Stab Magazine | On Why The 2016 Cape Fear Event Shouldn’t Have Been A Success:
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On Why The 2016 Cape Fear Event Shouldn’t Have Been A Success:

(But absolutely was.)

news // Jun 8, 2016
Words by Words
Reading Time: 6 minutes

The sophomore Red Bull Cape Fear, which ran over the last two days, should not have been successful. It should not have been the PR dream event that the 2016 edition was. The mostly north direction of a very rare swell meant that 12 foot sets were breaking more directly towards the rocks than usual, with maximised backwash and little-to-no exit. It was violent, loud and terrifying even behind a screen. Much of the morning on day one was spent deliberating on whether it was even surfable. It was overcast and raining. No one could stomach even a warm-up surf before the event. The contest site was a bare skeleton, because weather in the lead up hadn’t allowed workers in. The water was brown, the sky grey, the mood bleak.

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Before the first heat was called on, the crowd was watching waves like this for hours, wondering if it was even surfable. During that time, a surfer standing in this seemed incomprehensible.

It was often an eerie vibe in the competitor’s area. There were two lots of applause for every wave: The cheers and screams as the surfer took off and rolled in, followed by sometimes up to a minute’s silence, until the announcement was made that the surfer was ok, or the surfer appeared on the back of the ski, at which point there was more (often louder) applause.

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Evan Faulks was one of the few who put themselves in the mix on day one, when it was at its most hairy. His composure was beyond impressive – a common theme among competitors.

Surfers departing from the competitor’s area for their heats was a sombre affair. They would kiss their children, or highly concerned wives or parents, who offered grim smiles of encouragement. They’d have to suit up an hour before the start of their heat on day one, as jumping off the rocks was impossible, requiring a trip back out of the national park and down to the boat ramp to ride the ski out of the gap. Though none would ever admit it, most surfers were petrified, with little choice but to put on a brave face after the silent vote to run. Andrew Mooney and Jughead were among a very select few who genuinely wanted a piece of it.

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The water safety at this event had the least enviable job in surfing. Some of the rescues they did, metres from cliff face, were action movie shit.

It was very telling of the lineup that the two surfers in the opening heat were a fireman and a lifeguard (Jughead and Jesse Polock). The majority of surfers in the event had no major sponsor. James ‘Rooster’ Adams is a carpenter and fly-in, fly-out worker in the mines, who purchased the wetsuit he was wearing at full price from a surf shop. The three boards Perth Standlick brought to Solander were boards he’d had made for the US Open of Surfing at Huntington Beach last year. When he isn’t UFC fighting, Richie Vas lays carpet to pay the bills. The WSL’s ruling that no BWWT surfers were allowed to compete in Cape Fear meant that the lineup became very blue collar, resulting in a distinct lack of, in the normal sense, glamour.

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How many carpenters you know surf big, technical waves like this with such aplomb? Rooster, on the right line through cappuccino. (That foam is from three day’s worth of 12-footers pounding into brown water.)

Contest organiser Mark Mathews wanted to run semifinals, but Red Bull were so petrified that someone was going to get hurt (see also: die) that they trimmed it down to round one straight into a final. Can’t say I blame them. The elephant in the viewing area was the undeniable spectre of possible death. Yes, the lineup was that scary. Someone could’ve easily not surfaced from beneath the well-documented 27 Olympic swimming pools worth of water. The event should’ve been a disaster.

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Jughead, by all accounts, approaches firefighting in a similar way he does big waves: Little concern for self preservation (Stab has been told he’s a backdraft hero, but if the call is borderline, won’t let anyone go in before him). He couldn’t get enough on day one.

And yet.

No one died. The competitors, who were chosen based on their experience at the wave or the likelihood of them slaying out there, and matched up based on similarities (goofy vs goofy, teen vs teen, etc), completely stepped up. These are the guys that have surfed Ours for 10 years, and surf it better than any non-Ours surfer ever could, regardless of major sponsors or public image. “I think people go for the craziest ones, and if they’re not in the right position, they still go, and go over the falls,” said Koby Abberton. “I don’t want to get my hair wet. I don’t want to fall. I get those ones that are good, and perfect, and I can see that I’m going to make, or see that I’m in the right position as I’m coming into them. You see people going over that ledge, but you should be backdooring em, pulling into the ledge. So if I’m ever on top of the ledge, like you saw on the big ones that I went, I just won’t go them. You’re just going to air drop and fall. I like to be coming underneath that.” Intimacy.

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“I don’t want to get my hair wet,” says Koby. “You see people going over that ledge, but you should be backdooring em, pulling into the ledge.” Here, he puts his philosophy into practice.

The main reason the surfers were so scared on day one, was because they knew that once they were out there, they would not hold back. All their friends were on the cliff, all cameras were pointed at them, all eyes were on them (including the entire world tour circus, who spent their Fiji lay day sitting at the bars on Namotu and Tavarua screaming at the Cape Fear live feed). Regardless of what they were faced with, they were going. And they did. And it was the best show in surfing.

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Jai Abberton, casual in intensity.

And while there were injuries and generous moments of high concern, there was no serious injury (except Jughead’s stitched scalp). The comprehensive safety program was efficient, from the briefing the night before (“wear your thickest leash, because that’s how we’ll find you if you’re knocked out, but if you’re headed for the rocks, rip your leash off and beach yourself, don’t worry about scratches”), to the wildly good job the water patrol and cliff spotters did, and danger was minimised.

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Ryan Hipwood, who rode the most memorable wave from last time the event ran, has the perfect back-footed tuberiding approach for the Cape.

And you know why? Mark Mathews is a low-key genius. Everything from the lineup he curated to the formatting to the top to bottom, no-detail-overlooked nature of the event, began with him. While I would’ve loved to have seen him in the mix (he surfs the place as well as anyone ever could hope to), it was a blessing in disguise that his Jaws shoulder injury kept him out of the singlet. He put his knowledge to use on the first day, driving a ski and whipping competitors into only the best ones. He was calm and considered while making the call on camera, he perfectly balanced froth and hyperbole with inside knowledge during finals commentary. And he curated what can only be considered the best live show that surfing has ever had the pleasure of.

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Laurie Towner got the best wave on day two. Unfortunately, heats hadn’t started yet. Watch it on Mark’s IG.

Yes, this contest is here to stay.

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Eventual winner, 18-year-old Russ Bierke, on his winning 10-point ride in the final.

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