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.
The take down
The drop down