How To Rock-Off Like A Pro, With Ryan Hipwood
In light of a recent rocking-off related death in Noosa Heads, we figured this guide might serve the wider surfing community.
Nearly three weeks ago, a 34-year-old bodyboarder drowned while trying to rock-off at Noosa Heads on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.
According to reports, the man was smashed head-first into a boulder when he either mistimed the jump or slipped, causing him to lose consciousness and, due to the powerful waves holding him down, tragically, also, his life.
Everyday tens, perhaps hundreds, of people find themselves in precarious situations when attempting to enter the surf via a rock or cliff structure. Thousands then watch in shocked amusement when those instances are captured and uploaded to content sharing platforms like Instagram, Youtube, or Stabmag.com.
We’re morally able to do that because, in most cases, we assume these people survive their brutal thrashing. But as the bodyboarder in Noosa (and other similarly tragic situations) should teach us, that is not always the case, which is why we decided to ask a rocking-off expert, Ryan Hipwood, how to best ensure our survival when entering or exiting the ocean via dangerous outcroppings.
Stab: Hey Hippo, I assume you’ve heard about that guy who died on the Sunny Coast a few weeks back?
Ryan Hipwood: Yeah I did hear about that, I saw it on the news actually. I didn’t hear many details, but I heard he got pinned on the rocks or something. Really sad, hey.
Yeah so, with that in mind, and even thinking of all the brutal rock slams we see on Instagram, we thought it might be cool to get some advice from an expert, being you, on how to safely enter and exit the water via rocks.
Well that’s cool, but let’s clear up one thing right off the bat: just like with anything involving the ocean, there’s no way to guarantee “safety” when you’re rocking-on or off. In fact, if you do it enough, it doesn’t matter how good or smart you are about it – eventually you’re gonna get caught in a bad place.
That makes sense. But if people are gonna continue to jump off rocks into the surf — and let’s face it, they are — we’d love if you could share some “best practices”.
Yeah for sure. First and foremost you need to know how to read the ocean. I think a lot of people don’t know how to do that. I see a lot of guys that do rock jumps and they don’t really check out what’s going on, they just roll the dice and hope they’re not gonna get plastered on the cliff. And then just small things like knowing what the tide is doing, if it’s going high or low, will obviously make a big difference with rocks. So just knowing stuff like that. And I also gotta say, if you’re not comfortable with doing it then don’t do it.
When you say people should watch the ocean first, what is it they should be looking for?
If you have good eye, you can watch it and figure out how far apart sets are. If it’s a strong, long-period swell it’s really easy to do a rock jump, because the lulls are much longer and you’ll have plenty of time to go down the rocks when it goes flat. It’s when the ocean goes short-period, when its like and 8-second period or something, and the storm is really close to land that you get caught out because you think you have enough time to get off the rocks and you see an opening, and then all of a sudden something creeps up on you. Next thing you know you’re getting blasted on the rocks.
What are some of the worst places to rock-off?
Rocking-off at Jaws sucks — it’s super easy to blow your fins out. There you have to be really onto it because any sort of surge on those bigger days, it’s really hard to judge what they’re gonna do. In that situation, it’s about being aware of your surroundings and obviously if you are not comfortable, then try to find someone that is a local and ask them the questions: “What way do I jump?” “What’s the best place to jump?” “Are there any rocks underneath?”
I have seen guys at Snapper get really hurt jumping off, landing on dry rocks and shit. Usually when you jump off a rock the current will blast you down the point where you’ll miss rocks if you do fuck up, but if the swell direction is coming straight in, it will hold you in that position where you can get blasted over the rocks and continuously get pinned there. A place like Cape Solander can obviously be really difficult.
What about coming back in, AKA “rocking-on”? In some places you can head straight to the beach, but at a wave like Cape Solander that’s not an option. What’s the play there?
Some days it’s just not even possible to get in there. That particular spot is harder to get in the water than it is to get out. Especially if it’s a high tide and it’s picking up rapidly. There was this one time where I had to paddle around the whole headland and come in at a different bay, which was like a 25-minute paddle.
As for rocking-on though, obviously you want to go with the ocean. When you are jumping off rocks you kinda wait for the energy to dissipate, whereas when you are coming in usually you want pick the last wave of the set and almost ride it all the way up the rocks. That’s key, because if you try and you rush it, and you get it wrong, because you are at water level you can’t really tell what set you’ve gone on, and you can get in a lot of trouble. I have been caught up a few times at Jaws where I thought I was on the last set coming in over the rocks, but it was actually the second last, and I ended up dry-docked, copping like a four-to-six foot wave on the head while on dry rocks and holding 10’6. It’s heavy.
Every situation is different, but in general what advice would you give to someone who finds themselves in the worst-case scenario? What do you do when you are about to get pounded?
The first thing is you don’t want to panic, because if you panic you are going to lose energy really quickly. Second, it’s actually rather hard to hit rocks near a cliff because generally the water will hit the rock before you do. And once it hits the rock it retracts off the rock and will actually push you in the opposite direction. If you can swim half-decent, you can keep momentum moving forwards or backwards to help that situation. There’s always an alternative to any situation. I think like I was saying before, if you’re second guessing yourself then it is so much easier to just paddle around the headland. You probably think you are saving time by paddling around the rocks but at the end of the day you’re probably gonna ram your fins out or get hurt.
Would you say that in that split-second situation, is it better to jump? Or is it better to retract/hold your ground?
If you can get some sort of momentum to get over the surge, I think it’s better to try and jump into it, and then it will retract you back to the cliff or the rock anyway. The worst thing would be to turn around and start running with that energy because it’s already got so much momentum when it hits the rocks, so if you’re just going with it you can get slammed really hard.
What’s your worst experience rocking-off?
I have been flogged a few times at Jaws coming in. At Cape Solander I got really lucky one day. I jumped off, I was already up on the cliff – it’s a cliff jump not a rock jump – I thought I was in the right position to jump off, and the wave blew my board up. Luckily it gave me enough momentum to go down the point, and sort of get blasted back up the cliff. I’ve also been pinned underneath quite a few times as well, which is super scary because I went to come up and realized I was under the ledge, which scared the shit out of me.
But I think that’s why we find those Instagram clips so funny –– we’ve all been there before. Everyone has eaten shit on the rocks and your mates are standing there watching you getting flogged… you do feel pretty helpless. It goes from being funny to really serious really quick. Especially if it’s at a spot where you can get really hurt.
And what point do you just stop caring about your board and focus strictly on survival?
Ohhh, you’ll know (laughs). And pretty quick. You’ll know. That will be answered for you very quickly [laughs].
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