2020: The year in pictures

Craig Brokensha
Swellnet Dispatch

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.

Canyoning while examining the damage done by the Grose Valley Fire

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.

Sam Nolan, late afternoon

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.

Jake Warr, all to himself

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.

Tully White hanging ten

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.

Lachie Meakes (also above) under and exiting a heavy lip

Kelly "good to get the toes wet"

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.

Justin Turk on the wave of the evening

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.

Max Hyett charging the outer bombora

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.

Ollie Dousset, out there every day it was breaking

Matt Dunsmore flying in from deep (he made it)

Sam Jones slaying a monster

Chris Lougher, cool as a cucumber

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.

Kevin Tucker, paddle power

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.

Tom Hill, locked and loaded

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.

Blake Lindley (and above) carving through the trees

Yours truly heading into the chute (photo: Guy Williment)

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.

Comments

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben commented Wednesday, 30 Dec 2020 at 6:25am

Amazing how many "oh yeah! forgot about that" memories are triggered by these annual articles. Unreal work Craig!

Spuddups's picture
Spuddups's picture
Spuddups commented Wednesday, 30 Dec 2020 at 7:15am

The sequence of Sam Jones is one for the ages.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Wednesday, 30 Dec 2020 at 6:50am

thats fukn awesome Craig.

Gra Murdoch's picture
Gra Murdoch's picture
Gra Murdoch commented Wednesday, 30 Dec 2020 at 7:11am

And the award for life best lived in 2020 goes to .... drum roll... Mr Craig Brokensha! What an amazing document mate.

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben commented Wednesday, 30 Dec 2020 at 7:17am

That makes ten trophies on the bookshelf.. he's the undefeated champ of the decade!

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Wednesday, 30 Dec 2020 at 8:27am

Ha, thanks Gra, can't sit still!

Bnkref's picture
Bnkref's picture
Bnkref commented Monday, 4 Jan 2021 at 3:16pm

I love your frothing (and photos) Craig! Keep it coming this year!

vicbloke's picture
vicbloke's picture
vicbloke commented Wednesday, 30 Dec 2020 at 7:56am

best yes you have experienced in your 11 years on the east coast. been getting wet on the surf coast for 35 years and what a shocker it was. probably worst in 11 years.

GuySmiley's picture
GuySmiley's picture
GuySmiley commented Wednesday, 30 Dec 2020 at 8:17am

Awesome

blackers's picture
blackers's picture
blackers commented Wednesday, 30 Dec 2020 at 8:20am

Great photos Craig.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Wednesday, 30 Dec 2020 at 8:25am

nice spiel on ABC radio this morning too Craig.

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Wednesday, 30 Dec 2020 at 8:28am

Thanks guys, putting this together I wanted to put more time into the text etc but then I realised it was getting too long, so I let the images do the talking. Even then I had to cull a lot. Has been a great year considering.

Oh thanks Steve will have to find the recording.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Wednesday, 30 Dec 2020 at 8:30am

I think they even pronounced your last name correctly.

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Wednesday, 30 Dec 2020 at 8:38am

That's rare!

dangerouskook2000's picture
dangerouskook2000's picture
dangerouskook2000 commented Sunday, 3 Jan 2021 at 6:55pm

Hey Craig can you put it up if you find the recording? That'd be sick love to have a listen. Cheers

Westofthelake's picture
Westofthelake's picture
Westofthelake commented Wednesday, 30 Dec 2020 at 8:58am

Unreal Craig. There's a lot of WOTD's right there.

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo commented Wednesday, 30 Dec 2020 at 9:22am
Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Wednesday, 30 Dec 2020 at 9:20am

Ah that's an old one, stumbled through that a bit, I think this morning's was better.

greg-n.williams's picture
greg-n.williams's picture
greg-n.williams commented Wednesday, 30 Dec 2020 at 9:58am

No doubt the best winter & early spring seen for yonks! Back to the summer slop (Yasa was a dud here) & waiting for another cracker autumn/winter/spring to roll on.Thanks for jigging the memories Craig!

belly's picture
belly's picture
belly commented Wednesday, 30 Dec 2020 at 10:02am

This page could be a mag in the old days, great stuff Craig!

The snake shot gave me Yorkes spring 15 flashbacks.

Vic Local's picture
Vic Local's picture
Vic Local commented Wednesday, 30 Dec 2020 at 10:08am

Great photos that summed up the year really well. Epic on the East Coast and a truly forgettable one in Victoria. Thredbo got 80cm from that ECL and Vic resorts got nothing.
Hopefully 2021 will bring us a bit more joy south of the Murray.

"angry online, smiley in the brine"

geek's picture
geek's picture
geek commented Wednesday, 30 Dec 2020 at 10:30am

Need to seperate Surf Coast and the rest of Victoria VL, was an epic Autumn/Winter/Spring on the MP (and I assume Island and far west)

Mark.Fletcher's picture
Mark.Fletcher's picture
Mark.Fletcher commented Wednesday, 30 Dec 2020 at 10:20am

Awesome work Craig! What a year eh....

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Wednesday, 30 Dec 2020 at 10:42am

Can't really add anything that hasn't been said- beautiful shots, epic write-up, and time well spent despite the obvious constraints.

The Sam Jones sequence is a keeper.

1173

Bob Sacamano's picture
Bob Sacamano's picture
Bob Sacamano commented Wednesday, 30 Dec 2020 at 11:05am

Epic shots Craig. You put my year of waves to shame!

Ray Shirlaw's picture
Ray Shirlaw's picture
Ray Shirlaw commented Wednesday, 30 Dec 2020 at 11:32am

Farken epic images, filters be damned ; point&shoot, Huey's done the hard yards. Beaut stuff yeeeeeeew

Pops's picture
Pops's picture
Pops commented Wednesday, 30 Dec 2020 at 11:47am

Nice wrap Craig. Hope you scored some for yourself amongst all the shooting.
Even now, with the hype faded and a few months of crud behind us, I'm still calling this the best year for consistent, clean swell (& banks that held it!) round here in my surfing life

He who hesitates is lost

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Wednesday, 30 Dec 2020 at 12:43pm

Oh yeah most of these shots of the normal waves have been taken quickly in between sessions. Most barreled year I've had. Yew. 

Pops's picture
Pops's picture
Pops commented Wednesday, 30 Dec 2020 at 10:52pm

Good onya.

He who hesitates is lost

D-Rex's picture
D-Rex's picture
D-Rex commented Wednesday, 30 Dec 2020 at 5:06pm

That was epic tho I think you incorrectly credited a sequence of yours truly to a 'Kelly Slater'. HNY to all!

ringmaster's picture
ringmaster's picture
ringmaster commented Wednesday, 30 Dec 2020 at 8:21pm

Fantastic Craig!

In such a 'restricted' year for everyone, you've shown us all what was still possible in our own back yard if you get out and have a red hot go.

Goodonya!

dr-surf's picture
dr-surf's picture
dr-surf commented Wednesday, 30 Dec 2020 at 8:50pm

Great Read and Snaps Craig. Thanks.

Westofthelake's picture
Westofthelake's picture
Westofthelake commented Thursday, 31 Dec 2020 at 9:42am

I just went through some of my photos from this year. All taken with my phone along the way. Hope it's ok to clog up the comment section :)

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asunrise-2106201

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Thursday, 31 Dec 2020 at 10:17am

No issues at all, how all them empty beachy waves! Love it. And all the shared rides on that right, not good at all!

batfink's picture
batfink's picture
batfink commented Thursday, 31 Dec 2020 at 10:50pm

Amazing year. Couldn't surf for 3 months, beaches closed, during Autumn!!!!

It was a stellar year for swell, apart from the amazing swells earlier in the year the usually quiet Spring break still produced plenty of swell. Unfortunately most of the banks were complete crop from July monster swells and good follow-up in August and even September.

Good luck to you Craig, glad someone was able to make the most of it.

The ski shots are incredible too.

dayzoff's picture
dayzoff's picture
dayzoff commented Friday, 1 Jan 2021 at 11:29am

Very well done!

I focus's picture
I focus's picture
I focus commented Friday, 1 Jan 2021 at 3:43pm

Awesome, inspiring, always thoroughly enjoy your frames Craig thanks.

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig commented Friday, 1 Jan 2021 at 3:51pm

Thanks everyone, always love putting together these pieces and sharing my images.

truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher commented Friday, 8 Jan 2021 at 6:53pm

That's some epic Larger than Life Surf Stoke.
tbb again motions Craig for a Community Spirit Award.
Thanks for sharing your photos & insight from all things Local to Stratospheric.

Huey "So Craig brews up a storm then stares it down long enough to wave whisper!"
tbb: 'That's right Huey! Check out Craig's Charts & Photos...he's the real deal!'
Huey : "Very impressed with Craig's defusing of them lively Goodvibes' H-Types!"
Huey : "Craig is exempted a Frontline Bombing Range all access VIP pass!"
'Crew 2nd that!'

#1 swellnet has a supernatural team & crew are next level as well.
tbb wishes Craig & all a Happy 21st.

Westofthelake's picture
Westofthelake's picture
Westofthelake commented Friday, 8 Jan 2021 at 6:59pm

Onya and agreed tbb. (21st?)

Craig, the wave whisperer!