What if I told you there was an unknown sand-bottom right that is five kilometres long, breaks 20 metres off the beach, holds six foot of swell and has only been surfed by four people on the entire planet? Would you believe me?
What if good-ol’-having-a-year-off-Mick Fanning was one of those surfers, and he told you that this wave had him haulin’ arse like an F1 driver down a strip of sand that never seemed to end. Would you believe him?
“My friend showed me this one little clip of the wave and I could see how insane it was,” said Mick of the original connection. “He was like ‘Pssst Mick, check this out… I’ve got this wave and I really want you to surf it with us, but I’m scared it will leak’. I knew he wouldn’t give it up easily. He wanted to keep surfing it alone with his mate. It took some back and forth to convince him, but eventually my friend trusted us. And then it was ‘go’ in a second. One text and it was on!”
“…It was perfect for me at this stage of my life, because I’m trying to find myself in places I never dreamed I’d get to.” – MF
A mad rush ensued. We lied like Judas about our destination, telling our nearest and dearest that we were going somewhere, anywhere other than where we were actually headed.
“I blew off a lot of meetings,” said Mick. “And a lot of people were off me. But in the end I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. It was perfect for me at this stage of my life, because I’m trying to find myself in places I never dreamed I’d get to.”
The anticipation was very, very exciting. It reminded me of days in Bali when the Tubes Bar and Sari Club were the places surfers met, returning from distant reefs with wild eyes and strong paddling backs to relax and talk story. Back then, unless you really trusted someone you never told them about where you’d been surfing, so you often spoke with forked tongue to try to keep a little perfection for yourself. I am not sure how that notion got lost in surfing culture, but I think it should be encouraged.
Similar secrecy was applied here and our friend was dribbling us information on a strict need-to-know basis. By the time Mick and I met at the location of our first flight, we were still speculating on the wave’s whereabouts. In fact, we were sure our first stop was a red herring, a trading post to meet and gather supplies before being told to follow faceless men in nameless directions beyond.
“It was cool finding out about a wave that no one else knew. I loved that feeling,” said Mick.
We were right. While we were never actually blindfolded, you get the drift.
“It was cool finding out about a wave that no one else knew. I loved that feeling,” said Mick. “I told my friend: Don’t tell me where it is because I’ll start trying to pinpoint it and I don’t want to do that. When we eventually found out its whereabouts I just went ‘Wow, there aren’t any waves there! Are there?’”
However clandestine the mission, the wave – a hissing, spitting cobra of a thing – does have a (rather apt) name.
The Snake does not break at the beach. It rushes past you down the beach in endless parallel lines as the lip coils and curls and crashes at striking speed, on and on and on into the distance, the tail never catching up with the head. In the lineup, you do not scan the horizon for sets, rather you look back at the beach and up the point at sets.
“Surfing it by myself was hard because I couldn’t set lines off other people,” said Mick. “Usually, there are 1000 guys at Snapper and you see it coming all the way through them. I missed some waves paddling down the line instead of paddling in at the beach because of that and I felt like a beginner all over again.”
The Snake breaks close to the shore and each wave pushes a surge of water up the beach that is quickly sucked back out. It creates a side-shore flood of condensed kinetic energy that has nowhere to go but up the face and into the lip, driving back into the sand bottom below.
Taking off is easy, keeping up is another story. In the dawn, his mind blown by the scenario and his skills put to the test, the fastest surfer in the world failed to make his first three waves. “I was freaking out at first,” said Mick. “I was pumping through the tube just going peddle to the metal and I couldn’t make one. And then I got my groove on and sometimes I was on the foam ball flying; and other times just when I thought I would stall it hit the bank and took off and I would have to go top gear again to keep up.”
From our paddle out point – which is just the place we stopped at first – it ’s about a five-kilometre stretch towards the end of the line. Further up the point there are more reeling-sand-bottom-dredge sections yet to be surfed. It’s so long that with our skeleton camera crew we could not even capture a full ride.
“I wanted to catch every wave, I was so high on adrenaline and it was hard letting these crazy chest-high tunnels go rifling by,” he said. “On any other day you’d go those waves every time, but with no one around I had to wait for the bombs. I didn’t want to miss the wave of the day after coming all this way.”
And what about the first bomb he made?
“I’ll never forget it,” he said. “I was running back up the point and there was this local guy squatting down and he high-fived me! I thought that was great until I realised he was squatting to drop his daily turd!”
There’s always more than one type of snake to be wary of in this world.
After a five-hour session, pecked to death by sea lice crawling in the sandy belly of the reptile, Mick was rooted. And despite contemplating “just having barrels for lunch”, sanity prevailed. It was food first and a good lie down second, which lasted about two hours, before he was up again and into the Snake.
In the afternoon, the sun beat down like crazy and the waves went from slick exotic green to brown sandy beasts, but the Kirra boardriders club champ was starting to feel it. He wanted a new challenge.
“We have to move up the point!” He said frantically after his first ride of the session, which was about 200 metres long and had three tubes on it.
“Why?” I shouted, as he ran past. “That one looked pretty good!” He was getting it dialled.
“Too fucken cute!” he shouted. “We didn’t come here for those ones. Let’s get back up there where it looks like there’s some grunt!” And that says a lot about how Mick charmed The Snake.
In contrast, I couldn’t surf it. Going there alongside Mick (nervously amping all that way), I thought I was going to be in for the waves of my life. Sure, I out-ran a couple for a while, but on most of my waves I took off and it quickly out-ran me, or I executed my rather crap backhand pig-dog and got a brief view before being cartwheeled into the sand. Cue high-powered rinse cycle.
“There’s only maybe five goofies in the world I could think of who would be able to surf it properly. You need to be a really good tube rider to enjoy everything it’s got. You have to be able to glance ahead from inside the tube and decide to put the pie in the oven and slow up or hit the gas and pump through. After the first couple I thought, Wow, maybe this wave is just tooo fast.”
Even for him? At that point, it was my turn to reflect on what I’d seen that day and quietly utter… “Wow…”
Unlike a man-made, engineered wave, which is planned and contoured and sensibly designed within an inch of its life, The Snake actually defies logic.
Everything about it comes at you from random angles. On a flat day you’d never pick it for what it was, hiding quietly in the sand.
As old as the Garden of Eden it’s very own apple is a product of the tide and the wind and the storms that originate thousands of miles away. It seduces swell-lines that never seem to find their resting place as they slither on down the line, up the coast, across the next border and into another ocean.
I like this thought, about Mother Nature and the role she plays in the lives of surfers in this day and age of machine waves and 24-hour connectivity – a time where a clip of a girl on a mal behind a speedboat with a surfing dog perched on the nose can garner 1. 5 million views and Likes and Shares and what-ahhhh-ever.
This ain’t no fucking wave pool! This is the real world. This is The Snake!
Stay tuned for more twists and turns…