On Saturday, I had the benefit of enjoying the silver lining of some very large storm clouds. I woke at 5am and set off north in the dark, drizzly pre-dawn. By the time I picked up Pat in Brisbane, dawn had arrived, the sky was clearing, and as we drove over the gateway bridge towards the Sunshine Coast, the clouds parted and the rain-soaked landscape was bathed in warm yellow light.
The motorway signs warned of large swells and dangerous beach conditions, so we checked the protected spot first – Mooloolaba. There were lots of people on it and the only worthwhile waves were peeling past the rocks into the bay.
There was obviously plenty of swell about and the breeze was a gentle offshore, so we cruised south to the open beach breaks. We pulled in to a random street and walked through the dunes to be greeted by every surfer’s dream.
The photos barely do it justice. Smooth, offshore, long, peaky bombs unloading everywhere, and not a surfer in sight. In front of the path was a crazy left hand bank which looked more like dirty Pipe than an east coast beach break.
I was snapping away frantically as set after set detonated on the banks. Pat turned to me and said, “Come on, camera nerd, let’s get kitted up!” A jolt of trepidation ran through me – I hadn’t surfed for 3 weeks and I knew I was out of shape, and while we couldn’t tell exactly how big it was, it was plain there was a lot of water moving around. We jogged back to the car, changed into our gear and planned our paddle. We were very lucky getting out – we aimed at the hole in the bank next to the left and, after a huge set closed out the beach, there was a lull at the critical time and we bolted out the back to gather our wits.
It was solid – way overhead, in the 5-6′ range. The sets would break up the horizon from kilometres away and often closed out the beach.
It took almost an hour for me to scratch into my first wave; I was feeling a bit rattled by the sheer force of the swell and was playing it safe so I didn’t cop the big ones on the head. A violent storm front arrived with howling offshores and driving rain. A left loomed through the spray. Pat paddled for it from the outside but couldn’t get on, so I put my head down and committed. A glance to my right revealed a cavern pitting top to bottom towards me. The offshore held me up until the last possible moment and I skimmed down the face, desperately digging in to catch a rail. I pulled up and was amazed to hear the roar of the wave next to me – usually the sound isn’t something I notice. I sat in the pocket for a few seconds before the next section started to pitch down the line, and bailed through the back. I scrambled back out, adrenaline rushing through my bloodstream, frothing for Pat to go one.
Unfortunately for Pat, the wave he chose to open his account was the first of a large set, which promptly caught him inside. The whipping rain and spray created a blinding mist off the back of each wave, so as I scrambled under each of the bombs, there were a few nervous seconds before I was able to see what the next wave was doing.
As the tide dropped and the swell pulsed again, the lines became straighter, heavier and gnarlier. Pat had been washed away and I was bobbing over the big lines feeling very alone. Every time I got a sniff of a wave, I’d have to scramble under another set. Finally, I picked off a medium one, getting barrelled for a few seconds into a wide closeout. As I walked back to the car to get my camera, I passed a girl sitting on a bench, taking in the scene. “What were you doing out there when the waves are like THAT?” she asked incredulously. I had to shake my head and admit that I didn’t really know (though it was still bloody awesome!).
The beach was almost deserted; the storm had scared off most, and the cranking surf at Noosa and in the more protected bays had clearly drawn the attention of the other surfers on the coast. The retreating storm created a dramatic backdrop as the sea spray was blown off the breakers.
Pat finally arrived at the walkway, having been thoroughly disoriented from a rogue set smashing him down the beach. We cruised back around to Mooloolaba to bash around in some fun little shorebreaks. It was a world apart from the seemingly isolated, wild experience of the morning. While I didn’t get any mind blowing waves, it’s opened my eyes further to the challenge of surfing big beach breaks, and the sight of a six-foot wave barrel for four seconds, spit, stall on the inside bank, heave again, spit once more, then barrel for a third time, will stay with me forever.