THE FREIGHT TRAIN

A VIVID AC­COUNT OF A WAVE UN­LIKE ANY OTHER, FEA­TUR­ING LUKE HYND, TIM BISSO AND GEAROID MCDAID..

Carve - - CONTENTS - PHO­TOS BY TED GRAM­BEAU

A part­ner piece to G-man's in­ter­view this is the story of their mis­sion to feed the don­key. Surf pho­tog­ra­phy ninth dan Ted Gram­beau gets the gold.

“My pas­sion in life is to find the best breaks in the world, and com­bine them with the best swells the Earth can of­fer.”

That is pho­tog­ra­pher Ted Gram­beau ex­plain­ing how, just a few weeks ago, he found him­self stand­ing on a re­mote West African coast­line, shiv­er­ing as the sun rose and the fog lin­gered, cam­era in hand. All surfers dream of this mantra – only few have the gift of be­ing able to live it.

“I saw a weather map pop up the other day, and it looked promis­ing for this re­gion. It was a bit far out how­ever, so I took it with a grain of salt. But as I kept an eye on the fore­cast I be­gan see­ing some­thing that looked … ex­cep­tional. About then about a week af­ter I saw that ini­tial map, by the day that I boarded a plane from Aus­tralia to Jo-burg, I was con­vinced it was go­ing to be a swell to re­mem­ber.”

Join­ing Ted on his mis­sion was Aus­tralia’s Luke Hynd, the Ca­nary Is­land’s Tim Bisso and Ire­land’s Gearoid Mcdaid. Louie and Gearoid were in Africa for a WQS at the time, and had been plan­ning strike mis­sions of their own.

“I had al­ready booked my tick­ets and was at the air­port, en route, when I got the call,” says Gearoid, a his clas­sic Ir­ish ac­cent break­ing up on the phone line. “I had no idea what I was go­ing to do when I got there … so it was a re­lief to have a plan in place all of a sud­den.”

For Louie, the lead-up to this trip was ex­ten­sive, al­though short-lived. “This wave has al­ways been num­ber one on my bucket list. Mostly be­cause of how mind­bend­ingly long and per­fect it is, and as a goofy-footer, I’m al­ways look­ing for long bar­relling lefts. So when Ted gave me the call, I hung up the phone and booked my flights then and there. Ted wasn’t even 100 per cent locked in yet, so I was plan­ning just to wing the en­tire trip solo, all for the chance to get the wave of my life.”

The jour­ney it­self is the first test of this wave. Wher­ever you’re com­ing from, even if it’s South Africa, the time and ef­fort it takes to get to this wave will push you to your lim­its. If you ac­tu­ally make it past the fi­nal flight and are fi­nally ready to load your boards into the 4WD (that you’ve spent half a day chas­ing down) – chances are, those boards won’t be there.

Once you re­sign your­self to that fact, you be­gin the drive from the air­port to town across one of the most des­o­late places on Earth. You be­gin see­ing a string of cars, rusted, sand-crusted, half-as­sem­bled, strewn across the dusty dunes. These cars are aban­doned for the sole fact that they were so bogged,

it was im­pos­si­ble to get them out. Here you are, on what feels like an en­tirely dif­fer­ent planet, driv­ing across a steamy, foggy waste­land of cars.

But three young charg­ers with noth­ing to lose mixed with two highly de­ter­mined vet­eran pho­tog­ra­phers is a po­tent com­bi­na­tion, and the team made it to the wave about as quickly and swiftly as pos­si­ble.

“It's about as far away from home for me as you can fly,” says Louie, “so it was a lot of trav­el­ling time, but worth ev­ery minute and penny. Wak­ing up that first day of swell, just the but­ter­flies of an­tic­i­pa­tion were enough. Then, as we drove over the sand dunes and I caught my first glimpse of the wave in all its glory … that was one of the most ex­cit­ing and sur­real mo­ments I've ever had.”

At dusk, the air is freez­ing cold – a cer­tain kind of chill you only find in very re­mote deserts. Sharp. Eerie. A thick ocean fog al­most al­ways lingers along the coast­line, drawn out of the cold­wa­ter tem­per­a­tures run­ning up the coast. And as the boys drive over the dunes they’re greeted by this scene, barely able to de­ci­pher the six-foot lines ap­proach­ing the coast and rolling down the line, a rel­a­tively strong off­shore whip­ping the ocean as it raced.

“This wave is com­pletely and to­tally unique,” Ted ex­plains, draw­ing on knowl­edge from past trips. “It’s ef­fec­tively like a swell that runs down a point side­ways

– a mo­bile sand flat. It’s just a co­in­ci­dence of the swell that it trav­els like a per­fect bar­rel. It grinds.”

Think of a boat wake, and how the wave just runs down the side of the river and you see these per­fect lit­tle fold­ing swell lines. This wave folds – it doesn’t break – and it is made of lit­er­ally pure en­ergy. When it’s do­ing that on the cor­rect tide and match­ing swell, it makes some­thing that is seem­ingly un­make­able, make­able.

Louie, Gearoid and Timmy didn’t waste any time pad­dling out. As soon as there was enough vis­i­bil­ity the three of them braved the ex­tremely short and highly treach­er­ous pad­dle-out. See, it’s so shal­low that it’s phys­i­cally im­pos­si­ble to duck dive at the im­pact zone. That, and the lines come at you side­ways – if you get caught, there’s no es­cape.

The boys made it out with­out trou­ble, but it didn’t take long for the bar­relling beast to catch up with them. Tim Bisso ex­plains…

“The first wave I dropped into I ba­si­cally broke half my nose. Then I was right in front of Ted and Paul Daniel, our videog­ra­pher, so I knew I had to take the first wave that came – be­fore the cur­rent took me

out of their vi­sion. I dropped in, way too late, I landed on my feet and then the lip came straight onto my head. I slammed into the sand and dis­lo­cated my right shoul­der, while ex­tend­ing a few lig­a­ments in the other shoul­der.”

This is a de­ceiv­ingly dif­fi­cult wave. At four foot you might think it looks per­fect, easy, even, but it’s fraught with a whole lot of dan­gers. The sand bank is su­per shal­low and it runs for up to two kilo­me­tres at freight train speeds, and faster. The sweep is mas­sive, as if the en­tire ocean is mov­ing down the point.

“Some days,” says Ted, “Guys can get swept two kilo­me­tres with­out ever catch­ing a wave, then they have to get out and walk back up the beach. That’s not rare. And even when you do catch up wave, you still have to get back up to the beach to at­tempt to pad­dle out again. It’s a funny cy­cle to watch – early in the morn­ing guys will be do­ing laps jog­ging, but by the end of the day they’re nearly crawl­ing."

“It’s easy to glam­ourise some­thing that looks so per­fect, but

the re­al­ity is these guys are tak­ing off on a sand dredg­ing take­off that is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult and dan­ger­ous, and is so pow­er­ful that its size is of­ten un­der­es­ti­mated.”

Per­haps Tim Bisso, who suf­fered the wrath of the wave first­hand, de­scribed it best: “The wave is run­ning like an ac­tual dream. You look at it and you see these vi­sions of you rid­ing in­side the bar­rel hav­ing the best time of your life. But ten sec­onds later the bar­rel has dou­bled up be­low sea level, and you are trapped in a night­mare on a dry sand bot­tom. This wave will take you down, like a roller coaster into the dark­ness. It is by far one of the most pow­er­ful waves I have ever surfed.”

But with great risk comes great re­ward, and for most, it’s worth the ex­tra roll of the dice. If a surfer is truly ca­pa­ble of this level of surf­ing, it’s just as Timmy de­scribed it – a dream. Pic­ture a grindier Kirra run­ning for two kilo­me­tres in the mid­dle of the world’s largest desert abyss. Af­ter that first day the swell rose, and with it the fog. Louie and Gearoid woke to a beau­ti­ful, clear and stun­ning day. Freez­ing, with eight-foot sets and 10-foot sneak­ers ab­so­lutely spin­ning down the coast, far­ther than the eye could see. It was churn­ing it­self in­side out, and a lot of the big­ger waves weren’t even sur­fa­ble. But it was a sight to be­hold.

“We were surf­ing each wave for so long, and so far, that I ba­si­cally didn’t see Louie once that day,” Gearoid re­calls.

From sun up to sun down it was lap upon lap upon lap. “I think af­ter surf­ing from the crack of dawn to al­most pure dark­ness I would have pad­dled and walked around 30 kilo­me­tres each, prob­a­bly fur­ther.” Re­mem­ber, it’s been Louie’s dream to surf this wave – and he was will­ing to push him­self to the brink. “To­wards the end of the day I had to push my­self through pain to get back out there, be­cause I knew it might be the only chance I’ll ever have to surf waves like that again. The re­ward of pick­ing the right wave … it’s the best feel­ing in the world. It just keeps throw­ing sec­tions on sec­tions, to the point where you al­most can’t han­dle it any­more.”

Louie added that al­though he con­sid­ers him­self pretty good in left bar­rels (an un­der­state­ment), he couldn’t make it past the last sec­tion on about 90 per­cent of his waves.

This is not a place for the faint­hearted. It is not a place you will walk away from feel­ing con­fi­dent about your skills in the surf. It is a place that is ruled by the ocean and the force and speed at which it can pro­vide some of the most amaz­ing mo­ments of your life, and take them away in an in­stant. It is the re­sult of Search­ing this planet and push­ing lim­its, in the basest sense of the phrase. It is a freight train un­like any other, placed in a land so for­eign it seems plan­ets away, and it is breath­tak­ing...

How’s that for a drainer? Tim Bisso passes on a wave that ac­tu­ally has lip thicker than its face. (right)

(above) “Good job Bear Grylls isn’t here…” (main right) Tim Bisso, af­ter­noon de­light. (right) As amaz­ing as this shot looks, I think you’d want to be up­wind of these crit­ters…

(left) Luke Hynd. Late drop to Mach 10. No stalling here…

(be­low) G-man sign­ing off with his mil­lionth bar­rel…

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