The best stories of 2020
"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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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'.
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.