A Bad Day On The Tools: Or, The Three Wave Hold Down
Brad Norris suffers and survives probably the worst wipeout ever at The Right.
Bradley Norris is a Perth plumber who moonlights as one of the best surfers in West Oz’s waves of consequence, particularly The Right.
Whenever the forecast looks favourable, which for these lunatics only starts at 10-foot plus, schedules are rearranged, jobs are postponed and the tools are put down and Brad, alone or with the band of merry maniacs he surfs with, makes his way down the coast.
The Right, somewhere off West Australia’s southwest, might be the most dangerous wave in the world. It’s deserving of the mutant moniker that’s often bestowed upon waves of consequence, a chunky, unforgiving, double, triple up, that detonates well below sea level, often imploding on itself. It’s an ugly wave, that punishes the brave and stupid surfers who attempt to surf it more often than not.
That nobody has died out there yet is due only to the fact that only a handful of experienced surfers take it on. Over the weekend, that almost changed.
Remember when Stab sent Mark Matthews and Taj out there? With MM surfing behind TB for one of our cover shoots? Mark suffered his worst wipeout to that date (the one that blew out his leg was unfortunately still to come), surfacing with a blown eardrum and missing some bark from his face.
Well, Brad just went a fair bit worse, playing a similar game with a tow behind of his own and almost joined Mark’s skin permanently wedged in the undersea reef.
Let’s let the dunny diver/big wave hellman talk us through it, because let’s be honest, Brad’s recounting of this situation is about as close as any of us will ever get to experiencing a wipeout of this magnitude.
The beginning of the undoing. (Frame by Chris White)
Stab: How are you feeling mate?
Bradley Norris: I’ve strangely pulled up ok, my head’s still pretty sore and I’m pretty rattled. It’s been a pretty emotional 24 hours.
I went down last minute and didn’t really have anyone to tow with. I was just like, ‘Fuck it’. I’ve got my little fisheye set up so I thought I’d just to take that down and drive my buddy Chris White, and hopefully after a few people get some, and there are some bombs coming through, I’d hit one of the boys up and we’ll do some doubles. So I hit Jake Osman up and we got a couple, one really thick one, just an 8-10 footer, that would have looked really good, like nice perfect opening.
Then I was like, ‘Mate let’s get a bomb’.
I want to see what a proper big one looks like through the camera, with the two of us in it.
We waited probably like half an hour, maybe an hour, and then that thing came and it was pretty… it was a fucken big lump, a 15-footer.
I just sort of came off the bottom and came in behind him and at one point I had to redirect—it didn’t look like it was going to throw out super far, so I had to redirect my rail real quick and it sorta caught some water. I held on for a little while and then…
Obviously out there, when you take off too much speed, it’s going to start sucking you up the face, and it sucked me up the face pretty much in the middle of the reef, in the middle of the wave, so I was just in the worst spot you can be to come off.
“It didn’t look like it was going to throw out super far, so I had to redirect my rail real quick and it sorta caught some water. I held on for a little while and then…” (Frame by Chris White)
Yeah it was pretty fucking insane.
Did you come a gutsa because you were doing doubles, or would you have fallen on that wave riding it solo?
Nah, I think it was the whole doubles thing, because I’m not looking at the wave so much as I’m looking at him. So I’m watching him and feeling out the wave—still watching what I was doing but I wanted to make sure I nailed the shot, but then… as you can see in the photos it was a pretty big one and it was drawing a lot of water.
So what happened once you got sucked up the face?
I got sucked up and I kept trying to hold on, but after a bit I jumped—and I remember I kept shooting, I went forward and kept trying to shoot him, because what I was seeing was absolutely ridiculous. The thing was drawing so hard, but then I pretty much just hugged the camera and it picked me up and then it just put me straight down. Within three or four seconds I was just pinned to the bottom—I think Ant-Man is the only other person who has ever hit the bottom out there, and I…
How deep is it?
It’s about 12 to 15 metres (40-50 feet) down.
The bit where poor Bradley takes a high speed elevator to the basement floor. (Frame by Chris White)
Do you start to worry when you feel that happening?
Yeah, that was when I pretty much just switched off. As soon as I knew that second wave was coming, I closed my eyes, held the camera and just completely switched my body off, because I knew I was about to be down there for a long time, because if I had two canisters inflated and it was still sucking me deeper I knew I was in fucking big trouble.
So you shut down, but could you still feel the second wave come over you?
Yeah I knew i’d been down there for a long time—at that stage I reckon I’d been down there for 30 seconds.
So that second wave I’m talking about apparently someone caught it, and he went down, and he popped up—after he’d had a one and a half, or a solid one wave hold down—he popped up and then another wave landed on him, and then I popped up.
So I was down for my wave, his wipeout, and then another wave—I was underwater for three waves.
So when you popped up you were completely unconscious?
I blacked out a metre or two below the surface. All I remember thinking was—because I had so many diaphragm jumps, you know when you’ve been under for so long your throat kinda wants to jump out of your mouth?
Well I’d been doing it for so long and had a little full black out moment and was like, ‘Alright if I black out I’ve just gotta make sure I keep my mouth shut’. That’s all I was thinking. Just keep your mouth closed and don’t let any water in if you black out.
That’s all I was thinking about, ‘Don’t open your mouth, don’t open your mouth. Don’t let any water in’.
And then I blacked out maybe a metre before the surface.
As I come to, I felt the air on my face, because obviously I had my eyes closed, and opened my eyes and I remember just seeing Zac there.
Saturday had some wild moments. Stoked to see everyone get home safely and enjoy the day. @bradleynorris shared his story of nearly drowning if you want to have a read check out his last post. Love getting to take home some memories of the day. @zac_haynes @_humbert @email@example.com @tim_bonython@rufflestruffles_ @rcj6666 @henrydavies@tyronswan @bradleynorris thanks for the good times.
Zac Haynes, and to the right of Zac there was another massive wall of water coming and I was like, Fuck and Zac just grabbed me, grabbed my head and threw me onto he back of the ski—we didn’t actually have a sled, so I was just holding onto him and onto the back of the rails of the ski, just trying to outrun this wave.
I had absolutely no energy, so probably after five or six seconds of trying to outrun this wave I bounced off and then copped the next one on the head and that one held me down for probably 10-15 seconds.
I almost blacked out again even after such a short time—I was just underwater seeing stars trying to switch off, I was like, ‘Let the vest bring you up’, just in complete survival mode.
Then we got washed all the way onto the inside and it probably took another 20 seconds before he could get me onto the ski just because there were so many waves coming through, but by then I was getting a bit of rest between the waves.
When Zac ripped me up onto the ski there was blood coming out of my ears, out of my nose, I was coughing up blood, and it was just fucking wild.
So then you went to the channel to recover?
Nah we sat on the inside. I couldn’t do anything, I was in so much pain, so we sat maybe 300-400 metres in where it’s a bit calmer and just slowly idled around, went to the channel and I just sat into the channel for a while, because my ears were fucked and I couldn’t hear a thing.
I was coughing up blood, and everyone said I was down for about a minute, that I was down for a full three waves.
So I was pinned on the bottom and I could feel myself getting slowly dragged along the reef. It wasn’t letting me up, or pushing me harder, it was just dragging me along the reef.
I was holding my camera in one hand and looking for my inflation vest, because I was like, ‘Fuck, I’ve never been on the bottom before’, and my head was just pounding, because when you’re 15 metres deep and with a tonne of water on you it’s a lot of pressure.
I pulled one canister and it felt like it was half going up, because there was so much pressure on me, so I was like, ‘Fuck it I’ve got to pull the other one’.
I pulled two and pretty much held onto my camera because I could feel the vest was obviously inflated, and I knew I was eventually going to go to the top.
I was down there, probably about the same depth, maybe just above the reef by then, and I felt the next one come over. You know when it’s coming because when you feel the next wave it starts sucking you back out to sea, back the other way because it’s starting to take all the water off the reef again.
So I could feel myself getting sucked back out along the reef.
The kind of vision Brad was chasing, but bigger.
Is this the worst wipeout anyone’s ever had out there?
Andrew Semark was out there, and so was Chris White—who found the place— and they’ve seen some of the worst wipeouts out there, and they reckon that was the longest and worst wipeout out there—actually maybe Ant-Man’s (Paul Paterson, Jake’s brother). Ant-Man had one that was pretty much a similar situation, I think he had two, two and a half, maybe three waves, and they reckon he was in the same situation, just came up lifeless, you know?
It was about as heavy as it gets for me. I was just telling myself to relax, to not let water in, and was aware that I was going unconscious because I was blacking out.
This is a wave you know quite well, right?
Yeah, it’s one of the main waves that we surf in winter, especially when it’s big—over four metres and up, when you’re getting 15-foot waves it’s where you surf.
And it’s the first time that anything like this has ever happened to you?
Yeah I’ve never, that I can think of, blacked out. I’ve had plenty of two wave hold downs, but I’ve never had three wave hold down that’s had me under so deep and for close to a minute.
Are you training breath holds to surf these sort of waves?
I’ve always been pretty confident in my fitness. I’m not doing breath-hold training, but I train and keep my fitness pretty high. Yesterday definitely opened my eyes to it, if you could do breath hold training and get another 20 seconds it’d definitely be a fucking big advantage to saving your own life.
But that’s pretty hard with work. It’s hard to find time to surf, to work, to do breath-hold training. You try and do as much as you can, but it is what it is.
So what now? How are you feeling? What are you going to do next? Are you going to get out there again?
It’s hard. It’d be hard to say I’m never, I mean I’m definitely going to go back there. It’s one of my favourite waves, and doing the double thing is something I’ve been doing a bit. I was doing them with Jack Robbo a few years ago…
But doing the double thing on a big one was something that I’d never done and no one’s ever done—except Mark. He did it years and years ago, didn’t he? With Taj and almost ended up in the same situation.
It’s a fucken heavy wave! There’s no other wave that’ll push you so deep. Everyone who comes there always says it’s the worst place to wipe out in the world. Nowhere beats you up like that, nowhere makes your ears burst, or just from the depth of where you are makes your nose bleed or anything like that.
“So are you back to work tomorrow?” We asked Brad. “Ummmm, yeah I’ll probably get stuck back into it.” (Photo: Andrew Semark)
Here’s the important question, did you get the shot?
Mate, the tube was almost too big to get the shot. There are a couple of mental shots, not exactly what I wanted. You’ll see the shots from the smaller one I got, the first one I got, and it’s perfect, an amazing behind view.
This one was like, you can see the edge of the tube, but you can’t see the roof because it’s so high. It’s almost too big to be able to do that point of view. You’d have to be even deeper to get the shot, but I got some shots that are absolutely incredible, seeing how hard the waves bending from where we’re sitting is pretty wild.
So are you back to work tomorrow?
Ummmm, yeah I’ll probably get stuck back into it.
Any swells on the way? Or are you not even checking the charts at the moment?
There’s a mother one on Wednesday I think, eight metres again. West Oz is absolutely cooking this year, and Indo’s going to be washed away by the end of this winter.
Are you going to surf The Right doubles again?
It’s funny because I sent some photos to the guy I was surfing doubles with and he was like, Ahh fuck should we do it again? I was like, ‘Shit, I dunno mate, maybe next year’. Let me get over that one first…
This photo was taken on Saturday about 15 minutes after blacking out due to a 3 wave hold down at The Right.
Jake Osman and I where doing doubles and I was at the back with the camera. I went down hard on a around a 15ft set wave… It drove me straight into the bottom and pinned me there. Still trying not to lose the camera and pinned to the bottom I managed to pull one cord on my inflation vest… shortly after feeling another wave was going over I pulled another cord to inflate more and it was still holding me down. At this stage I’d been down for 2 waves at over 10m deep so roughly 30-40 seconds. Shortly after Once my body begun to gasp for air I new I had to shut off…. I wasn’t sure which way was up all I new I had to relax and shut my body completely off… I knew I was about to blackout and at this stage i would of been down for close to 1 minute. I kept telling myself to relax and when you blackout make sure you keep your mouth closed and not to swallow any water. I wasn’t panicking, I was relaxed but I new that if I took in water that could be the end of me.
At some stage I must of busted though the top, maybe I took a breath and come back into conscious, im not to sure I just remember opening my eyes and seeing @zac_haynes charging in with his hand out to grab me…. Zac said I came up with a lifeless look in my eyes with blood coming from my nose and ears.
He grabbed me but with the next wave right on his tail I was unable to hang on… I didn’t have any strength left in me to keep hanging on and fell off the back of the ski… nearly blacking out again with only a hold down of no more than 15seconds by the next wave….
Luckily by this stage we had been washed so far in i was able to get some breaths in before the next waves came over me and Zac being able pick me up…
I’m extremely lucky to have not sustained any major injuries or worse.
@zac_haynes with out your rescue, getting in to help me in the time you did I would hate to of thought of the outcome…. Thank You mate….
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