Words by Nick Carroll
It happened so quickly.
Tuesday afternoon, everything was socked in: wild NE winds, cows washing up on beaches, and raining like it’d never stop. Which it hadn’t for a week.
If you were awake and twitching around midnight that evening, you might have looked up and for the first time in that week, seen stars in the sky, instead of clouds.
Then the sun came up on a completely different world.
“It was waaay bigger than I thought,” says Ben Player. Ben lives on Sydney’s northern beaches, and got up at 4am so he could work before surfing.
At 6am, still pre-dawn, he drove down to his home beach, Avalon, and was stunned to see eight to 10 foot lines exploding across the beach.
Player didn’t know it, but he was about to score the best day at home in 10 years.
Many sand based surf zones were hugely reconfigured by the heavy conditions of the past week. Avalon was one; vast sand slugs had been pulled off the beach and dropped in a long line way offshore, forming a Hossegor-style sandbar off the south end, set up perfectly for the swell angle.
North Avalon’s reliably good in these conditions, but South Av? Top to bottom 100-metre lines is not the rule in a NE swell.
Ben roamed around for a while, checking North Narrabeen and other places, but the swell hadn’t settled yet. Disappointed, he came back to Avalon, and there was that sandbar. “I saw this wave go boom! And barrel all the way down the bank. I’d been watching it form for days and I thought it was gonna be insane, but talking with the guys about it, we haven’t seen it like that since 2011.”
That re-shaping, and the swift wind change, seemed to catch a lot of people off guard. For much of the morning, uncrowded surf was the rule.
Another off-guard moment was putting your toes in the water. The winds had caused major coastal upwelling, dropping the water temp along much of the coast from 23 degrees C to 19 or less. Summer to winter on the instant.
Not everyone stayed home. Photographer Zach Bowden took off on Tuesday night, and slept in his car near a spot he’d targeted. “It was a pretty disrupted sleep because I could hear waves just exploding onto the reef, I knew the morning would be good.”
Like elsewhere, Zach’s spot stayed mellow all morning crowd-wise, with maybe 10-15 people in the water. The waves, though: “The sets were fairly consistent with lulls of about 10 minutes but it was really the insiders that were the money-makers. The bombs were pinching a bit but the insiders were soooo heavy and hollow.
“As the tide dropped, this spot stopped working so I headed about 10 minutes down the coast to another slab and it was cooking. It had the heaviest slabs I have ever seen, breaking onto bone dry reef. It had a bit too much east in it to be fully makable on every wave but there were still a few blokes towing in charging them. People were getting pretty hurt and ridiculously barrelled, it was a full spectacle!”
Dylan Longbottom went hunting left slabs with daughter Summa and a couple of mates, Justin Hickey and Wayne Cleveland. “We’d been shaping all week, I think I shaped 100 boards last week! But I knew this swell was coming … There’s this spot I haven’t surfed for years, it’s a really critical slab. I wanted to show it to Summa, but I wasn’t going to push it. That spot could kill you.”
They went out on a ski and watched for a while before calling it off. “Maybe one in 50 waves were makable, and that’s if everything was right. We went a little bit further to this other spot and it was pumping.”
Dylan and Summa edged deeper with every wave, until Summa got the one you’re seeing here “That was the last wave and she rode it perfectly. It spat and I saw her fly out with her hands above her head, freaking out.”
Photographer Ben Bagley jumped in to shoot, and soon found himself being subjected to the wrath of this swell. “It was so hard staying in the spot with the current wanting to put you right in the 10’ impact zone,” he told us. “But shots like that make it all worth it.”
By the late afternoon, everyone who’d missed the morning was playing catch-up. Pretty little waves were being ridden along the whole coast from Port Macquarie south.
Dylan seemed to sum it up for everyone: “We had a great day.”