The Beast Awakens
As soon as I got a look at the ocean I knew the swell had arrived.
The beach which for the last month had looked no different than the side of a lake was now delivering line after line of ruler edged perfection. For an entire mile I rode my bike along the beach towards the head of Snapper rocks, and for an entire mile I saw waves stacked to the horizon. If I had not seen it with my own two eyes I would have never believed it. Where there were once no waves, there were now waves that seemingly defied the laws of physics. People were getting barreled for over 100 yards. It didn’t seem real.
For a few minutes all I could do was stare and hoot as I saw chargers pull into perfect azure caverns. My mouth grew dryer with every passing second as each successive wave that broke in front of me crushed my sense of reality. I had been surfing for nearly a decade and I had never seen anything like this. These were without a doubt some of the best waves I had ever seen in my entire life.
Eventually, my eagerness overcame my awe and I quickly locked my bike up, grabbed my surfboard and made my way out into the lineup. Just as I was about to reach the lineup a set came and broke right in front of me. The last thing I saw before a perfect double overhead screamer crashed down on top of me was Jack Freestone pulling into a giant tube. His wetsuit jacket was unzipped and it fluttered in the wind as he flew down the face of the wave. Yup, it was on.
That set thwarted my first attempt to paddle out and washed me down the beach, causing me to miss the entry point. The current was ripping super hard. In about 5 minutes I had gone from Snapper all the way to Coolangatta. I decided to cut my losses, get out, and do another lap to the top of Snapper. On this second attempt, I made it out.
Sitting in the lineup was sort of like going to a Hollywood movie premiere for the first time. The lineup was filled with people who I clearly recognized but had never met in person. Pro surfers on tour, freesurfers, and random surf industry people who I had seen on the internet were all around me in the lineup. I spent half the time out in the water just staring in awe at pros making waves that didn’t seem possible. Guys were taking off behind the groin at Snapper – a feat which surely would have killed a mere mortal - and not only making the wave but getting insanely barreled. I ended up sitting further down the line, and when my turn finally came, I whipped it, paddled, dropped in, and was engulfed in a full on tube before (of course) someone dropped in on me and the wave closed out. But it was a start. For the next 6 hours I proceeded to pull into waves I had only dreamed of. The crowd and the tide came, and went, and then came again, and I was still there. The waves were just too good. I don’t even remember how many laps I did from Kirra back to Snapper. I must have spent almost as much time walking back up the point than actually surfing it.
Never in my life had I ever seen anything like it. Each wave I caught was longer than any other wave I had ever surfed – point breaks included. The wave looked like a point, but surfed like a beachie. It was the weirdest feeling. It was like the best of both worlds. The length and never ending ride of a point mixed with the speed, and power of a beach break.
For three days the swell continued. Funnily enough, even though I’m a surf photographer, I didn’t take any pictures until the third day. The waves were so good I couldn’t bring myself to stop surfing long enough to even grab my camera. While the pictures I snagged from this swell are good, conditions were nowhere near as good as the first two days. But then again, there was already plenty of coverage from the horde of surf photographers there. There was no need for me to document anything. Besides, I was on vacation.
The swell came just in time, as the Quicksilver pro ended up being the following week. Because of this, every pro was in the water at some point during that swell getting ready for the contest to come. I spent one afternoon just taking pictures at Snapper. That session was a goldmine. Roughly half of the guys I grew up watching in surf movies were shredding right in front of me in the space of a single afternoon. It was one of the trippiest experiences of my life.
The following week, for the contest, we got another round of swell, slightly smaller but just as epic. The waves were smaller, but the conditions were arguably better, and the crowd lightened up (since everyone was at the contest). Ironically, I didn’t even watch a single heat of the Quickie pro. The waves were so good I ended up surfing another spot and getting tubed the entire time. There was one session in particular - the water was perfect, silver reflective glass, like ichor, and barrel after barrel was coming through with only a handful of guys out. The only sound was the pitter patter of light rain hitting the water, the spray of offshore wind, and the loudspeaker from the Quickie pro announcing heat results far off in the distance.
I heard some guys complaining that they should have run the contest the previous week since the waves were better. One of their friends overhead and interjected- if they had, the locals wouldn’t have gotten a chance to surf it. He was right. Sometimes, things work out exactly as they should.
[to be continued...]