The Story Behind The Cape Fear Beating: Richie Vaculik
Stab speaks with carpet-laying cage fighter on the beating of a generation at Cape Fear.
On a day that set a new benchmark for bravado in the surfing arena, it was left again to the diminutive cage-fighting, carpet-laying, Croatian-Australian Richie Vaculik, to set the standard. The beating he took on a 10 to 12 foot Cape Solander mutant was cartoonish. It’s already gone viral, providing a nice book-end to the head-first, out-of-the lip effort out here nearly a decade ago that made him an instant legend. He’s ridden hundreds of successful barrels in between at The Cape, though admits nothing like yesterday had ever been attempted before.
Stab: How are you feeling?
Richie Vas: Surprisingly the body is feeling pretty good today. I’m feeling lucky after yesterday and everything that went down. Today’s getting perfect out there by comparison.
What was your first reaction when you saw what you’d be surfing yesterday? It was baffling. In the morning it was real high tide with a touch of north in it, big backwash, real challenging, but again, it was big and it was offshore and that’s what we’re after. All the elements were there, there was just a lot of tricky components as well so we all knew we were gonna surf. I was watching waves and mind surfing but I wasn’t having myself make many. We knew we had our work cut out for ourselves.
Were you ready to die yesterday? (Laughter) I wasn’t ready to die, but I’ve been surfing here for 15 years and I do know it was the most dangerous and most scary I’ve ever seen it. The size, the angle, the backwash, it was so thick and mean and doing so many crazy of things I’ve never seen it do before. I knew there was the potential of someone getting injured. Everyone was on their A-Game in terms of looking after each other, the water safety was great, I went out there trying to be selective with my waves and going ones that I thought I could make. But as it often does, it tricks you into some ugly ones. Jug(head) got pretty touched up by the reef but he made it out ok and he’s here today. Touch wood, so far that’s the worse there’s been. It could have been much worse.
The beating you took yesterday is already iconic. It’s gone viral. Please talk us through it. I wasn’t making many yesterday and I just wanted to make one to get through the heat. I thought that wave was just a smaller, medium wave. I thought it was going to give me a good chance to make it. There were waves capping off the back of the reef and they were about 12 to 15 foot so that kind of set the gauge. Anything that didn’t cap off the back of the reef I guess we thought was a smaller one, but they were still 10 to 12 footers. Everything was outta whack yesterday. You had to surf it totally different to the way you normally surf it. You couldn’t let go of the rope where you normally let go – it was gurgly and boily everywhere. I was just trying to work it all out again. It was like I was surfing it for the first time yesterday and, yeah, I thought that one I wiped out on was gonna let me into it and would be a nice-sized one and run off down the reef pretty well. But it hit the take off zone and where I normally let go, I still had all these troughs to get through. I could see the lip out of my peripheral coming down on me and… it was just one of those ones. I was too late but I let got of the rope so I just had to deal with it. I’m just really grateful I came out in one piece.
Was it makable? I felt good where I let go of the rope. I had the speed and then I saw all these troughs in front of me. I went off one, then I could see I had to go off another one, I could see the lip coming down as well, so I tried to get a rail in the water and went off another trough, and my nose got buried in that trough and I went over the handlebars. Thank god I did otherwise I think I would have worn that lip on the back of the head. It was a blessing in disguise. I still wore the lip and as violent a wipe out as it was I popped up okay.
Would you rather take a free shot from Conor McGregor or another one of those to the head? (Laughter) I’d take Conor McGregor any day of the week. I was saying to the boys yesterday, it’s so much safer walking into the octagon and fighting. Out there yesterday so much could have gone wrong. You’re just at the mercy of the ocean. You don’t have the opportunity to tap (out), there’s no ref standing over you to call it off. Gimme Connor any day.
One of your mates and fellow competitors, James ‘Rooster’ Adams, got the one yesterday. He’s a carpenter by trade, right? Yeah, he’s a carpenter and a fly-in, fly-out worker an the mines (in Western Australia). He spends three weeks of the month in the mines and one week back at home. He hasn’t surfed a wave over head high in 18 months and here he is stealing the show. He’s a legend, he surfs the wave as good as anyone. To see him get wave of the day yesterday, I was stoked. He’s a freak and definitely deserves it. I’ve been watching that wave all morning on my phone, going fuck, fuuuuuck. There were diamonds in the rough yesterday and he just nailed it.
And you’re a carpet layer, Jughead is a fireman. What does that say about the field who competed yesterday? It would’ve been great to have some of the internationals here for the event but to see some of Australia’s homegrown biggest chargers here with the conditions we had yesterday and today, it makes me really happy to share the lineup with those lads. I’ve grown up surfing with them, whether it be in West Oz or Tassie. To share an event like this with them is awesome. A blue-collar, working-class lineup, it was awesome.
How did your girl feel watching? She had to work. She’s at home a little nervous. Either when I’m fighting or surfing waves like this she likes to keep her distance and wish me luck. She gets a little anxious in these kind of environments. She wished me luck from home and again today she’s at work. She’d love to be here.
Would you do it all again? Mate, yeah, for sure. This is an amazing event. I hope we can do it every year, maybe not in the conditions we ran it in yesterday. But if they come again I’m sure we’ll all be out there. If the comp wasn’t on we would’ve been surfing anyway. I was glad to do it in the comp and have some paramedics in the lineup too because it makes it safer. Yeah, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
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