While Mavericks is ready to explode this weekend, it's summertime down here in Oz. Like most places in the world, Australia's prime season for heavy surf is during our winter months, when swells are whipped up below in the roaring forties. But every now and then Mother Nature will flip the seasonal script and send a giant storm straight at us during our summer. As any surfer can attest, it can really work in our favor with warm water, longer days and no use for a cumbersome wetsuits. On Jan. 4 2013 the swell event I'm talking about was a reality with a major swell en route.
I actually saw the swell on January 1, head throbbing and looking for an excuse to get my life back in order after all the Christmas festivities. I was perusing the swell forecast for Western Australia when bang -- there it was -- the swell I've been waiting for to get another shot at paddle surfing Cow Bommie.
Over the edge in Western Australia
As the new year roared in, Western Oz turned on and the local boys were on it. But in the words of Kenny Rodgers, "You gotta know when to hold, know when to fold." Brett Burcher dumps his hand for the safety of the depths as his board pays the price.
My thinking is that paddling Cow Bommie is the pinnacle for big wave surfing in Australia. It's the biggest and heaviest wave we have and to get out there and paddle it is one of the strongest adrenaline rushes I have ever had.
We woke on the morning of Jan. 4 to howling onshores and massive swell. With the wind supposedly dropping off mid-morning, we went back to Russell Ord's place, got all the gear ready and tried to keep a positive outlook on the conditions. I was confident if we hit it around 11 a.m., we should score the best of the conditions with a raising swell. I felt fairly relaxed, -- maybe too relaxed for the situation I was about to put my self into and yes, you do ask your self, "Why?"
"Why am I drawn to such acts of nature that every human instinct should send me fleeing from?"
As soon as we rocked up to the headland and looked out to the Bommie, (about 4 kilometers out to sea) I got excited and wanted to get out there as soon as humanly possible. The idea of having huge waves to ourselves was too good to refuse or even delay.
With Brett Burcher and myself surfing and Russell Ord on safety and photo duties, we crammed on the ski and where out there, deposited in those shark infested waters with a 6-meter angry ocean. It's what I love and why I continue to surf big waves.
I rode four waves that day, two warm ups and two set waves with my last wave being one of the biggest paddle-ins of my life. 10 minutes before that wave approach I dodged a 25-foot (50-foot face) set wave by throwing my board in the lip of the wave and diving through it.
Escaping that situation, I knew needn't push my luck and surf for hours, so I focused on getting in the spot for the next set wave which turned out to be a monster. I saw it coming and held my ground. It's how you have to approach the situation, if you are committing to ride a wave of this size simply because they move so fast. The scary thing is that you have no idea where the wave is going to break. With luck on my side, I was in a position to whip around and go. It all happened pretty quickly but I know it was a bumpy ride down, and the speed I had was like no other wave I've ever ridden. I just hung on and made the drop to then be engulfed by a mountain of whitewater that ripped my body in all direction and dislocated my shoulder in the process.
I came up from that wipeout completely exhausted, only to get smashed by another pair of 20-foot waves. Ord came and rescued me on the ski. I was seeing stars but I too busy buzzing on life and that wave. I knew the trip was over with my injured shoulder. But I didn't care, that moment of riding that huge wave and coming out is what it's all about!