Anatomy Of A Killer: Tombstones
This may just be the least user-friendly left in the world.
It’s known for some of the roundest, longest tubes in the world. And yet, Tombstones, in the far north-west of Australia, remains firmly off the itinerary of most travelling surfers. Why? Because it’s fucking death. A point that was brought tragically into focus recently by the death of a 55-year-old man at the wave. If the wave doesn’t get you, the drive in and out might. It’s a one to two hour sandy, corrugated nightmare that you don’t wanna be doing with a snapped femur or shattered collarbone. We asked three men who’d know – Taj Burrow, Paul ‘Antman’ Patterson and Jay Davies – what exactly makes Tombstones one of the heaviest paddle waves on the planet.
“It’s hard to get into, it’s a gnarly drop, and obviously it doesn’t break properly until it’s six foot-plus, so whenever it’s surfable, it’s terrifying,” says Taj. “It’s always heavy.” TB still handles the place real well.
I don’t know if you could call it the heaviest wave in the world but it’s quite evil. It’s really intimidating with the steps in the wave, for sure. It’s hard to get into, it’s a gnarly drop, and obviously it doesn’t break properly until it’s six foot-plus, so whenever it’s surfable, it’s terrifying. It’s always heavy. It doesn’t have fun days out there because it doesn’t link up properly if it’s only five foot. It’s really psycho. I’m so surprised there’s not more injuries out there because obviously the reef is super shallow for it to ledge out like that, but it’s like there’s a shallow finger of reef running down the line and it’s deep on the other side so a lot of people who eat it fall into that deep hole. But obviously there’s been a few cases where people have hit the shallow bit, and yeah, there’s been some really heavy accidents there. That finger of reef that gurgles and bubbles and ledges is terrifying. Falling on that bit, it’s one of the heaviest waves for sure. I’ve had heaps of good stacks but touch wood haven’t hit the bottom too hard. Just touched it.
Antman Paterson is one of the all-time greats at this wave. And that is no cakewalk.
It’s ledgier and nowhere near perfect like Teahupoo is. I find it the most challenging lefthander in the world for me. Moreso than Teahupoo or Fiji or anywhere like that. Those waves get big, but they’re perfect. On that particular day (of the recent fatality), the period of the swell really opened up to 20 seconds during the day. The problem with Tombies is, it gets really scary on big period swells. It draws all the water off the reef, making it more dangerous than it normally is. It’s dangerous enough on a big swell but up north in that area you get ‘King Waves’ and it really does catch people out. Two fisherman went missing further up at Coral Bay that same day. Their boat capsized, bits and pieces of the boat were found, but not the guys. In that area you get one random swell every now and then that might be six foot bigger than what it already is. We get em in the deep south and we get them up north. It might already be a 10 to 12 foot day, but then you’ll get this set out of nowhere that’s 15 to 18 foot, and it’ll just clean everyone up. Big period King Waves draw so much water off the reef that even if the tide is high, if you get pitched on a big set you’re gonna hit the reef. That’s what you’ve gotta be careful of. It’s one of the most dangerous lefts in the world. It’s not called Tombstones for nothing, and Antman suggests avoiding it on big swells ‘cause you’re gonna get hurt.
Catch Jay in the image up top. This one here, nothin’ to play with.
Is the heaviest in the world? Yeah, it could be true. It’s definitely one of the scariest waves in the world, if not the heaviest and most raw piece of reef on the planet. Especially on the west coast, there’s a lot of evil death slabs, but that is a freight train. There’s a lot of different boils and the evil bottom, so yeah, it’s definitely up there with one of the heaviest waves in Australia, if not the world.
Touch wood, I’ve never been properly hurt, I’ve just hit hard on the bottom. And luckily it wasn’t a coral head. I just got compressed against it, bruised all my hip, but it was yeah super lucky. I could have been one of the unlucky guys up there, a lot of my friends have been hurt. I’ve been lucky, real lucky. Kerby Brown is a freak out there, one of the better guys out there, if not the best, but becoming that good is gonna take its toll on you. He took a big hit to his head a couple years ago.
Looks fun, right? Nope.
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