A Semi-Comprehensive Guide To Thriving In Australia’s Cyclone Season
With a handful of chaps who know it best—Asher Pacey, Torren Martyn and Ari Browne.
It’s that time again: temperate water, over-exposure of bare and non-gender-specific, sun-soaked skin, BBQ’s, esky’s packed with ice and beer, and swell produced by mad, swirling cyclones.
Yes, the latter half of Land Down Under summer is a fantastic time to be a surfer.
From late January, through to the cooler extremities of Autumn, tropical lows are born off the northern tips of the country. They twirl about with minds of their own, occasionally making landfall, which is no fun for anyone in the immediate vicinity. (No, seriously. Remember two years back when Winston unleashed its category five hellfire on Fiji? Awful.)
But what destroys also creates: namely, long-period, neatly groomed corduroy lines, spaced twenty-odd seconds apart.
The world’s worst kept secret. Photo by Juan Medina.
TC Winston actually ended up driving smack bang through the optimum swell window for Queensland and northern New South Wales. Like any storm with enough juice poking around that region, it produced an unforgettable serving of long period energy for those on the safer side of the system.
Unfortunately, when these blips appear, half the nation’s beach-going populace mobilizes. They descend. Hungry, entitled (and/or just plain ignorant).
It can torment the psyche. The best waves of the year—and with the crowds, you can look but can’t touch. Not without breaking a “golden rule” or two anyway. The sixties were half a century ago, there’s (pretty much) nothing incredible left to uncover, no escape from the hordes.
So what do you do? Stay home? Jump in line, flex the patience muscle until it gives out, turn and burn?
We dialed a handful of gents, recognized for their ability to get the most out of these golden months of the year on Australia’s East Coast and came back with a few napkins full of cheat codes for maximizing the season stuffed in our pockets.
While there’s little left to uncover, opportunities do await the patient and intelligent storm chaser. Torren Martyn by Bluey @theblueson.
Forget that spot around the corner
“When the 50-year-storm hits, everywhere will have waves,” says alt-craft wizard Ari Browne. “It’s decision time. You either take the blue pill and surf the home break, or take the red pill and enter the matrix of possibilities.”
While there may have been a time not too long ago that secluded stretches free from geolocated pins, reviews, write ups in publications targeted towards tourists and Young Urban Professionals, existed. That’s no longer the case.
You can spend hours burning down dirt trails, spoiling your car’s suspension, check every nook and cranny in the area, only to discover a similar level of crowd saturation.
Or, you can front up and take your place in line.
“A few long gone years ago we had a couple of consecutive summers in a row that we and obviously the whole east coast were spoilt with really good quality waves, but it definitely feels like the time is getting longer between systems,” says Torren. Photo by Mark Mono Stewart.
“The back beaches have found their way in to most of the backpackers brochures, and there’s not really a whole lot of space that you can find to yourself anywhere,” says Byron Bay’s Torren Martyn. “It’s more about just accepting and embracing it for what it is.”
“Sometimes its best just to go straight out front, or whatever’s closest to you,” Asher Pacey explains. “It might be the first place you check. If it looks alright, then run that. Otherwise you’ll be chasing your tail for hours, and subsequently miss windows. I would ideally like to zig when everyone is is zagging, but it doesn’t always work out.”
“Sometimes with cyclone swells when they’re hanging around for a few days, its really easy to over cook it by surfing for too long and by the back end of the swell you’re absolutely buggered, but I guess you gotta take what’s in front of you,” says Asher Pacey. “It is good to be tired from surfing though, cos it doesn’t happen every day.” Photo by Jesse Little
Follow guidance from elders (or those that read forecasts better than you)
They read isobars like brail, know down to the minute when the wind will swing. They understand the tidal repercussions of a waxing gibbous moon. Ask your chart geek whether it’s worth striking now or waiting for that incoming rain squall and outgoing tide for a deserted glass off?
“Everyone has that one friend who goes by the name of ‘The Oracle’ or ‘The Prophet'”, says Ari. “You know the one, they’re always in the right place at the right time. Ask them what they’re seeing in their crystal ball.”
And if they’re already out there, suit up.
Know your role.
Cyclone Marcia had the Gold Coast at a high simmer back in February 2015. The Super Bank fired and subsequently hit capacity. Dean Morrison, (someone who’ll always be above you in the chain of command) took to Instagram to express frustrations:
“Love surfing this place more than anything! I grew up right there, went to primary school right there, when times were tough we had to stay at the refuge right there, so that’s why I get territorial right there… To all those people that think it’s a free for all or if ya just moved here and think you’re a local FUCK YOU, takes a long time to pay ya dues and earn ya spot in a line up!”
Regardless of your views on surf-equality, it’s best to avoid pissing off guys like Dingo. Pay attention in the lineup. Never assume that old gent scratching in way too deep isn’t Wayne Deane or Rabbit Bartholomew.
Fading a novice is cruel, dropping in on a legend is deplorable.
Know your lineup. Dean Morrison has earned the right to his keep. Photo by Andrew Shield.
“I think [the locals] should be getting respect, and people should know who they are,” Dingo told Stab after the fact. “They go out and they get paddled around, called off waves, and I think for anyone that grows up in that area, then they should be able to have their spot in the lineup and get their waves, especially when it’s pumping.”
“Common courtesy comes in to play in any crowded surf situation,” says Asher on the matter. “Otherwise, things can get heated and you don’t want that. Once the vibe changes, it’s not really fun for anyone.”
Pay attention to performance standards in the water. If the levels are high, expect a smaller slice of pie. Competition will be much lighter if most of the crowd’s bobbing about aimlessly.
“The Gold Coast can be extra tough; there’s a lot of good surfers, so it makes the chance of getting a good wave really hard,” says Mr Pacey. “But then there are times when you can see that the standard of surfing isn’t ultra high, and it can work in your favour to go out in those kind of windows.”
Find a gap. Photo by Juan Medina.
Bring decent company (if any).
Of course, your best chance of getting a wave or two in unfamiliar territory, will always be showing up alone. But if you must bring company, insist on quality—patient, positive humans (again, less is always more).
When things get tense in shoulder-to-shoulder lineups, or the tide’s softened things up, you need something to mix up your headspace. Unsheathe something different. They can be longer, shorter, thicker, fruitier, whatever… but they’ve gotta keep you entertained.
Ari is known for his explorations on the fringes of board design—and does a damn good job selling that as a way of life. Torren happily houses a log in the rear of his van; Asher usually has in-tow “anywhere between four to six boards.”
“I’ve got so many different things in my car,” Asher tells Stab. “All sorts of boards and wetsuits and little things just to make life easier on the road. I can always get a bit of fun out of whatever I have on hand.”
“It can be nice just to drag along a couple of lengthier boards,” says Torren. “Throw in some snacks and refreshments and find a little bit of shade and shelter on some of the protected points with good company.”
Ari Browne and the spice of life. Photo by Dylan Gordon.
Foster a healthy attitude.
As Brendan Buckley recently scribed, “There are few things in life that will make you want to ram your face into a wall more than paddling out in firing waves and not getting a good one.”
Inevitable fact: If it’s firing, it’s gonna be tense.
Accept it. Make peace with it. Move on.
Keep expectations in check and try to enjoy yourself (yes that is much harder in practice).
People are going to get in your way, block your line, snake you, drop in on you.
(Or, disregard all of this, and just go ahead and block, snake, drop in, et al., right back at ’em.)
Basically be more like Ari. Photo by Harry Triglone.
“The energy and morale is often pretty high when there’s little waves in the bay,” says Torren of his local. “Everyone seems to be in festive spirit. In terms of surf etiquette, that seems to be out the window. Just about anything goes.”
“If you kind of keep up that stoke then everyone can feed off that too,” Asher says. “You can all enjoy it – and that’s the ideal outcome I guess.”
“Friendship is one of life’s greatest pleasures,” chimes Ari. “Use it to your advantage and dog the boys by sending them on a wild goose chase (laughs). Nah. Surf with them, you’ll have more fun.”
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