Slab Story: Paul “Antman” Paterson Nearly Pays The Ultimate Price In West Oz
By Grant “Twiggy” Baker
I’d been studying footage of this particular Australian slab for ages, and it’s basically what I’ve been looking for along the South African coastline over the past five years.
My friend in Australia, Paul Paterson aka “Antman”, called me up one Monday morning and asked if I was interested in joining him. He’d been following a big swell that was due to unload on this deepwater reef, but he needed a partner—everyone else had pulled out, saying it was going to be too big and windy. I’ve been friends with Paul for a long time and trust his judgment completely, so I decided to pull the pin and fly over to Perth that afternoon.
It’s a long haul from Durban to Perth, but I thought that even if we didn’t score, it would be a good opportunity to check out the area and see if I could find similarities to our coast that would help me in my search for a local equivalent.
I arrived in Perth at 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday, and we headed straight for a town close to the wave. After the six-hour drive, we went to bed and woke up at 4:00 a.m. the next morning to get everything ready. We launched the ski and made the hour-long drive out to the spot in heavy seas. The buoy reading was 20 feet at 16 seconds, and the wind was doing about 15 knots from the NW. We were the only people surfing, and there was one other ski out there with a photographer and filmer.
When we arrived it looked massive and, to me, totally unsurfable—I’d never seen a wave like it before. The power of it looked unfathomable; it came from deep water and hit a dry rock, and the whole ocean just folded over itself. Then it would dissipate quickly back into even deeper water.
Paul was adamant that we could do it, so I grabbed the rope and asked him to get me a few smaller ones to test it out. I managed to make a few, and slowly my confidence grew. Then a massive, dark line appeared on the ocean. It was pouring rain by now, but we knew immediately that it was by far the biggest set we’d seen all day.
The wave itself was a blur. At first I thought I was too far on the shoulder, so I did a little fade. But as soon as I did that, I saw the whole swell move about 60 feet ahead of me in a split second as it felt the reef. All I could do was get as much speed as possible and aim for the shoulder. I was going so fast it took everything I had just to stay on the board and set a rail. The view for those few seconds in the barrel were almost comical.
It was by far the biggest barrel I’ve ever looked out of and the heaviest single wave I have surfed. The feeling afterward was of intense relief, like I had just survived a near-death experience. Little did we know what was about to come…
I fell on my next wave as I was coming out of the barrel at full speed, and it felt like I had broken my neck and had both my arms ripped off. I had to pull the cord on my inflatable Billabong wetsuit to come up just before a two-wave hold down. I was okay and got back on the ski, though days later, I still couldn’t lift my right arm or move my neck to either side. But the shit really hit the fan with what happened next.
Antman fell on the next wave I whipped him into, which was even bigger than mine, and it closed out on him. He didn’t have an inflatable wetsuit, and the next wave unloaded directly onto him before he could make it up. He only came up in the swell of the third wave. He was totally delirious and unable to swim or acknowledge me. I had to pull him onto the sled and repeatedly scream at him to hold on as we made for the channel. I firmly believe that if the third wave had been more then just a swell, he would have drowned out there in the middle of the ocean.
After that we realized that it was in fact too big to surf, and we called it quits. We headed back home, battling a 25-knot headwind for two hours just to get back. I have never been so happy to hit dry land.
I don’t think I’ll be looking for a similar wave on our South African shores anytime soon. Some waves are just not meant to be ridden.—Grant “Twiggy” Baker