July 12, 2011
Interview by Bridget Reedman
Video by Andrew Chisholm
Tasmanians are used to suffering for their surf. Single-digit water temperatures, Antarctic gales and half-day hikes are all part of the search for waves in the wilderness state. But last weekend’s bright red low under the Apple Isle sent the state’s slab sleuths on a mission that local filmmaker Andrew Chisholm described as one of the most hard core days he’d ever experienced.
On the scent of a fabled pointbreak Jimmy Dell, Mark Visser, Marti Paradisis, Mikey Brennan and James “the Pom” Hicks, had the axes out clearing fallen timber before they even got to the carpark, then battled through a blizzard, up to their necks in storm surge and dodging trees washed from the dunes to access the break.
Oh, and then they paddled in.
Coastalwatch caught up with James “The Pom” Hicks, after the weekend’s mission…
“It was the biggest swell, reading 14 metres. We all just had some big boards and have wanted to paddle it for a while, so this was a perfect opportunity. We’d been keeping our eye on it for a few years now. I think it was one of the biggest swells they’ve ever seen, it was reading 14.5m on the virtual buoy, and it had every single colour on the chart.”
It was a special day because there was only four or five of us surfing. Everyone was pumped, and there was good community camaraderie. You are in the middle of the Tasmanian wilderness on one of the biggest days ever recorded. In a way it was quite historic. They had to be some of the biggest waves paddled in Tasmania.
It’s a big bowly point break that has some tube sections if you’re in the right spot. You get these bowly ones that throw out and you can get some big barrels for sure. Some of them would let you in really easily but some wouldn’t let you in at all. AS you go further out you are the more exposed to the wind, so we had to pick our sections otherwise it was too windy to ride the wave. As soon as you tilted your board onto your rail the offshore wind would get up under your other rail and hold you up so you had to go straight down them and bottom turn, you couldn’t set your line on the take off because it was so windy.
From where we were surfing the wave is about 15-20 seconds ride. The first section is obviously the biggest, it just depends how far you wanted to ride it and how far you wanted to paddle back. It is definitely an incredible place, the trees tower over you and completely shelters you from the wind for one section; it’s a really special natural arena. Stu and Chiz were screaming from the bushes, you couldn’t really see where it was coming from.
When we finally got to the wave, some of the guys were definitely well under gunned. Those of us who had our 9’8” big boards we were fine, but a couple tried to paddle out their 7’2”s. Jimmy Dell, local lad, had a good crack on a 7’2” and on his first wave it snapped his board straight in half on a pretty big wave. There was lots of carnage, we all got cleaned up on this 18 foot set, it just came out of nowhere and none of us could do anything about it. Three guys snapped their leashes, and their boards got washed up on the rocks, fins knocked out. Mikey Brennan lost two fins and ended up riding his board as a single fin for the rest of the day. Mark Visser snapped two boards.
By the time we got back we were so exhausted because the walk itself was such a mission. But you are really tired, happy you made the most of it. Waves like that don’t come around that often and you hope you did everything in your power to do it right and hope that we didn’t kook it, because I might not ever surf that place again.
The best thing about the day was the whole adventure; nothing about it really came all that easy. Even on the drive down, there were fallen trees on the road and we had to take to it with axes. There were four or five trucks with their straps ripping this tree off the road; nothing was going to stop us from getting there!”
Mark Visser talks of the massive Tasmanian swell
While the Tassie boys are accustomed to the cold, Mark Visser flew south from the Sunshine Coast’s tepid waters to take on the swell, donning the neoprene to share the lineup with the locals and his brother, Kevin Visser.
"The weather was the most intense storm pattern I have ever been out in my life,” said Mark, who having recently surfed Jaws at night, is no stranger to adversity. “It was freezing cold, we had four hailstorms hit us while we were surfing and the winds would literally blast the board out of your hands! Despite the intensity of the storm, it was amazing to be part such an experience."
Facing severe hailstorms, up to 157km per hour winds, water temperature of 13 degrees and torrential rain, the crew took on what Coastalwatch swell forecaster Ben Macartney, was calling the biggest swell he has ever seen on the charts in Australian waters.
“The swell was very, very big!” said Ben Mac. “The cape Sorrel Bouy off Tasmania recorded peak wave heights ranging from 15-18 meters on Saturday night and it obviously generated phenomenally large surf across the Southern Tasmanian Coastline. The storm that generated it was exceptional. It was a complex low-pressure system that evolved over the course last week and became very slow moving beneath the Tasman Sea and New Zealand. More specifically the swell that Mark surfed was the bi-product of a polarload feeding into that complex system, a very intense system that generated strong gailforce winds, 40-60knots over the Southern Ocean over a very broad area that actually propagated North-eastward toward Tasmania and that movement compounded the size of the swell. It ended up generating a deepwater swell of 40-50 feet off the Tasmanian Southern Coastline on Saturday morning, so they would have been surfing the peak of the swell. “
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