Dion Agius: “I Deadset Nearly Drowned Three Times In A Row.”
The story of an unsuccessful dance with the Shipsterns staircase.
Ah, Shipsterns: Home to the world’s most frightening staircase. Crushing onto rocks you don’t want to be acquainted with but often don’t have the option of avoiding. All while photographers and peers watch from the channel and cliffs.
There’s a reason Shipsterns isn’t on the top of everyone’s to-do list. It still terrifies. And, it likely isn’t the first wave you’d associate highly notable aerialist Dion Agius with. But if there’s one thing Dion likes, it’s a challenge. So two days ago, he joined locals James McKean, Shaun Wallbank, Zebulon Critchlow, Benn Richardson, Brett Burcher and photographer Simon Treweek in the biggest, cleanest swell Shipsterns has seen in quite some time, clocking Joe G and Globe for a project currently in the works. Let’s hand it over to Diz and find out how things went.
“It was fucking insane," said Dion over the phone. "Such a crazy day. We got super lucky as well because I was at home and I spoke to Benn Richardson, who’s a guy I’ve known since I was born pretty much. I hit him up when I saw this Shippies swell asking, ‘What do you reckon?’ And he was like, ‘Fuck, it looks kinda big and low tide and the period’s massive, I don’t know about it.’ I flew down because I figured, either way, the swell would be good, either smaller or cleaner.
“But I was thinking we were going to surf this other wave. Just a fun beachbreak you can surf when Shippies gets out of control, I kinda got all psyched to go there. But he called me that night and said, ‘No, we’re going to Shippies.’ And I thought, 'oh god, it’s going to be huge'. I got down there and drove in at like five am. I just went down solo.
“I met up with Benn and a couple of the local boys. There’s the other crew that’s always down there when it’s good, but they went to chase some other mysto wave. So a bunch of local dudes that are normally there weren’t around because everyone thought it was going to be too big. It was just us. We got there in the morning — me, Benn, and probably seven other guys — and it was just so fucking psycho. Really, really big and too low-tide with a huge period.
“I guess when the period is massive and the tide is low that’s when you get that crazy step. Usually more waves are makeable than not. But because of the size and the period and the tide, pretty much every wave was stepping out and one in 10 wasn’t. You just really didn’t know what you were going to get. In the morning we sat and watched it for about two hours before anyone made the call to give it a shot. You could tell it was so hard to pick a good one and most of them were eating themselves inside out. It was huge, must have been 15-foot on the face of the sets.
“So, yeah. A few of the local guys decided to give it a shot and it was just carnage for the first few hours. Through the afternoon it was so hectic, because the tide was just so low all day. And the period was so big it was pretty much stepping out on every single wave. Which you couldn’t tell when you were whipping into them, which waves we’re going to do it or not. You just kinda had to go and hope for the best.
“There were some crazy wipeouts going down. There’s sort of two steps, a first step and a second step that you kinda go around or over, then fade back to get back inside the next step. So you’re almost doing a cutty before the wave’s about to detonate. Which is the last thing you feel like doing on a wave like that breaking in front of the rocks. But you gotta get to the bottom of the wave to get to the step.
“I just paddled out and just kind of sat. You couldn’t paddle because it was too big and too gnarly, it was only really tow. I sat in the lineup a bit and watched the local dudes and tried to get a bit of a feel. Then Zeb, one of the locals, came over and said, ‘C’mon, I’m whipping you into one.’ And I was just like, ‘Oh, here we go.’ I’d come all that way, I had to try it.
“I’ve always wanted to try to tow it for so long. But seriously I dead-set nearly drowned like three times in a row. Just got whipped and wasn’t getting to the bottom of the wave quick enough before the step. And the waves I kept getting after kept stepping out so literally every wave I was getting launched into the air off the step. The first few waves were definitely the gnarliest wipeouts I’ve ever had.
“We towed for about an hour and I kept telling Zeb to tow me into the smaller ones. But then a bigger one came and he was like, ‘All right, we’re going!’ I didn’t really have a choice. At that point you’re just on the rope like, ‘Fuck let’s go.’ I tried to turn for the step too early and lost a bunch of speed and got caught at the top, and I could see the step gurgling at the bottom of the wave. I thought, ‘Well, maybe if I get down to the bottom over there I’ll be cool.’ So I went, hit the step and by then it was already too late.
‘I’ve always thought it’d be the sickest thing ever to try and do a frontside indy off the step. Realising I was fucked either way, I figured I might as well launch and do an indy. So, I launched off the step and tried to do an indy-grab. And as I was in the air I missed the grab and was just sent flying. I landed at the bottom of the thing, which just picked me up and sucked me over the falls. It was easily the biggest wave I’ve ever caught and the thing just sent me to the bottom of the universe pretty much.
‘As I came up the biggest set of the day was right behind it. And I just copped the next two 20-footers on the head. Got washed into the bay, snapped my board and was done. It was just way too gnarly for me. But it was so fun to do and experience. Watching those local guys and how they negotiate it, it’s hard to visualise when you watch the wave, how to get an entry point in. I’ve been trying so long to figure it out, but once you actually do it it’s so much different than what you think. The wave goes against everything your body tells you to do.”