PE­DRA BRANCA

Tracks - - Buzz - by luke kennedy, All PHO­TOS: Stu Gibson

Gory de­tails from a jour­ney to edgar brit rock

In the early hours of March 2, a small crew of surfers de­parted from South­port Har­bour for Pe­dra Branca, the chunk of rock that rises like an Ayers Rock of the South­ern Seas, 26km to the south east of Tas­ma­nia. Hav­ing con­quered Ship­sterns, a group of in­trepid Tas­ma­nian adrenalin-junkies have made the right-han­der, which gives form to un­fath­omable swells, their pet project. For broth­ers Tyler and James Holmer-Cross it would be their sixth mis­sion to the colos­sal wave. Their in­ten­tion on this oc­ca­sion was to be the first to pad­dle it. Fail­ing that, the goal was to catch the big­gest wave pos­si­ble and make sure it was larger than what­ever wave your brother was on. The broth­ers ad­mit to their ri­valry when it comes to wave mag­ni­tude and on this oc­ca­sion James was par­tic­u­larly de­ter­mined to out-do Tyler, who had got­ten the bet­ter of him in their past cou­ple of mis­sions to the rock.

They were joined by fel­low Pe­dra vet­er­ans, Danny Grif­fith, Zeb Critchlow and Jarred Fos­ter. For Justin ' Jug­head' All­port, a renowned de­scen­der of oceanic moun­tains who has been some­what reclu­sive in re­cent times, it would be a maiden jour­ney. Trou­bled by the rough wa­ters on the two-and-half-hour trip, Jug­head was sea­sick from the mo­ment he stepped on to the boat. Upon ar­riv­ing at Pe­dra Branca he rapidly made an en­try into the wa­ter, as­sur­ing the crew that he felt much more se­cure deal­ing with a pre­vi­ously un­sighted 40-foot lineup than the nau­se­at­ing rock­ing of a boat. Mean­while James and Tyler had been hop­ing the light on­shore con­di­tions would make it eas­ier for them to suc­ceed in their quest to pad­dle Pe­dra. A quick as­sess­ment of con­di­tions re­vealed rogue washthroughs, lurch­ing closeouts and waves that broke un­pre­dictably across three dif­fer­ent sec­tions.

"It's by no means a per­fect wave," James would later state. With the prospect of pad­dling judged to be im­pos­si­ble the cry went up to grab the rope and soon the roar of en­gines added a man-made beat to the per­cus­sion of screech­ing gulls and whomp­ing waves.

A few waves were rid­den suc­cess­fully, Jug­head im­press­ing all with his brazen will­ing­ness to hurl his diminu­tive frame down treach­er­ous slopes in the ocean. How­ever, when a wave distin­guished it­self as sig­nif­i­cantly larger than any­thing thus far rid­den, James Hollmer-Cross sig­nalled his in­ten­tion to claim the prize. As James be­gan his de­scent the wave jacked vi­o­lently be­hind him and the scene be­came grossly dis­pro­por­tion­ate, like watch­ing a hu­man on the run from Godzilla in a cheaply made monster film, only this was very real. By the time he was half­way down the face, James knew some­thing was wrong. The favoured tow­board, which usu­ally hugged the face like a luge on the track, was skip­ping and buck­ing, mak­ing a rodeo ride out of what should have been a rel­a­tively smooth drop. Even­tu­ally the jar­ring, ver­ti­cal move­ment was too much and the board pearled, fling­ing him off and straight into the gap­ing jaws of Godzilla. Af­ter he failed to pen­e­trate the wa­ter sur­face, the lip picked James up and cat­a­pulted him back down to­wards the trough, re­sult­ing in what James (who has had his share of tum­bles) de­scribed as the worst wipe­out of his life. "The fe­roc­ity of it was like noth­ing I'd ever felt be­fore … that's when I think I passed out."

Semi-con­scious, James was sent spi­ralling, slack-limbed into the inky depths of the south­ern ocean. By the time he reached the sur­face with head spin­ning and eardrums ham­mer­ing, he'd snapped a tri­an­gle wedge off his tibia (lower leg), in­curred mul­ti­ple stress frac­tures, torn lig­a­ments and badly dam­aged his menis­cus. Beaten but happy to be alive, James clam­oured on to the ski sled, com­pletely un­aware that the hor­rific wipe­out had one more haunt­ing note to play.

Back on board, James strug­gled to peel his wet­suit off over his bro­ken leg. Pho­tog­ra­pher, Stu­art Gibson, of­fered as­sis­tance un­til it be­came ap­par­ent that an in­vol­un­tary colonic move­ment had re­sulted in the pro­duc­tion of fae­cal mat­ter. In short, James had shat him­self at some point dur­ing the wipe­out. Gibson in­stantly ac­quired a taste for sca­tol­ogy and in­sisted on pho­tograph­ing the en­tire em­bar­rass­ing or­deal. Mean­while James, still eu­phoric with re­lief, could do noth­ing but laugh as he was or­dered to the back of the boat for a hose down.

At the time the in­ci­dent pro­vided un­ex­pected hi­lar­ity in a near-fa­tal con­text. How­ever in hind­sight, James has come to think of his in­cred­u­lous bowel move­ment as an in­di­ca­tor of just how se­ri­ous the wipe­out was. "Af­ter I'd had time to go back and think about it, I re­alised how close I'd prob­a­bly come to dy­ing." A later con­ver­sa­tion with a sur­geon friend re­vealed two pos­si­ble ex­pla­na­tions for the Pe­dra poo. "He said it could have ei­ther been caused by the pres­sure of the wave that ac­tu­ally pushed my stomach, or could ac­tu­ally have been that I was that re­laxed that ev­ery­thing sort of let go."

Two months af­ter the wipe­out, the fa­ther of two who runs a paint­ing and dec­o­rat­ing busi­ness is still out of the wa­ter and prob­a­bly a month shy of his next pad­dle. When asked if he has been psy­cho­log­i­cally scarred by the ex­pe­ri­ence, he is philo­soph­i­cal. "I guess I'll just have to see how I go next ses­sion." For now he re­mains more de­ter­mined than ever to pad­dle Pe­dra, a prover­bial Ever­est that is still there to be claimed. The likes of Do­rian and Healey might have had their way with Jaws but as far as rid­ing Pe­dra unas­sisted goes, the glory will likely be­long to a small crew of surfers from the bot­tom of the world. James spends his spare time study­ing the wave on film and try­ing to es­tab­lish how best to ap­proach it from an arm-power point of view. The 9'6" and the 10'2" Dave Ver­rell guns are al­ready shaped and it's just a mat­ter of get­ting the right day, in­sists James.

"Maybe a bit smaller and with a light on­shore to help you get in," he pon­ders. Then with a wry chuckle he ex­plains his mo­ti­va­tion for tak­ing on a pad­dle chal­lenge many would con­sider in­sane. "It's just like be­ing a grom­met and learn­ing to surf all over again."

Surely there are eas­ier ways to stay young…

Justin ' Jug­head' All­port keep­ing his cool while the world comes tum­bling down around him.

James Hollmer-Cross and the wipe­out the called for an ass wipe.

#2

The take down

#1

The drop down

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