Four Barely Sponsored Surfers You Should Know
Anyone who dedicates their life to WA's heaviest waves deserves recognition.
From Tombstones to North Point, The Box and The Right, Australia’s West Coast is a heavy water mecca. The men who dedicate their lives to it are worth knowing about.
"I'd catch myself out in ridiculous situations where there's whitewater all around you, 20-foot waves, and you're going 'okay, this is it, I'm dead here.'"
Paul 'Antman' Paterson, 44, Perth
The original all-Austrian big wave journeyman, Paul 'Antman' Patterson has spent over two decades scouring the planet for the biggest, cleanest waves he can find. It's elevated him to mythological status in the west, which is weird, because he's still out there doing it; piloting stepping mutants at Gnaraloo, paddling giant Cow Bombie, and barely surviving The Right (more on that later).
Antman learned to surf at Cottesloe in Perth before the family moved south to the Yallingup region. He started his career working at Dunsborough bakery, later completing a chef's apprenticeship at Wildwood Winery alongside Damon Eastough, another elder statesman of big wave surfing in the west. Together, along with Mitch Thorson, the former world tour surfer and part-time coach of Kelly Slater, they were early pioneers of big wave action off the coast.
"Living down south for so long, you surf bigger and bigger waves. Once you get a taste, it's something you progress into over years, you just want something bigger and deeper, and then you go the next level and go, 'okay I want a bigger one now,'" he says.
Going tube for tube in countless sessions with brother and former world tour surfer, Jake Paterson, and Taj Burrow at a famously heavy Yallingup beachbreak was an ideal training ground. "I love seeing where we can push that wave. It gets to the point where you can't paddle into it. It comes in like a Teahupoo reef break, it gets to a certain level where you physically can't paddle into it so it's always a challenge," he says, adding, "Surfing with those two guys constantly it really pushed us to see who would get the deepest barrel every day we surfed it, the level just went (up)," he says.
He also spent every winter for a decade on the North Shore of Hawaii furthering his apprenticeship of the juice. "Learning the ropes (in Hawaii) I'd catch myself out in ridiculous situations. There's whitewater all around you, 20 foot waves, and you're going okay, this is it, I'm dead here. And I learned how to relax underwater only because you have to."
The crowning achievements of his career both came there - a victory at the 1996 Sunset World Cup and a pair of thirds in The Eddie. One result at the Eddie was achieved despite suffering two compression fractures in his back during a free surf three weeks before the contest (blew a take off at giant Waimea and wore the lip on his head, compressing his spine). It kept him out of the water up until the day of The Eddie where, heavily dosed on painkillers, he rode all six waves in the event without falling. "I was lucky. It was real buttery smooth that day," he says.
"There was nowhere to go, I couldn't get out of it, I tried to get to the channel as best I could but it got me. The pressure was insane, I thought I was going to explode, I dunno how I didn't burst my ears."
When the world's best were hurrying home for Christmas, Antman stayed on, spending three to fourth months a year on the rock. "I couldn't understand why everyone rushed back to Australia when it was hot and no waves and Hawaii was pumping. Ten Christmases in a row I spent there. It was just pumping!" he says.
Back in the west, he’s made the pilgrimage to Gnaraloo 20 years in a row to escape the winters meant. His exploits at maxing Tombstones, often alone, have etched him in folklore. Though it’s come at a cost.
“In the year 2000 I went down on one, got drained and pinned over a coral head…I thought oh my god, I’ve broken my back. I went to paddle off and I’d broken my collarbone. The next wave was excruciating, I took a foamy one, got pushed in, climbed up the rocks and was stuck up there with a broken collarbone. I was bruised from arsehole to breakfast,” he recalls.
When The Right was discovered in the state's deep south naturally he wanted a piece of that too. It was here he'd have his closest shave with death after South African Grant 'Twiggy' Baker accidentally towed him into a closeout.
"There was nowhere to go, I couldn't get out of it, I tried to get to the channel as best I could but it got me," he recalls.
The tremendous volume of water washed off him off the edge of the slab sucking him into the "abyss."
"The pressure was insane, I thought I was going to explode, I dunno how I didn't burst my ears," he says, adding, "I don't think my ears or my head has been the same since, to be honest," he says.
After two waves he still hadn't resurfaced, meanwhile, a third had begun to loom. For some reason it didn't break. Twiggy had a moment to zip in and collect, reaching Antman as he lay face down and unconscious in the foam. "I passed out, I was in a daze, and Twiggy was screaming at me because the 4th wave was another 20 footer," he recalls. Twiggy tried to wrench Antman onto the sled but he was too out of it. As another set loomed Twiggy spun the ski around another shot, as he did smacking Antman hard in the face with the sled. The sting snapped him back into reality and he was able to grab hold and get whisked to safety. Twiggy would claim an XXL award for a wave ridden that day.
Chris Ross, 34, Off-The-Grid, Deep South WA
A self-confessed “hermit” who spends his days living off-the-grid in a beat-up bush shack in West Australia’s deep, Chris Ross has dedicated his life to riding the biggest, heaviest ocean he can find.
“Barrels are my currency. It’s all about barrels and nothing else matters really. Everything else is irrelevant in a way,” he says.
Born and raised in Margaret River, Rossy cut his teeth on nearby slabs, The Box and North Point before graduating to a stretch of coast in the deep south that has a character all its own.
“I’d describe (the waves) as fast moving, quite thick….It’s not like other waves I’ve encountered on the west coast where there’s a long lined up wall where you can get onto them,” he says.
“They sorta draw you backwards quicker than you go forwards. You’re trying to go backwards and forwards all in the matter of a second and trying to get to your feet,” he says.
He had some competitive success as a junior making it to the West Australian State Titles, “but that feels like a different life today.” His major claim to fame, not that he enjoys fame, was scoring the cover of the Australian cinema release film, Drift, albeit with his face superimposed over by one of the characters in the film. "That was a crack up," he says.
Rossy is one of the most renowned underground chargers in the west. He is characteristically enigmatic, emerging from his bush hut when the cliffs begin to rumble and piloting some of the biggest pits on earth. His partners in crime are Ben Rufus, Cale Grigson and Chris Shanahan, three similarly mysto characters from the deep south-west.
“We were too far to turn back. There was no land anymore, the boys are going, I hope the GPS works, I hope you know how to use that thing. Cale (Grigson) doesn’t know how to use it, he’s looking at it upside down, dropping it every bump."
“They’re so comfortable out there compared to everyone else. The things I’ve seen ‘em do over the years is the pinnacle of surfing for me; the biggest, largest barrels, being the deepest and longest I’ve ever seen,” he says.
His former tow partner, Ben Rufus, suffered a broken back, a spiral fracture to his femur, a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a snapped posterior cruciate ligament all at The Right.
“You’re thinking you’ve killed your mate when you’ve towed him in, you’re thinking about what you’re gonna tell his family and girlfriend, then they come shooting out the end and you’re thankful they’re alive,” he says.
There’s no room for bravado in situations like this. Rossy’s all about self-preservation these days.
“I just try to be quite selective and not go hell for leather. I think about longevity rather than try and prove myself out there,” he says.
Alternatively, Rossy and his compadres have launched some of the most ambitious surf-missions you’re likely to come across. Like the time they loaded up a pair jet skis with supplies and headed hundreds of kilometres off the coast of WA, beyond the sight of land, in search for a mysto offshore reef pass known to spin tubes up to ten feet and ten seconds long. They lost a jerry can of fuel on the way out there though pushed on, scored, and still managed to get back one piece, just.
“We were too far to turn back. There was no land anymore, the boys are going, I hope the GPS works, I hope you know how to use that thing. Cale (Grigson) doesn’t know how to use it, he’s looking at it upside down, dropping it every bump. Finally we see land, mission accomplished, but we still had to get back. We made it, just.”
“It was an exciting thing, the bolts had rattled loose on the ski from the bumps, we camped out like Bear Grylls on the island, made a hut with a tarp and twigs, and ate some cans of food. Good fun,” he says.
"You don’t wanna think about what could happen ‘cos the consequences could be serious, especially around here.”
Kerby Brown, 32, Denmark
Kerby Brown is fresh off the beating of a lifetime when we sit down with him in the study of his Denmark home, deep in Australia’s south-west. It went down at The Right, a wave not too far from here, also one of the reasons he moved to this part of the world from Kalbarri. The goofy footer admits to sharing a tortured relationship with the wave.
“Frontside you can see the whole wave. Backside you’re kind of guessing. It’s unpredictable and it can be vicious,” he says.
Get it wrong and after dealing with the initial impact, which is severe, the wave rushes off the slab into an impossibly deep abyss on the other side, taking you with it. “It’s like surfing a waterfall,” says Kerby.
Kerby was pushed so deep during his recent beating his ears are still ringing. Fortunately he was wearing an inflatable vest, but after pulling the chord it still took 15 strokes to reach the light. Then another explosion - a second wave - and it was back to square one. By the time he surfaced he was barely conscious. Now with a wife and two kids and a job on the offshore oil and gas rigs you’d think he might be second guessing his big wave heroics. Guess again.
“I don’t think about (the consequences) too much. I’m just more focused on riding the waves,” he says, adding, “That’s just what I enjoy so I just go for it at the time, see if I’m feeling it on the day. You don’t wanna think about what could happen ‘cos the consequences could be serious, especially around here.”
Kerby’s wife thinks about it. As I’m leaving their house she tells me the story of another near-death experience suffered three years ago at Gnaraloo. Kerby is regarded as one of the best ever out there but he’s paid the cost to be the boss. After eating it on a bomb he was driven head first into a coral head ripping his scalp open before being flipped and yahtzee’d tailbone first on the reef. He surfaced barely conscious unable to move, “pissing” blood from a giant flap on his head. A frantic rescue effort ensued. As he was being assessed on the floor of a desert shack word trickled back to Kalbarri where his wife was. She managed to get a hold of the shack by phone only to be greeted by a manic woman who yelled down the line, “We’re doing everything we can!” before hanging up.
“They did the worst job. Didn’t even clean the stuff out of my head and stitched it back up with all my hair stuck in there. I went to get the stitches out in Kalbarri and they were like, ‘who the hell did this?’”
“Can you imagine hearing that when you’re husband is on the ground possibly fighting for his life,” she says.
A two-hour drive across a corrugated road later, Kerby was in the notoriously ad-hoc Carnarvon hospital getting stitched up.
“They did the worst job. Didn’t even clean the stuff out of my head and stitched it back up with all my hair stuck in there. I went to get the stitches out in Kalbarri and they were like, ‘who the hell did this?’” he recalls.
Other times he’s face planted the bottom of the local slab at Kalbarri. The impact broke his nose, closed up his eyes and punctured his lip with his teeth. Another time he went down on a ten footer, bursting his eardrum and knocking himself unconscious. With no leash attached he was at the mercy of the ocean until Ry Craike found his limp body floating in the foam.
“I couldn’t physically keep my head above water by that stage. I was going under swallowing water. (Craikey) saw me, darted over, and picked me up on his board. My eyes were rolling back in my head,” he recalls.
Other times Kerby has played saviour. Like the time good friend and fellow underground charger, Kit Rayner snapped his leg at ninety degrees after attempting an airdrop at Tombstones. Kerby drove his writhing mate two hours across the bumpy road to meet an ambulance. This was the world Kerby ushered his brother Cortney into as an 18-year-old when he towed him into The Right for the first time.
“He started off just going fuck this is pretty nuts but I’d just throw him the rope and be like, ‘Well, it’s a right. C’mon you’re out there” he recalls.
“Maybe sometimes he’s been thinking fuck this isn’t a good idea but a lot of the time you just throw him in the situation. And he’s had some crazy waves with that method,” he says.
Today they live ten hours apart - Kerby in the deep south working the offshore oil and gas rigs while Cortney works the family fishing business back in Kalbarri. There’s no question the waves back north in the ‘Barri are a little more perfect but there’s only one rush for Kerby these days.
“Surfing those perfect waves are fine and it’s great to do it on a daily basis, but there’s something about riding the heaviest chunk of ocean you can find. It’s just a huge challenge I think. There’s more water in ‘em. That’s what keeps me excited to do it,” he says.
Dino Adrian, 30, Prevelly
Standing bolt upright in a ten foot tube is a rare experience. Doing it with a half a tab of acid under your tongue is all Dino Adrian.
“It’s like high-definition slow motion. You can see every droplet of water,” he says of the time he rode a ten-foot transparent dream-sequence high on lysergic on a secret island chain off the coast of West Australia.
The tube specialist picked up the habit from original anti-hero, Christian Fletcher, during their trips together for RVCA, telling STAB he’d “never seen someone do so much shit and go surfing.”
Dino arrived in the west as a child immediately gravitating towards the region’s many waves of consequences. North Point is probably his favourite but he loves The Box too and has won big respect for his backside exploits at Tombstones, Gnaraloo. He’s picked up jobs as a labourer, concreter and surf-shop attendant to fund his adventures (along with support from RVCA) and at 30 years old is only now starting a carpentry apprenticeship.
“My friends who’ve all been working really hard on the mines have all got houses and live really comfortably. They’re all pretty set up while I’m driving around in an old banged up Nissan Patrol,” he says.
“There are sacrifices if you look at it that way but looking back on it I’ve had good innings partying and surfing amazing waves with my good friends.”
You gotta pay to play in these parts and Dino hasn’t been spared. He’s sworn off tow surfing for life after snapping two medial ligaments and suffering a spiral fracture to the tibia in three separate incidents all due to his feet getting stuck in the tow straps. His worst injury came in far more innocuous circumstances, however. The unimaginable vastness of this part of the world means surfers spend more time in the car than anywhere on the planet (Dino estimates 5000 kilometres in photographer, Jamie Scott’s car alone). It was this, the doctor told him, that likely caused his “back to cave in” requiring surgery to have a disc shaved.
“At times you’re like, fuck what am I doing?” he says, “but at the end of the day you’re still kicking, drinking a beer around the fire with your mates. You cherish those moments, and that’s what you wanna do. You wanna get those moments again,” he says.
“My friends who’ve all been working really hard on the mines have all got houses and live really comfortably. They’re all pretty set up while I’m driving around in an old banged up Nissan Patrol,” he says. “There are sacrifices if you look at it that way but looking back on it I’ve had good innings partying, surfing amazing waves with my good friends.”