While surfers in North America are celebrating the arrival of another beach season this Memorial Day weekend, beach-cooler talk will ultimately revolve to their surfing counterparts Down Under, and the few brave souls who celebrated the arrival of winter storms in the Southern Hemisphere last week by riding the biggest waves ever seen at Shipstern Bluff, an ominous Tasmanian break reserved for the truly bold.
“It doesn’t get bigger,” said photographer Andrew Chisolm, a Surfer Magazine shooter who’s been covering the action out at “Shipsterns” since surfers first attempted the beast of a wave. His photo gallery got the surf world talking in a hurry after the late May action was revealed.
Shipstern Bluff has a small crew of dedicated riders ready to meet any challenge, but Marti Paradisis, Sandy Ryan and brothers Tyler and James Hollmer-Cross approached with extreme caution this time.
Paradisis described his first glimpse of the waves last Tuesday as “the biggest mutated lumps of water I’ve ever laid my eyes on.” Buoy reports were reporting swells of 33 feet in the area, which according to Paradisis is “as big as it gets. I haven’t seen anything near that big.”
Upon arrival the surfers and photographers barely recognized their familiar break. It was being swallowed by the biggest swells they’d ever seen, which is why they approached with extreme caution this time.
“Marti was out there for an hour having a look around before he dropped in,” says Tim Bonython, an award-winning cinematographer who’s been filming the wave for years. “Finally he found one that he liked, and it had a 30-foot plus face.”
For surfers like Paradisis, the allure of Shipstern Bluff is its enormous tube. The heaving caverns of water are so big trucks could be driven through them. But getting inside, even with the assist of personal watercraft, is anything but easy because of this wave’s horrific character flaw. Due to a unique underwater rock formation directly in the impact zone each wave mutates, folding over on itself, creating a watery staircase on the face that tortures surfers during their most critical moment of setup.
Regardless of whether these surfers can navigate the drop or not, the results are always breathtaking. It’s no wonder surfers here are regularly nominated for Ride of the Year honors during the annual Billabong XXL Big-Wave Award Show.
Of course, just watching can be a white-knuckle experience. See for yourself.
Video by Tim Bonython. Top photo by Andrew Chisholm. Click here to see his full Surfer Magazine photo gallery.