The mind-blowing story of Hobart’s fickle though occasionally epic points

17 Aug 2007 0 Share

The Inside point at Mays, built by a longboarder for a longboarder.

The Inside point at Mays, built by a longboarder for a longboarder.

Just 20 minutes east of Hobart, lying in the relative shelter of Storm Bay, is a collection of six point breaks. A large island to the south blocks these points from everything but the occasional massive swell. Consequently for 360 days of the year the points are either dead flat or offering only the smallest dribble of a wave. When the swell is big enough to bend its way around the island and into the bay, perfect 3 to 5 foot waves peel endlessly along almost 5 km of pristine coastline. Swell lines fan out the entire width of Storm Bay as wave after wave pumps along all six points.

"Thar she blows captain" a classic view of a classic wave. Outside Mays pumping.

"Thar she blows captain" a classic view of a classic wave. Outside Mays pumping.

The weather, however, is usually far from perfect. There are no board shorts or rash vests here; it’s a case of wearing as much rubber as you can physically move in. Rain, hail and snow are fairly common during such swells with low temperatures and gale-force winds pushing the wind chill factor well below zero.

Gold coast numbers. Just add ice cream headaches and 4-5ml of neoprene.

Gold coast numbers. Just add ice cream headaches and 4-5ml of neoprene.

For Hobart surfers though it doesn’t matter how bad the weather is. If the points are breaking you will find crowds in excess of 300 making the icy paddle out to surf. Each point attracts around 60-70 people with poor weather (including snow) and work commitments no deterrent. It is perhaps the only place in the world where you find more surfers here during winter than you do during the middle of summer. On a medium to low tide the Hobart Points produce long, slow peeling waves with consistent barrelling sections. The lower the tide the rounder the waves become, until eventually they start breaking square directly onto the rocks.

A rare day of sunshine and pumping swell. Unfortunately it only looks warm and really the temperature has barely reached double figures.

A rare day of sunshine and pumping swell. Unfortunately it only looks warm and really the temperature has barely reached double figures.

The History of the Points dates back almost 400 hundred years when early Dutch explorer Abel Tasman discovered the region during his first trip south in 1642. Tasman sailed along the West Coast of Tasmania exploring the raw and exposed coastline for the very first time. He rounded South East Cape and continued up past Bruny Island in search of a safe anchor for his ship and crew. Just a few miles from the opening of a large bay Tasman’s ship was struck by a ferocious storm. The gale force winds pushed the boat out to sea and beyond sight of land. The following morning they sailed back inland naming that bay “Storm Bay” before continuing around Tasman Island (past Shipsterns) and up the east-coast towards Maria Island. In 1888 University of Tasmania vice-chancellor James Backhouse Walker presented a paper to the Royal Society discussing and retracing Abel Tasman’s first trip to Tasmania in 1642. During a trip to Tasman’s original landing area he wrote the following description.

Tyler Homer-Cross surfing Outside Mays during low tide.

Tyler Homer-Cross surfing Outside Mays during low tide.

“The country inland is poor, almost without water, covered with thin gum forest, scrub, and meagre grass. It is only the shore that is interesting. The rocky headlands, cliffs, and islands, against which the ocean dashes are rent and scarred by sudden fissures and chasms, into which the waves rush roaring and tumbling. Between the points lie a variety of lovely bays; now a broad white beach with long rollers of breaking surf, now a rocky nook, now a quiet and sheltered cove.”

Jy Johannesen and one very clean set.

Jy Johannesen and one very clean set.

Each point has its own local crew and unique wave characteristics. May’s is considered the best wave. It incorporates 3 points that wrap around the coastline between Cremorne and Lauderdale. The inside point is generally a little smaller and less consistent than the others, but still offers long mechanical walls and the odd barrel. The middle point is the more consistent and popular wave with weekend crowds to rival any break in Australia. The waves here are possibly the longest of all the points offering perfect open barrels on a low to medium tide. The outside point is without question the best point break in Tasmania. It is open to more direct south / southwest swells, allowing for faster and more powerful breaking waves. The angle of the point ensures the swell wraps around the shore without losing too much speed. Factor in the shallow sand/rock bottom and you have the ingredients that produce true sand spitting barrels, which is why it is regarded as one of Australia’s finest, though admittedly fickle, waves.

Local surfer Jy Johannesen pulling in at Outside Mays.

Local surfer Jy Johannesen pulling in at Outside Mays.

The Southern Ocean produces a number of bomb low-pressure systems throughout the year, but it’s a full on novelty when the swell angles directly into Storm Bay. More often than not they either fade low and reform near New Zealand or push high, or smash the West Coast of Tasmania. On April 11 2006 a massive southerly airstream, directed swell straight at Storm Bay, producing some of the largest point waves in recent history. An Antarctic blast delivered a 6 – 9 metre southerly swell that was accompanied by 30 – 40 knot south / south westerly winds. The air temperature was a freezing 3 degrees, but the wind chill pushed that well below zero. Not even heavy, intermittent hail storms and a thick blanket of snow on the outer suburbs could keep the crowds away. The offshore swell buoys, just south of Storm Bay, were reading 8.5 meters dead south that day. To put that in perspective 15ft Shipsterns generally only registers around 3.5 – 4 meters on the same buoy.

The Pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Well worth the effort of calling in sick.

The Pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Well worth the effort of calling in sick.

Every man and his dog took a “sickie” from work or school that morning and headed to their favourite point in search of their own perfect wave. By luck it just happened that Hawaiian/ Tasmanian surf photographer Sean Davey was in town with a crew of Americans looking to surf Shipsterns. For two days professional surfers Mark Healy, Rusty and Greg Long and Jamie Stirling all surfed themselves to the point of exhaustion. Enjoying an experience normally reserved for the local crew those guys scored classic 4-6 foot point break waves. Deep barrels, big carves and rock scrambles were the order of the day as an elite international crew surfed one Australia’s most fickle waves on the best day of the year. – Dave at Shipsterns.com

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