The UK's big wave the Cribbar awakened over the weekend and into Monday for one of the biggest and cleanest sessions it has ever seen -- as two powerful back-to-back storms rifled into Europe.
Above, we've got all the action (shot from a socially distanced location, of course) including all the wipeouts, all the makes and all the grizzling paddles back out that you'd expect when a large pulse of swell slams Newquay in Cornwall. For reference, Feb 1 in the vid is the big day from yesterday. Edit features Tom Butler, Pegleg Bennett, Rob Fowlie, Dom Moore, Matt Stokes, Rob Barber and more.
Of course, local big wave hellman Tom Butler was in the mix for the whole three days. "It was definitely the biggest day I've had out there by far. I've seen it bigger but onshore, not like the conditions yesterday. I was watching it for a bit before deciding to paddle out. The channel from Little Fistral was a right off, completely closed out. So we paddled the other side of the headland but even that's sketchy, you got to be careful.
It was definitely the biggest day I've had out there by far
As for how it all went? "You know, the Cribbar, it's not as heavy as Mully or Nazare, but I'd say, yesterday, it was harder to surf than those other two. There was this insane current that pulled you away from peak, you had to constantly paddle, constantly keep moving or you're going to end up somewhere you don't want to be. There's always two peaks out there; the north and south one, the north is usually better. But it was hard to line up the spot with that rip, it is just non-stop.
“Yesterday, was out there and I don't think anything will do this justice, but was sat in the sea and, no joke, it looked like Hawaii. The Cribbar was working and then you had other reefs breaking half a mile out beyond that. So much energy. It wasn't like you were in Cornwall.
"Those first few hours were hard, the tide was pulling out with all that swell. The first pack went out around 11am, I paddled out at 11.30 and caught my first wave at around 1pm – when the tide was right. Then it was almost like a pointbreak and even then, the current was pulling towards south Fistral and we needed to constantly paddle 100, 200 metres north. It was hard to hunt them down and lineup the markers for the takeoff zone because there was so much water moving.
"Just wish I had a bigger board there yesterday, not to paddle into waves, but to move across the ocean surface quicker. It was gnarly at the end, had a really nice one. A big bank of fog came in, couldn't see anything just the outline of the headland, but couldn't see how far I was out. Tried to paddle to north Fistral, then to Little Fistral but the current shifted, so we tried to get back around the headland, the way we came out. Got a huge set on the head on the way back in."
The Cribbar is its own cold-water beast. Waves are rarely what the wider surf community would call 'flawless' but that really doesn't matter – and it's why we (and the locals) love it. Because you've got to be made of tougher stuff to score out there, clad yourself in 5, 6, 7mms of rubber, before even thinking about paddling out. No jet ski. There's no support team or crew, it's just you, that paddleout, the ocean and the elements.
"It's important that people understand that it's fucking heavy out there and so dangerous." says Tom. "You're surfing big Fistral, sure, that's great. But the Cribbar is something else. If you're leash snaps, you're swimming against that current and tide. You're not going to make it in.
"The rocks, too. If you fall and you wedge against those rocks, they aren't normal; you get stuck under them and there's loads of deep water caverns to get stuck under, they're full of mussels and sharp it's crazy. For all the experience I've got at Mully, Nazare, even I thought: 'I don't want to fall and be there'. It's amazing it's right there for home. Incredible this on the door step, though."
How big did it get? Well, like we've been talking about for a while now -- two XXL swells that have been filling into Europe over the weekend, the first arriving on Saturday afternoon and the second on Monday (yesterday). England gets XL swells often, sure, but it is rare that a swell of this size is coupled with light, offshore wind – as it was for the past three days. So rare, in fact, that the last time we even featured the Cribbar was back in 2016 – and even then the swell was smaller and wind a bit less ideal than what panned out yesterday.
As for this weekend, the swell filled in Saturday afternoon for a smaller session, a warm up, if you like – but still a solid size that rolled into the headland off Fistral. On Sunday, that same swell still pumped through the morning, building, with a few takers taking a swing at it in the morning, before the afternoon fizzled out after a few hours. Only to ramp up again on Monday as this second XXL pulse moved into Europe.
You might be thinking, 'yeah but what about the rest of those premier Europen big wave spots today?' Us too! But here's how it panned out yesterday; Nazare? Our lensman Helio Antonio didn’t even bother shooting, it was too west for Portugal's behemoth wave and the wind kinda funked it up.
Those heaving Irish slabs? The boys didn’t head out to the most popular one – whipped a different spot altogether, but more on that soon and more from the past weekend, too. What about Mundaka, then, it can hold a decent swell? Onshore and overpowered, today, anyway. Make no mistake though, sheltered spots all across western Europe were going off – but, again, more on that very soon.
But this was a session for the locals, the life-longer who dreamed of surfing the day of days at home. Who wakes up at 5am, booking the day off work to get amongst it – not for glory, but for a sense of duty to their home turf. As lockdown goes on across the globe, 2021 will surely be the year of the local – local surf, local spots, local heroes. Stay tuned for more.