Strong September Winds, Solid Swell and Surfers on Victorian West Coast

Winter returned to the west coast recently with near gale-force north-westerly and westerly winds and solid swell. A procession of squall lines brought heavy rain and hail for several days and nights. For one of my ocean swims during this cold spell, while the water temp was an agreeable 14°C, the air temp was 9°C and the wind chill effect of the 25-30 knot wind made it feel like 4°C out of the water. Later that day the air temp was 6°C and the wind chill +1°C. The east-facing bay at Apollo Bay was in the lee of the land with these winds, which meant the water was relatively glassy inshore. There was solid swell at all beaches and reefs in the district and beyond. Seas were very rough offshore, and the horizon at sea was a ragged line for days.

Multiple breaking waves with white spray blown back off them by strong wind
Surf breaking over offshore reefs between Cape Patton and Skenes Creek. The wind was blowing at over 30 knots when this photo was taken. Wave tops were blown quite a distance downwind. Strong winds blowing down from the north over the Otway Ranges were very turbulent by the time they reached the coast with big gusts, downdrafts and updrafts. The behaviour of airborne spray from waves reflected this.
Spray off breaking ocean waves blow 500m by strong winds
The airborne spray over the back of the breaking wave in the distance is blowing downwind for over 500m before it falls back into the sea. This only occurs in very strong winds.
Spray off breaking ocean waves blow 500m by strong winds
In this image, some of the spray from breaking waves is rising well over 100 feet above the surface of the ocean. This uplifting is happening over a wider area of waves than in the preceding picture. Some wind currents were flattening waves and spray, while others were taking spray high in the air.
Gale force winds on sea near Marengo

September 2020, Little Henty Reef in a gale. The westerly was blowing at 40kts+. This photo was taken from 2.1kms away on Point Bunbury. The swell was not large but the white water blowing off waves breaking on the reef was carried downwind like smoke from a bushfire. A previous post on this blog contains further photos of these gale force winds at Apollo Bay:

Spray from waves blown over 100 feet in the air by turbulent strong winds from over the Otway Ranges
This area of spray is obviously blowing back from breaking waves (see the trail of white water on the surface where the wave has broken). But instead of the wind blowing this spray horizontally at about wave height, there have been updrafts in the turbulent air which have lifted the spray as shown.
Breaking wave in strong winds near shore
In contrast to images above showing spray being lifted up to considerable height by updrafts of air and blown a long way downwind, the first spray to be blown off this wave (being lighter and finer spray than when the wave is steeper and breaking) is not only flattened by the wind, but seemingly forced down behind the wave where it has hit the water in a short distance. In shape and behaviour this reminds me of the laminar flow of air over the aerofoil shape on an aeroplane wing.
Breaking wave in strong winds near shore
As the wave moves into shallower water it grows taller and steeper. The wind is now blowing spray and water off the top. The steeper angle of the front of the wave forces the surface wind to blow up the face of the wave taking spray up and over in the familiar curve of white water shown. There are no other updrafts evident here.
Spindrift on rough ocean in strong winds
Even though there was sizeable swell moving across this ocean, it was flattened to some extent by the very strong winds. The area of mist in the centre of the image is spindrift. This is spray from the choppy surface being picked up as a result of the friction between wind and sea, then blown across the surface of the sea by the wind. It’s a great visual indicator of when winds are approaching or exceeding gale force.
Gale force winds on sea at Apollo Bay

A more noticeable example of spindrift just east of Point Bunbury (Apollo Bay) in a gale of 40kts+ in September 2020. See previous post on this blog for more photos of that gale:

Breaking wave in strong winds near shore with aqua barrel visible
The aqua glow from the ‘green room’ inside this fleeting little barrel as the lip of the wave throws forward and down. Surfers love to be on the wall of such a wave inside the curtain of water, speeding towards the glimpse of sky at the moving exit framed by rotating water. Sometimes they exit as the barrel closes out behind them, and sometimes the barrel closes down on them before they exit.

Unridden waves

Shore break at Hayley Point
Waves breaking on the reef close to shore at Hayley Point.
Shore break at Hayley Point
Hayley Point (near Marengo).
Big swell south of Little Henty Reef
Solid swell approaching Little Henty Reef. The bombie over Henty Reef (about 3kms ESE from Little Henty Reef) can be seen stirring on the horizon.
Big swell breaking on Little Henty Reef
Water sucking out in front of this rugged breaking wave has exposed parts of the shallow reef in its path.
Wave breaking on Little Henty Reef
Little Henty Reef signature wave.
Two barrels on one breaking wave at Little Henty Reef
Double barrel wave.
Prominent green barrel on small breaking wave in offshore wind
This barrel is punching above its weight given the relatively small size of the wave.
Close up of barrel on breaking wave
One of nature’s beautiful forms.

Pristine barrels at Little Henty Reef

Surfers at a west coast point break in strong winds and solid swell

Surfer paddling out at Sledgehammers
Surfer paddling out to the takeoff point.
Surfer waiting for right moment to jump off a reef into the surf
Surfer opting for direct entry from the reef. He had a bit of a wait for the right moment, but it came.
Surfer waiting for right moment to jump off a reef into the surf
This was the not the right moment to leap off the rock and start paddling.
Surfers paddling out over sizeable wave about to break near reef
Paddling out to the takeoff point. A duck dive at the last moment as the wave is about to break.

Who needs a drone to get a photo looking straight down on a surfer paddling out? This photo was taken from the shore, but the breaking wave conveniently provided the apparent vertical shot. I find that a photo such as the one on the right, looking directly ‘down’ on surfer and surfboard, takes some of the guesswork out of estimating the height of the wave face.

Surfer on a right hand point break
Surfer riding large wave near reef on point
Surfer riding large wave in very strong winds
Surfer riding overhead wave near exposed reef
Surfer riding wave near reef below surface
The boils on the surface ahead of the surfer and near the bottom of the face of the wave occur where there is shallow reef. A feature of this location is the proximity of the reef to the takeoff point and the breaking wave. Broken boards and injuries have occurred at this site.
Surfer on clean glassy breaking wave
The surfer’s canvas.

Entering a barrel (sequence of three images)

Surfers take off near the breaking part of the wave where the wave face is steepest. If the wave is offering a barrel of some sort, the surfer will adjust his speed and line to allow the wave to throw the lip out over him as it breaks, putting him inside the barrel. Speeding towards the moving circle of daylight ahead in hope of exiting before the barrel is consumed by the breaking wave is the aim. Sometimes the barrel closes out with the surfer inside.

Surfer pulling into a barrel
This surfer appears to be allowing that the ceiling of the barrel forming may not be high enough for him to stand fully upright.
Surfer pulling into a barrel
Inside the forming barrel and still surfing at speed. Clearly not enough height to stand upright.
Surfer in a barrel
Fully inside the barrel except for a very small portion of the nose of the board visible near the lower left of the curtain of breaking water. The barrel closed out not long after this moment and the ride ended underwater. In terms of what was on offer on the day, I believe the surfer would’ve enjoyed his moments inside this little barrel.

Broken boards

Surfer swimming ashore with board broken in two
The reward for catching steep breaking waves in critical locations close to the reef on this day was a fast and obviously exhilarating ride (if grins, claims and hoots of approval are any guide). On two occasions (that I saw), the price was a broken board. This surfer is making his way to shore paddling on the front half of his broken board, with his leg rope towing the other half behind him. This was the second broken board I saw during this session. The strong wind caused another board casualty in the car park with an unattended board relocated by the wind requiring ding repairs on the spot before it could be used.
Surfer on shore carrying broken board
Surfer on shore carrying broken board
He seemed keen to get back out in the surf. Judging by the number of boards on the vehicles in the car park, most if not all of the surfers in the water had more than one board with them. Modern boards must be of lighter construction than earlier boards, because broken boards are much more common than when I used to surf. My 1970 6’6″ Fred Pyke short board has a few repaired dings, but it served me well and it’s still in one piece. It’s been a while since I used it.

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