2020: The year in pictures
A year beginning in a smoky, irritating haze. 2020 heralded in the new decade but as we were to soon find out, it also brought in a year unlikely to be repeated in our lifetimes.
With most of Australia burning, offshore surfs became tinted in sepia tones, but this all changed into February as the biggest of the fires surrounding Sydney (the Grose Valley Fire) was finally extinguished by flooding rains.
Down on the coast, the torrential rain in the mountains along with the loosened top soil from the lack of vegetation (brunt from the fires) saw all manner of trees and burnt logs flowing down the Hawkesbury, drifting south onto the Northern Beaches under building swell from a significant deepening coastal trough. This delivered the biggest storm swell since the 2016 Black Nor'Easter, peaking on Sunday, February 9 with strong to gale-force onshore winds and 12-15ft surf.
The water became blackened with ash floating for days in the surf, while the beaches resembled the Oregon coast with logs and branches piled along the high tide line.
As the swell settled from the coastal trough, a significant swell event from Tropical Cyclone Uesi soon followed, tracking south-west from New Caledonia towards southern NSW, generating a captured fetch and one of the biggest jumps in swell I’ve seen with my own eyes and been out in.
The swell built rapidly across Manly from 4ft to 12ft through the morning of February 14th, groomed by offshore winds. The mountains of water hitting South Steyne were Hawaiian like with consistent 12ft peaks steam rolling into the southern corner.
The rest of February and most of March failed to provide any standout days, but just as the Ruby Princess debacle was unfolding, Manly lit up under a pumping 4ft east-northeast swell with crisp, autumn conditions.
This was the start of things to come and while on a trip to the Mid North Coast, the seriousness of the COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney was becoming apparent with lockdowns coming into effect hard and fast.
With the mood and uncertainty changing rapidly in Sydney, a friend and I chose to stay an extra week up north, lucking into some great empty waves in between work, but the vibe was changing and by the end of the week any out of towner was made to feel less than welcome.
On returning to the Northern Beaches, we were in lock down, only allowed to surf for exercise and with the Eastern Beaches closed, the crowds hit unworkable proportions. The additional load on our beaches mixed with all the newcomers made the surf almost unrideable, even on the worst of days.
It was at this point that I started to swim around with a water housing I bought the year previous, experimenting with light, dark and seeking enjoyment from the ocean in different ways. In this instance it didn’t matter if the surf was crowded or closing out, it all made for a much more enjoyable experience, even more so when capturing shots of my friends, sharing the stoke.
What followed was a pumping autumn and winter of waves with back to back, large swell events as lows developed and clustered in the Tasman Sea, forming one after the other.
With a bit of experience behind the water housing, a whole weekend of building and developing swell with limited options besides the crowded beaches got me excited to shoot the local slab. The Saturday provided a good warm up for what was to be heavy 8-10ft slabs the following day, culminating in Kelly Slater paddling out for the late session, me in the spot to nail a couple of his late, free-fall drops.
Justin Turk nailed the wave of the evening, pulling in from take-off to the inside bowl, only to come out with Kelly, two hands in the air hooting his insane barrel.
Not long later, a 'bombing low' was brewing in the Tasman Sea, with the largest, cleanest swell in years from the south-east due to make landfall and peak on a cold Wednesday in July.
Clean, 10-12ft+ waves greeted those brave enough to take on the deep water reefs and local slab, while I paddled out for the late session to capture some of the biggest, heaviest lumps of water I’ve seen from the water. Sam Jones dominated and while the swell continued to ebb and pulse over the coming days, that late session Wednesday was one to remember.
This wasn’t the end of our large, powerful swells with one final, large east-northeast groundswell along with offshore winds lighting up Queenscliff Bombora on a quiet Monday morning. Four lone rangers paddled out in the sleeting rain to tackle, shifty, windy 10-12ft waves before the wind continued to pick up and made it too tricky to paddle.
August continued to pump with trips made north and south of the big smoke, scoring various reefs and beaches with minimal crowds, and then things quietened down, signalling the end to the best run of surf I’ve personally experienced in my eleven years on the East Coast.
With the surf slowing down and the one of the worst snow seasons on record playing out, it was with great excitement that a four day snow storm appeared on the charts. While going from zero to hero, the blizzard days produced some of the best powder skiing I’ve experienced in Australia, while a clear weather window the following weekend allowed my mates and I to get out into the backcountry to ski some of our favourite lines.
The borders opened temporarily, and with annual leave booked I made a dash home to see the family while also visiting some of my favourite places and surfing some of my favourite waves.
A slow down in surf has occurred the last couple of months, though there were still gems left to find, and now we end the year back in lockdown as summer rain soaks the regions that need it the most.
2020 wasn’t the easiest year, and the restrictions were nothing compared to those in Victoria, but it was also one made all the easier with the local, quality surf. Let’s hope 2021 turns out to be smoother sailing.