Stab Magazine | Nate Florence Wins Red Bull Cape Fear (Paddling!) At Shipstern Bluff
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Nate Florence Wins Red Bull Cape Fear (Paddling!) At Shipstern Bluff

“That’s the first comp I’ve ever won in my life!”

news // May 13, 2019
Words by stab
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Red Bull Cape Fear.

We hyped it. You typed it. The waves went splat.

Despite the diminished swell, the 2019 rendition of the world’s most radical surf event provided ample entertainment for viewers around our orb.  

Surfers had to take a 3-hour boat ride from Hobart to Shipstern Bluff, which provided six-to-occasionally-ten-foot sets for the event’s 20 competitors. Nate Florence was in his wetsuit at 3:30 am – which his peers giggled at – before having to remove it shortly after to go pee.

This event was the first of its kind in several ways, including the location and the fact that surfers could choose whether they wanted to paddle or tow, with paddle waves being scored some unknown percentage higher than tow waves, due to their increased difficulty. My guess: a tow 6 equaled a paddle 8.

The first heat included 3x World Champion Mick Fanning, who was the primary draw (and betting favorite) of the event. Fanning opted to tow for his full 40 minutes, getting a few cute pocket rides and one deep, albeit smallish, tube. Meanwhile, local boy Marti Paradisis started with the rope but quickly abandoned it to paddle the ledge. Surprisingly, after 40 minutes, he was unable to score above a one.

Nate Florence took all the mojo with his signature power-mullet, which he used to scrape under several gurgling mutants and slide into the lead.

The format for Red Bull Cape Fear included five 4-man heats with the winner of each match qualifying for the final. After crossing swords with Pedro Scooby, who towed past the paddling Nate, the middle Florence bro had a brief meeting with the rocks.

“My board got demoed,” he laughed in the post-heat interview.

It didn’t matter. Surfing’s fittest freakazoid had already made the final.

In heat 2, Tassie’s resident tree trunk Tyler Hollmer-Cross took unique lines into the tube, often throwing carves or snaps before hopping the ledge and standing (legitimately) tall. That’s local knowledge at its finest.

Then came Justen ‘Jughead’ Allport, the people’s champ of the 2016 event who was wearing a wetty cap for cold and/or protection. Who can blame the guy for not wanting to bust his skull open again? It turned out the brain gear was warranted, with Jughead getting washed into and over the rocks before, just minutes later, hitting the step mid-tube and cartwheeling into oblivion. Finally he wrangled a few paddle bombs before taking a tow wave for the lead.

THC tried to fight back in the dying minutes, scooping under the hood for another stand-tall tube that came up short. Jughead to the final.

In heat 3, Mikey Brennan got a nine that we never saw. On a later wave, he did a snap to a purposeful side-slip in the foam. The judges gave it a four despite a distinct lack of tube. Like THC, Mikey displayed supreme wave knowledge and ability.

Speaking of, the Tassie boys should be revered for not just their surfing approach but also their negotiating skills. Ten of the 20 Cape Fear competitors were Tasmanian locals, which was one of their demands of the Red Bull team. Half of those ten (Marty, Mikey, the Hollmer-Cross bros, etc.) would have earned spots based on skill alone, but I’m convinced a few of those boys were plucked from the local pub and thrown a wetty and a tow rope.

This was a worthwhile concession on Red Bull’s part, but it also would have been cool to see more big names in the event. Dorian, Kai Lenny, Matt Bromley, etc.

Unrelated, here’s a list of job titles from Cape Fear competitors:

  • nurse
  • teacher
  • firefighter (x2)
  • tiler
  • masseuse

Gotta respect anyone who’s working the weekly grind just to earn a few tubes in their spare time.

Speaking of respect, Mark Mathews surfed today. The same Mark Mathews who ripped his arm out of his socket at Jaws then turned his knee backwards a year later, resulting in four years (mostly) out of the water, a foot with no hinge, and a leg that looks like it’s been scooped out by a big, warm spoon.  

“YES! let’s do this @redbullau!” Mark said on his Instagram when he found out he would be surfing in the event. “Not sure there could be a better way to make a return to surfing big slabs again! Get to share the moment with all my favourite lunatics from around the world!”

Sadly, Mark injured himself yet again in his heat, potentially breaking his “good” foot when it got caught in his tow strap on an awkward tumble (you can read all about that here).

Mikey Brennan advanced.

James Hollmer-Cross, being towed by his brother Ty, handled two big rock-hops into a massive pit, which he escaped with incredible speed. Rather than turning off the back, James opted for an enormous leap into the channel that nearly ended in disaster. Directly in Jim’s path was a jetski being operated by Mick Fanning and a friend. James landed on the side of the ski, but low enough that he bounced back into the water rather than slamming all of his weight directly into the vessel. He had a quick laugh and paddled back to the lineup. It’s tough to hurt a Tassie.  

The judges gave Jim a 9.17 and nobody else came close.

Heat five was the most competitive of Round 1. Laurie Towner started with two strong paddle waves for a seven and a five. He then grabbed the rope and headed out the back for a bomb.

Nate Florence, winner of heat 1, came onto the webcast, explaining his sole hope for the final.

“I just think it would be sick if everyone paddled,” Florence explained to Red Bull’s on-the-boat commentator, Chris Binns.

Albee Layer, an offsite commentator alongside Chris Cote and Dave Wassell, agreed.

“It’s totally doable,” said Albee. “I get why some guys might want to tow, but paddling is way sicker in my opinion.”