Stab Magazine | An Eyewitness Account Of Death At Tombstones

Live Now: How Surfers Get Paid — The Queens of Ascension


An Eyewitness Account Of Death At Tombstones

A dark day at one of the world’s least user-friendly waves.

news // Jun 1, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 2 minutes

It could happen to anyone. You chase a small one and turn around to see the entire ocean about to unload on your head. At Tombstones, arguably the heaviest reef in the world, the consequences are particularly dire. This is the sequence of events that most likely preceded the death of a 55-year-old man two days ago at Gnaraloo, according to eyewitnesses and those involved in the rescue.

“The old boy was out there with his son, who’s in his thirties,” recalls photographer Mike Riley, who was on the beach watching it unfold. “His old boy took off on a small one, a couple of eight footers came behind it sucking dry, and he just got stuck in the worst position when he came up, and had one land on him and drive him straight into the reef.”

Tombstones is a vicious wave – as evil, hollow, and riddled with steps as it gets. According to the people who know, it’s responsible for more serious injuries than any other wave in the world.

“So many injuries at that wave, more injuries than I’ve ever seen,” says Kalbarri tube specialist and Tombstones regular, Ry Craike. “People lose half their face. I’ve had my fair share of injuries up there, snapped one of my ligaments in my knee. Kerb (Brown) has been done up there, Antman lost half his face, fucken heaps of hideous injuries just because of heaps of jagged rock, and when the tide starts getting low it gets pretty gnarly.”

It was low tide and as dangerous as it gets when Sunday’s incident occurred. The set that did the damage was the first of a pulse that would last all through the morning. The 55-year-old was reached first by Kalbarri charger Jake Perkins, and noted underground hellman, Luke Mchugh, from Carnarvon. They’d worn the same set on the head, though were further in, out of the immediate impact zone, escaping unscathed. After watching the man’s board go over the falls on consecutive waves, they raced toward him, turning him over to discover head injuries and no sign of responsiveness. A fireman, who was also in the water at the time, confirmed there was no pulse and took charge of the daring rescue effort. The whole lineup assisted in helping get the man back to shore. Meanwhile, the ocean continued to pulse, hammering set after set on the rescue team. Leg ropes became tangled, boards were sacrificed and the crew were washed perilously close to the bombora. The man was lost amidst the chaos a couple of times, followed by frantic efforts to recover him. The crew made it to shore but nothing could be done. As the son mourned his father on shore, Tombstones continued to thunder 10 foot slabs down the reef behind. The lineup was left deserted for the rest of the morning out of respect to the deceased.

Stab would like to offer its condolences to the family of the deceased and thank everyone involved in the rescue effort.


Comments are a Stab Premium feature. Gotta join to talk shop.

Already a member? Sign In

Want to join? Sign Up


Most Recent

Airs On Trees: Bosiny Cracked The High-Performance Wood Surfboard Code 

Feat. Paulownia wood reinforced with Kevlar, these boards are as light as PU and loaded with spring. 

May 23, 2024

What’s In A Wedge?

Enjoyable water movement, explained by an expert.

May 23, 2024

Watch: Tosh Tudor In ‘Tube Therapy’

The 19-year old offers prescriptive insights into Desert Point karma, backside tube poise, and Off-The-Wall…

May 23, 2024

Swell’s En Route, Slater’s Involved, Here Comes Teahupo’o… 

A Tahiti Pro preview.

May 22, 2024

Can Medina Overcome His CT Drought In Tahiti?

Tahurai Henry offers his picks for the SHISEIDO Tahiti Pro

May 21, 2024

The 35 Best Song Pairings In Surf Films, As Ranked By Dane Reynolds, Taylor Steele & You

From Noa Deane and Courtney Love, to Andy Irons and Coldplay, to Creed McTaggart and…

May 20, 2024

Is This The Most Cost Efficient Way To Noticeably Improve Your Surfing In A Single Month?

All you can eat for $1500 AUD at URBNSURF Melbourne.

May 20, 2024

Watch And Learn: How To Score A Solo Sesh At 8-Foot Teahupo’o With Leonardo Fioravanti

Skip lunch and gorge.

May 19, 2024

Full Frame: The Story Behind The Photo You’ve Seen 1,000 Times

A viral ménage à trois in Bali.

May 18, 2024

Meet The Man Who Runs Kelly Slater’s Burgeoning Surf Empire

The Stab Interview with Dylan Slater. 

May 18, 2024

How Surfers Get Paid: Season 2, Episode 4

80+ interviews later, it's time to "send out the chicks".

May 17, 2024

How To Get To Stab High Japan

BYO ligaments. 

May 16, 2024

CT Earlybirds, Tahitian Warlords, And Aspirational Teenagers Divide Spoils From “11 out of 10” Teahupo’o Blob

Eimeo Czermak, Balaram Stack, Liam O'Brien, Cannon Carr, and Ryan Miller divulge tales from the…

May 16, 2024

The Lefts Off The Rights

Detailing the goofy-footed proclivity to go against the grain.

May 15, 2024

Watch: ‘Shotgun’ featuring Josie Prendergast & Taj Richmond

The allure of contradiction, displayed in the virtue of Northern Rivers sand.

May 15, 2024

How Accurate Were Our Pre-Cut Predictions?

Reflecting on the rookie-centric forecasts offered by CJ Hobgood, Stace Galbraith, Brett Simpson, and Mikey…

May 14, 2024

Local Wildcard Jordy Lawler Dusts 79 Transplants, Issy Nichols Denies Prodigy Erin Brooks Another Plush Toy

The Stab High winner is one semi-final away from tour qualification after only two events.

May 14, 2024

Which 2024 Stab High Competitor Has Given Us The Best Surf Part?  

Noa Deane, Chippa Wilson, Julian Wilson, Ian Crane and more duel for the most impactful…

May 13, 2024