January 2 and 3 were something special for the east coast of Australia, as Tropical Cyclone Seth blasted swell into the likes of Kirra, Snapper et al. And right here, Nick Carroll reports on a couple special days from one of the world's greatest surf zones.
Words by Nick Carroll
“It’s been a while,” says Joel Parkinson. He adds, in a clarifying sorta way: “I dunno how long it’s been since I had my heart in my mouth paddling into a wave.”
The Goldie isn’t Noosa. On swells like TC Seth’s, it’s not what you’d call “recreational”. It’s a big arena with a lot of room to move, and an extraordinary group of surfers watching, waiting for the moment to feed on its feast.
As Seth advanced down the coast, shifting its attention away from Noosa Heads, the Gold Coast built in swiftly. A large messy Sunday morning turned into an even larger early afternoon. There were a lot of eyes on it. Up at Snapper, Parko was waiting for the tide to drop: “In the morning it was a really heavy reverse current carrying back around the corner. It’s no good like that, but I knew as soon as the tide went low, the current would go the other way.”
Everything happened quite quickly. Joel was at home when he heard from Nick Vasicek. Nick reckoned he’d just seen two of the best Snapper waves he’d ever seen come through and was hitting it right then. Thinking he could just paddle it, “I went down, jumped in, and couldn’t even get to it,” says Parko. “You couldn’t, you just couldn’t. The rip was soul-destroying. You’re paddling up the line getting nowhere, watching 6-8’ waves barrelling down toward you from behind the rock. You’d paddle for 15 minutes and make 10 metres when you needed to make 100. You’d just sit up on your board and give up, go round and try again.”
Eventually a jetski driver came up from Kirra and decided to help. “He gave us a lift and dropped us off in the takeoff spot, but even then, you had 20 seconds before you just got blown down the point. It was bad as the rip can get.”
At that point, Joel thought, Hmmm, time to go get a ski, did so, and got a bunch of those 6-8’ waves. The wind kept shifting as the cyclone shifted. By mid-afternoon, it’d swung from almost dead east to SSE. This help open up Snapper, but it really helped Kirra. Mitch Crews wasn’t sure if he should surf or not — he’s one of the many Gold Coast residents who’ve been through Omicron, and he’d thought, Give it one more day of rest. But when Mitch wandered down to look at Kirra on Sunday afternoon, he wondered if he shoulda just gone.
“I wanted to be fresh as a daisy for Monday, so I didn’t go out, but I saw a lot of barrels,” he says. “I think that might have been the best of it actually, late Sunday afternoon. That longer period energy had showed up and the wind had turned. Soli (Bailey) and Sheldon (Simkus) and Mick (Fanning and all that crew got some sick ones.”
On Monday early, he says it was “ding-donging…wash-throughs, the whole thing. But the wind was great.”
Small numbers of ski-assisted humans were riding big clean outside Currumbin, but most of those expert eyes were on Kirra, where quickly, the lineup arranged itself: paddlers up top, skis down the end.
This is an interesting thing about Kirra now on bigger days. For years there was a lot of angst between ski drivers and paddlers around who got what share of this amazing spot on its rare bluebird days. These days, the conflict seems to have largely worked itself out: skis stay down the bottom half, where the current is harsh and hard to paddle against, while the paddlers ride the less current-affected first groyne.
“I think the jetski courtesy is a rule out there now,” says Crewsy. “People used to get angry about it but it’s simmered down. You know now if you’re paddling to go up, and if you go down the end, that’s where the skis are. You just come in and walk around again.
“Everyone’s respecting each other a bit more.”
Mitch surfed for three hours in the morning, riding brother Alex’s big 6’3” twinnie, partly to make the paddling easier. “All the normal names were out getting the good ones. The Wright brothers, Owen with that Gath on and Mikey was getting some epic barrels. I saw some rogue no-name legends getting some sick ones too. It was cool to see guys paddling hard, head down, getting it done.
“I’d prefer to paddle really. I get a few lifts up the point, which just comes from being around here for a while, but when I paddle into one it feels like I’ve earned it.”
Either way, Kirra will give you moments not quite like anywhere else. Parko got one on Monday morning that’s still fizzing in his memory. “I paddled into it, couldn’t see because of the spray, cleared my eyes just as I went weightless at the wave base, and somehow the rail’s set. It’s just an amazing thing, looking 100m down the line at it feathering from inside the tube.”
Mitch decided to take a break through midday, hoping to save some energy for an insane afternoon. But Seth was still on the move. By 1pm it’d withdrawn the fetch to the south of the Goldie, and spun the wind to the SW. The wind clocked way up, raging straight offshore, and the swell lost a third of its bulk, then another third.
By late on Monday, Greenmount was still flashing signs of the earlier gold, but a lot of the experts were cooked. Plenty of crew were happy to take over in the perfect smaller conditions.
Now? As we talked to people, it felt like there was a bit of shell-shock in the air. How long has it been since a year started this way? How much more is there to come?
“All the sand’s gone right now,” says Joel. “It should re-build pretty quick though. This could be one of those years.”