
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batfink commented Friday, 25 Dec 2020 at 9:44am

3 months without a surf during prime time Autumn. Stuck on Sydney’s eastern beaches - closed even for water-goers. That was a strange policy. Couldn’t go to other areas, and didn’t. Haven’t been out of the water that long in 30 years.

Finally regained fitness but wave sense and timing still not there. So many kooks in the water, I thought I’d become one of them.

Lost my job, nice payout, never going back again. Will soon be 6 months.

A year for the ages. Next year, regain my wave sense and timing and get out there even if it’s crowded, and recover some level of comfort in solid waves (for me, that’s about 4’ - 6’, bigger than that is beyond me now)

san Guine's picture
san Guine's picture
san Guine commented Friday, 25 Dec 2020 at 10:00am

Hey Batfink,
Blew my achilles in Indo in 2019, back in the water after 4 months, but really it took 8 months until I felt like I had any confidence taking off (that's how I ruptured the tendon).
Your confidence will return, just keep at it. As your confidence returns so will your timing and wave sense.

batfink's picture
batfink's picture
batfink commented Friday, 25 Dec 2020 at 1:36pm

Cheers san Guine. Yeah, remaining positive, your post is totally in keeping with your name.

A lot of it is about quality time in the water. Have been getting in enough to regain most of the fitness, but due to such poor banks and crowds the number of waves ridden is not high. Yeah, it will come back, and is, gradually.

Mind you, in the last 4 months I’ve had some genuinely good surfs, small numbers, great conditions, but they were up the Cennie coast. I can see from those surfs I still have some semblance of muscle memory to fall back on. There is hope. Getting fitness back was painstaking.

Merry Xmas to ya.

batfink's picture
batfink's picture
batfink commented Friday, 25 Dec 2020 at 9:46am

Sand banks re-arranged following July mega swells, for the good up the coast where I go, mostly, but still haven’t recovered at the Sydney local.

andy-mac's picture
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andy-mac commented Friday, 25 Dec 2020 at 10:26am

Have a very merry Christmas, and may 2021 bring you all plenty of pits and good times.


Rusty Forest's picture
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Rusty Forest commented Friday, 25 Dec 2020 at 1:20pm

Santa stuffed a 6'6" six channel single fin in my stocking! Cant wait to get it as wet as I was when I saw it!


bluediamond's picture
bluediamond's picture
bluediamond commented Friday, 25 Dec 2020 at 3:22pm

Thnks for all the good content this year Swellnet crew...Ben, Craig, Stu. And thanks for all the sick waves i've gotten....wouldn't have been as likely without you guys. Merry Christmas to all. Yew!

conrico's picture
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conrico commented Friday, 25 Dec 2020 at 5:49pm

Cheers for the service swellnet team! Another good year

truebluebasher's picture
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truebluebasher commented Sunday, 3 Jan 2021 at 11:46am

Thanks #1 Surf Journo Stu + #1 Swellnet Staff = { Surf Stoke in a sea of despair }.

Huey's lay year saw Goodvibes at the Helm...
Hurling H-Types to monster up toxic brews of Reffo rustbuckets + recovery doses.

So if we Troll 925 swear words into our 10 swear word title we blow up the swellnet!
So serious the Boss had to cut his surf safari short to rewrite the Locals Only Code.

Stu pushes the limits but plays it cool ...swellnet also unleashed & finished off...
Live Cam Drama, Surfing Pollies, Surf Magz era / books, Beach-Erosion-Drones-fines, WSR Laws, Whale Carcass laws,Welcoming La Nina, Local Blowin Pro Lockdown Comps ( As Stu said...never heard of such madness...Wot even is that! & still don't get it! ) Big Nazare Live & Open/Closed Pro Wave pools-beastly bloodbaths to mudbaths.

Only thing we're sure of, is Ruby Princess Flowrider hosts 1st Olympic Surfing Comp!

All had the ride of our lives surfing swellnet's mentally sound sounding board.