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A pale yellow late-autumn sun beams between the breaks in the cliffs, down onto the Southern Ocean, creeping up onto a rough sandstone beach. Here, in the shadow of the cliffs, Nathan Florence and Kipp Caddy are looking out to the ocean.
A few hundred metres offshore, a left hander wedges up on the kelp covered reef (pictured above). It stands up as a four foot peak, wrapping hard into itself, almost a full 90 degrees, growing into an angry triple-lipped eight footer. It sends out a fire-hose spit into the channel, showering four jetskis. The end section clamps shut. The wave gurgles onto an exposed rock shelf.
“Look’s pretty heavy, huh,” says Nathan.
Nathan is here on his Australian slab tour, filming for his vlog. He’s booked a one-way ticket, and reckons he’ll hang round for the best part of late autumn, chasing the biggest, heaviest waves the country has to offer.
“It’s kind of the way I like to travel,” he says. “Just leave it open ended. See what the waves do. See where crew reckon will be good and just kind of go off that.”
Standing around Nathan and Kipp are a crew of groms, some of them bodyboarders, the others tow-surfers whose mates are out there on the skis. One of the groms offers Kipp his inflatable suit.
“My Mum would kill me if she knew I wasn’t wearing this. You can use it if you want, but,” he says.
At some places on this Southern Australian coastline, Kipp and Nathan, with his GoPro and cameraman, Zoard, might not be met with such a friendly reception. But it’s hard to be hostile to Nathan; he’s smiling, shaking everyone’s hand, and he’s aware of the importance of treading lightly.
“There are some places we just don’t go. I get the crew who live there want to protect those waves, and that’s cool. I respect that. I don’t want to blow anything up.”
A bodyboarder, Stoney, is the first to paddle out. He has flown down from the Sunny Coast, where he works as a concreter, for this swell. He lives for the death-defying thrill of stuffing his shaved, tattooed melon into twelve-foot glory holes. At these underground slabs all around Australia you’ll find boogers like Stoney, ruling the peak and pushing the limits of what is actually rideable.
In the line-up, four jetskis idle in the channel. Jerome Sahyoun and Dylan Longbottom are one team, trying to get a read on the waves. On the other three skis are local tow-surfers: Sammy Logan, Jake Harman, Nathan Brookes.
The boys have paid their dues in fuel money and drowned jet skis and heavy wipeouts getting to know this place, but they’re still stoked share it with a small crew of out-of-town pros.
“It’s pretty cool to have the boys here and validate what we’ve always known about this place,” says Jake.
Tim Bonython is also here filming for his Big Wave Project, and he compares the intensity of this wave with some of the heaviest in the world. Every now and then, a big set breaks wide and closes out the channel, sending the skis scrambling out to sea.
“It’s super scary sitting on the ski getting the shot. On par with the intensity at Nazare. The waves are incredible though. Seriously, a Teahupoo style wave right here in Australia.”
The wave is tricky to read and terrifying to paddle. The best ones break deep on the reef and almost look like a closeout. With all the water drawing off the reef and up the face, you can see the shallow kelp-covered rocks beneath you.
Kipp paddles the wave of the day, taking off deep on an eight-footer, setting his line and pulling in, hands free and styling, flying out into the channel with the spit, everyone hooting and screaming.
“I’ve seen him here maybe 10, 15 times,” says Jake. “A heap of those times he’s been here he’s been skunked, struggled to get a good read on it and get tubed. It’s just one of those waves. You really have to earn it.”
Dylan backdoors a tow bomb, pulling in deep behind the section, completely disappearing, and riding over the foam ball and out into the channel.
After four hours, the rising tide swallows the swell and disappears the chip-in entry. The paddle surfers head for the beach, knowing they are in for another two days of this.
Nathan rode only one big tube early in the session, and he seems kinda bummed he couldn’t find the wave he really wanted. For him, this is work. He’s studied this place, watched videos of it, and he has an expectation of himself to perform.
“Some waves are easy, you can figure them out straight away. Others take a bit of time. This one you definitely have to put a bit of time in.”
“You gotta be real selective. There were probably only four to six waves all day that were really the ones. I shoulda sat and waited. I picked a heap of duds, and fell on a few.”
Kipp, meanwhile, is stoked, the time and effort he has put into this place finally paying off. But still, he questions whether he could have been deeper, could have done more on his best wave.
“It’s such a hard wave,” he says.
“It bends back on itself so hard. It’s hard to wipe off speed and get deep. I dunno, maybe I could have got deeper. That’s surfing though, I guess. It always just keeps you coming back for more.”