Surfing’s new big-wave hunters do battle with Western Australian monster

The world of big-wave hunting used to be limited to the search for the world’s tallest peaks…not anymore.

These days surfers living on the lunatic fringe are scouring the globe for more threatening beasts that — while not as tall as Maui’s Jaws or California’s Cortes Bank — pack more punch per square foot in a pound-for-pound comparison.

These shorter, stockier, thicker waves mutate into more harrowing vortexes because of the way approaching swells abruptly slam into the uneven reefs below the surface. Surfers refer to these beautifully ugly things as “slabs” because of the way huge chunks of water bend, heave, and implode in unrecognizable patterns.

“They might not be the tallest waves in the world,” says Surfing Magazine editor Taylor Paul, “but they’re the most dangerous because of the threat of getting slammed into the bottom.”

Australian charger Mark Mathews (above) and his cohorts Ryan Hipwood, Richie Vas and Laurie Towner are the world’s leading slab hunters, and according to Paul, “they’re among the craziest surfers alive, and talented too, which is a scary combination. Photographer Tim Bonython stays busy just trying to keep up with them. After a mind-boggling day in Tasmania earlier this year, the boys were walking tall having conquered the ferocious Shipstern’s Bluff with a handful of historic rides. But last week they met a new foe over in Western Australia, and it’s safe to say this one got the better of them. This following is what happened as they tried to take on a wave known only as: The Right.

The Right heaves and folds over itself a half-mile from shore, and while Mathews and crew had experimented with it once before, they’d never seen it like this. As Mathews described it, “It was way more evil than I’d ever surfed it before.” The high drama they’ve been capturing is being added into his new film, Fighting Fear.

According to Bonython, one of the surf world’s most respected surf photographers, The Right has quickly risen in stature after this session. He told Australia’s Coastal Watch, “This really is one of the world’s great waves.”

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