In midwinter on the west coast of Victoria, bitterly cold offshore winds fan curtains of spray off swell lines generated by storms in the deep southern latitudes between Australia and Antarctica.
Most of these winter waves go unridden. But occasionally the keen observer will fleetingly spot something black in the water well offshore, appearing and disappearing as the swell rolls through. Binoculars, a telephoto lens or a nearby rugged up and shivering surfer looking out to sea can identify this as a surfer waiting for a wave. Sometimes the surfer will be out there alone, sometimes with the company of a few others.
Persisting in identification of such fleeting sightings offshore is rewarding in this part of the world. I have seen orcas, humpback whales, southern right whales, dolphins, seals and sharks in this area. I have also heard first hand accounts from surfers who have had a close encounter or two with sharks including great white sharks along this coast. Some of these accounts are riveting and remarkable. None of the accounts include the teller giving up surfing or avoiding a particular location.
There are reef breaks well offshore that are rarely or never ridden. But certain reef breaks closer to shore as well as point breaks will always attract surfers in the depths of winter when the swell, tide and wind are just right.
This is the first day on which I took photos of the reef breaks on an exposed section of the west coast of Victoria. While the surf was better on day 2, the light was better this day. Photos which capture the view along a breaking wave or even from behind the wave as in this shot are taken from the nearest headland (which in the case of some of these photos was not all that close). This wave breaks over a reasonably shallow reef, and I have not seen any surfers here.
The wave on the right with a broken section is over a reef projecting out from shore. The white water ahead of it shows where the water becomes quite shallow. But just above the white water is a channel of deeper water, offering an unbroken right hand break for any surfer interested in the paddle and the proximity to the reef. There is a surfer in this shot who obviously had the required interest.
Bass Strait winter surfers offshore a ways waiting for a wave.
This surfer caught a decent wave then got caught inside paddling out against the next sizeable set of waves. He duck dived his board under this wave without losing much ground.
Well timed duck dive of board and rider.
Distant unridden peak out to sea throwing out a solid lip. The offshore wind is creating the arc of spray blowing over the back of the wave. Notice the sawtoothed or notched horizon, caused by big uneven swell along the line of the visible horizon.
Grey skies, biting northerly wind and solid swell. There is a surfer in this photo.
There are three surfers in this photo.
There are a couple of surfers visible in this photo.
Experienced and respected local surfer Leroy paddling out at a west coast reef break. There were three or four others out there with him.
Leroy had a bit of speed up and hopes of a barrel on this wave, but the wave closed out over him a short time after this was taken.
First of sequence of four photos of Leroy on a wave which provided a barrel. This wave which perhaps looks less promising for a barrel than the wave in the immediately preceding photo, but this one delivered.
Proof positive the Leroy was inside the barrel on this one.
Leroy paddling ashore after an early morning session, colder and happier than when he paddled out.
I have never seen surfers deliberately paddle out at this location, for obvious reasons. I wondered what this surfer was doing in this spot. At first I thought he was on a kneeboard and had been caught inside, from where he decided going ashore was a better option than paddling back out. He was just swirling around for a while getting pushed in by white water then carried back out a little as the white water washed back off the reef.
He eventually made it ashore on the reef. Not an ideal location. But he was never in trouble. He was patient and picked his finally successful moment well.
All was revealed as he stood there surveying where he had been, and possibly looking for the other half of his surfboard. Another surfer also snapped his surf board at this location on this day. I understand both were broken by the power of breaking waves, not by reefs or collisions with other surfboards.
No takers on this tight little bay break. Better surfing options immediately east and west of this location. This was taken in the sunshine on day 1. The balance of the photos below were taken on day 2 at a different point break.
This point break was west of the reef breaks in the previous photos. It was a much faster (steeper) wave, and the takeoff was very close to exposed and shallow reefs. Paddling back out after a ride was character building. Initial entry to the water was off a rock shelf to the right and seaward of the breaking wave shown in this photo
The circular area on the wave face (known as a boil) is formed as the wave passes over a shallow area of rock or reef.
There was a lot of energy in these waves.
Unanimous (good) decision – dive.
This is a good entry location at this point break. Paddling out and left from here will take a surfer behind the area where the main wave breaks, and straight to the takeoff point. If entry is timed correctly between sets, there is no need to deal with waves like this. Given how close to the reef this wave was breaking, the surfer was patiently showing good judgment in waiting for a lull.
The lull. Taking care not to slip on the very slippery wet rocks, he launched off the reef and with a short quick paddle was in deep water seaward of where the waves had been breaking.
Moments later he was doing this.
Directly in front of this surfer is a line of exposed reef. The white water left and right of the line of exposed reef is very shallow water. After that, it deepens out. The takeoff and drop on this wave is critical.
Past the shallow reef area and making the most of the critical part of the wave.
Exuberant exit from a solid ride. He didn’t land this one, and I don’t think he intended to.