Published on October 27th, 2017 | by pacificmedia0
Risk Vs Reward
Words and Photos: Cory
We hit the icy roads of winter bound for NZ’s pound for pound heaviest wave, a wave considered too risky by many and a wave that has ended its fair share of love affairs with those that have dared tame her. Surfers are traditionally seen as extreme risk takers and will go beyond the normal means of human acceptance to simply bask in the glory of riding the ultimate wave. With great risk comes great reward, but what if that risk far outweighs any reward you could possibly ever receive from riding a wave? What if that risk meant never surfing again?
Surfing injuries can be part and parcel of the sport and happen day in day out at breaks throughout the country, yet considering this wave turning on is such a rare occurrence and is also only ridden by a handful of experts with skills to match the technical challenge of its ride, surely there is no other wave on our shores that have handed out such beatings and humbled many to the point that they resign from ever surfing here again! Extreme you may say! But when those incidents consist of broken necks, backs, ankles, and cuts and bruises so deep that they could have long lasting life affects, then it would make you think twice. What if you were faced with being knocked out, only to be found floating face down in the impact zone by another surfer who just happened to be paddling back out? These are some of the clouds that hang over the heads of those that dedicate themselves to a spot in this lineup.
With the most extreme of risks out of the way, surfing here also comes with other associated risks although of the lesser impact kind. With a mid-winters weather bomb spiralling its way off our East Coast, the hype meter was in overload with surfers all over the country frothing on this potential week-long run of swell. While many swells can be hyped and lead to sweet bugger all, this one was looking a dead set certainty therefore the entire East Coast from the Far North down to Otago would be smoking at various stages up and down the coast as the wind swung.
What this introduced was another risk of dedicating to the chase of scoring this one particular wave, a wave that is notoriously fickle and a wave which has not only a narrow swell window but also needs the combinations of wind and tide to harmonize to deliver the platform to ride. Therefore, those that expressed interest in chasing the swell to have at least a chance to score this wave would be risking blowing certain sessions elsewhere, and risking the possibility that they could take days off work, spend hundreds of dollars on travel and yet if those elements didn’t combine, it would result in a fruitless few days and riding nothing at all! Yet they all knew and all understood, for that ultimate reward their lies an ultimate risk, and not plenty, but just one wave at this spot can make all of that risk vanish in a haze as they are blown out of a deep barrel into the channel.
With the soldiers coming in from far and wide, some driving through the night, some leaving at the crack of dawn, the first day of swell had filled in, yet the wind had stuck with us overnight and sat 180 degrees from the required direction, basically meaning it was onshore. Big hopes and dreams were crushed as each of the soldiers rolled up to the battlefield. Some slept in their cars after a long night’s drive, others ventured searching for coffee, which in these parts was gonna be about as easy as stumbling upon a nugget of gold. Others went in search of at least some type of rideable wave that they could wash the cobwebs off in, only to return dejected. The thing with this wave is everyone that has ridden it knows, you only need ‘ONE’ and that a last-minute change in wind direction could offer up that chance which by now was becoming slimmer by the minute. We had missed the tide and an entire day of sitting, waiting, and clinging to a hope. It was time to face reality and accept the crushing blow. Tomorrow would be another day!
While reports came flooding in from up and down the coastline and social media posts revealed the waves others had scored, this only rubbed more salt into the wound. Yet that wound was about to receive another tablespoon of salt, perhaps even mixed with lime juice, when the evening reports were updated, revealing this weather system had stalled and what was supposed to be a four-day offshore window was now forecast to be onshore. Yet the commitment had been made, and there was no backing out now! By first light the posse had assembled back at the lookout, sitting and waiting for that miracle wind change. To cut a long story of a long day short, it never happened! Another break nearby offered up some reprieve where some cut backs were put into action, yet the thunderous tubes we had all ventured for evaded our clutches. By now negativity had begun to spread like a poison amongst the crew, and understandably so. Calls such as “I knew I should have just surfed the Island” or “Now I’m three days down on my days off work for nothing!” and for those that ventured off, knowing and accepting these risks as part of this journey, were now facing a reality they never thought would happen.
Yet there was still hope! Still a glimmer of salvation. Some took the loss on the chin, pulled the pin and went home. Yet the committed regulars who have tasted the reward before, stuck it out and were back at the lookout point first thing on day three. Hopes were up when the first sight of the lineup revealed clean surface conditions and the offshore winds that were meant to arrive two days before. There were some epic sets marching in, yet with the tide still too low to even attempt this wave, it was just a matter of sit and be teased for a couple of hours, waiting for some water, even if only a few inches, to cover the reef. Those hours were some of the longest hours any of us have ever had to sit through, three days now of torture and now right in front of our eyes. The swell was swinging more and more with every set, meaning the window was becoming narrower and narrower, which also meant it slowed down to a point that it was becoming un-rideable. With an incoming tide which should offer up a push, it never happened and the crew were resigning to the “Maybe next time” angle. Then against all odds and former characteristics of this wave, the swell began to pulse once again, with each set becoming more consistent than the last. Wetsuits were thrown on and within minutes it was all on. Jostling for position as each set detonated on the shallow shelf, the crew went wave for wave and rapturous applause and hooting of car horns blazed out from the beach as each freight train barrel was negotiated. As we have described, this wave is not for the faint of heart and every session demands payment in equipment, blood and flesh of some sort and Tyson Gargus was first to be taxed being slammed into the bottom nearly tearing his wetsuit completely in half. Sam ‘Sanga’ Willis who had only just returned to the water after suffering a nasty injury back at the tail end of summer, was buzzing on the timing of his return with conditions being as good as it gets. Yet on his very next wave standing tall way back on the foam ball, Sanga was caught and driven into the reef and took an age to surface, also coming up with a torn up wetsuit, somehow though he managed to paddle back out driven by adrenalin complain of a sore back and then onset into the next set and getting spat out of one of the best waves ever ridden here. Something was wrong though and Sanga slowly made his way in almost unable to walk. Reaching the beach, to awkwardly climb out of his wetsuit the damage was revealed with an instant black and purple toned hematoma encompassing the entire kidney, rib and lower back area, and unfortunately for Sanga another eight weeks minimum out of the water. No one has dedicated the amount of time to this reef as Damon Gunness and his usual sit and wait for the best wave of the day had gifted nothing so far, yet in the last half hour of tide and light left on this short winters day, Damon threaded through a seemingly un-makeable thick keg paddling back out after being blown out to make comment “I didn’t think I’d manage to get one”.
Bobby Hansen was another to benefit from this last flurry, Bobby had never committed to chasing this swell having the other type of commitment, work. He had been spewing he was gonna miss out, but at the end of the day his timing was the most perfect of all, taking two hours off work late arvo, one hour for the drive and one hour to get completely barrelled off his head. Right on sunset and pushing his luck against a dropping tide, Bobby after negotiating three long barrel sections was about to emerge, when the last section went dry on the end ledge and Bobby also paid a visit to the bottom, luckily escaping with only a slightly twisted ankle and a small bruise on his rear end. Rounding out the epic performances of the day was Leon Santorik who grew up refining his backhand barrel riding on Raglan’s Ledge, many years in Indo and a man who holds the risks of chasing reward at this wave, more than worth it! After first sampling this wave for the first time eight years ago, Leon has made the effort and sacrifice to make sure he scores most of the swells that hit here. With an Andy Ironsesque barrel riding style, to be on hand to witness Leon’s and these other surfer’s incredible tubes first hand makes it a pleasure to call this part of the world home. You could travel the world year-round in search of a session like this, yet right here on another Pita Pit Roady we put in the hard yards, faced adversity and disappointment and were rewarded with an ultimate roady. May the stars align someday again soon.