The whole Europe coast has, finally, gone quiet. It’s as flat as witch’s tit on most coasts and looks to stay that way for the week. So what’s the antidote to some one foot rollers? 15 foot mutant slabs, of course. Here’s a run down on Tasmania’s Shipsterns and why, if you have the balls, you should go there.
It was back in the late ‘90s that the rumours of a new big-wave slab down in the very deep south of Tasmania started surfacing. A local charger Andy Campbell had been known to walk alone and surf there, a mission that in hindsight was not that dissimilar to Jeff Clarke’s solo forays out at Mavericks. The only difference being that Clarke didn’t have a three hour walk through dense Australian bush, and that Mavericks didn’t have multiple steps down the face, or break only metres in front 30 feet high boulders.
The first footage came out when Campbell had taken his mates Dave “Rasta” Rastovich and Brendan “Margo’ Margieson to surf it, both of who claimed that it was barely a wave and suffering near death experiences with the aforementioned boulders.
However Shipsterns was finally revealed to the surfing world in 2001, when Australian magazine Tracks sent three surfers, Kieren Perrow, Mark Mathews and Drew Courtney, plus photographer Sean Davey and scored 15 feet waves. It was one of the great surfing revelations of all time. A tube so big, so remote, so demented and so fucked up that in the 13 years since no other wave comes close in terms of sheer cartoon enormity.
For Mathews, at the time a complete unknown and by his own admission quite scared of big waves, it was the start of a big wave career and an experience he will never ever forget. “The clearest thing I can remember from that surf is one wave,” Mathews told Surfers. “Around that time the Kelly Slater Playstation game had just come out where you could get point of view footage riding the hugest waves that didn’t even look remotely real. I remember getting a barrel out at Shippies and that thought flashed through my head. It looked exactly like that game and I was blown away.”
As soon as the footage beamed around the world, it started attracting the best big-wave chargers in the world. Ross Clarke Jones and Tony Ray had multiple successful sessions down there, while the Maroubra contingent of Mathews, Koby Atherton and Richie Vaculic were on it every time it break. Local chargers however, usually skilled fisherman with boats, soon came to rule the wave and today the likes of Marin Paradisis and the Holmes-Cross brothers Tyler and James have progressively pushed the boundaries of what is possible at Shipsterns and therefore what is possible in big-wave surfing.
For this a wave that stands at the very apex of the big wave surfing tree. Starting to break at eight feet, and holding a legitimate 20 feet, the raw Southern Ocean swells march out of 300 feet deep water before oozing over a shallow ledge. That would usually be enough, however a series of steps add incremental levels of fear and loathing, meaning you have to first free fall into a backdoor section that can be a big as Waimea and as thick as Pipe. If successful you are blasted into a deep channel five seconds later. If unsuccessful, you are driven deep into the water in front of the ledge, or throw against the huge rocks that line the break. Add sharks, cold water, freezing winds, and a two hour boat ride to any form of civilisation and you start to see why this has to be the most challenging and intense wave on the planet.
The perfect day: Perfect isn’t probably the word most associated with Shippies, but for the diehards a south west 10 foot swell at 15 seconds, and light offshore northerlies will provide the perfect clean 15 foot barrels.
Getting there: Fly into Hobart and drive two hours south towards Port Arthur.
Boards: Sturdy barrel riding semi-guns with four fins and tow boards as heavy and as fast as the Millennium Falcon.
Essentials: A boat helps, saving a brutal two hour hike each way. And a thick wetsuit and a massive set of testicles.
Accommodation: Marion Bay offers varied accommodation and also fun beachies if Shippies doesn’t break.
Oh and you can always bodysurf it, if you get become bored with towing and paddling.