- SCOTT WHIPPY DENNIS
1. Go to the Mentawai Islands with my closest friends. 2. Snowboard with Travis Rice and be a part of the next phase, hahahah. 3. Double tow a code red swell at Chopes. 4. Free climb the biggest mountain in the world. 5. Have kids one day.
For the past few years images of Scott ‘Whippy’ Dennis have bombarded the Tracks office in various guises – Whippy’s ropey frame standing tall through a contorted slab, Whippy casually slaloming down a toppling, offshore bombie while wearing a broad smile, or Whippy as the faceless man behind Leroy Bellet’s other-worldly tow-behind shots.
Plenty of big wave surfers are paid bigger sums than Whippy and many have received more accolades, but few go harder than the roaming South Coast charger who has been known to redline it for 2000km to chase a swell that’s colliding with a button of submerged rock on the other side of Australia.
Although restlessly focussed on putting himself in the way of every major swell that hits his targeted waves, Whippy is also that classic kind of unassuming Australian character who performs seemingly impossible feats while preserving the gregarious countenance of a knock-about bloke. The good-natured demeanour is coupled with an obsessive streak, and amongst his South Coast peers he has earned a reputation for relentless exactitude when it comes to making calls on swell forecasts.
Although Whippy may currently list local Ulladulla Surf Shop, Southern Man, and fledgling wetsuit brand, Cheer, as his humble sponsors, his antics have not gone unnoticed by the content directors at Red Bull, who have an insatiable appetite for high-adrenalin action. Whippy and Leroy Bellet have now been backed by Red Bull to take their unique tow-behind act into another realm. Although they’ve already nailed shots around the South Coast region, you can expect to see photog' and surfer double towing at a host of other world-class waves around the world. It’s a well-deserved break for a dedicated charger who is on the tools running his own carpentry business when he’s not chasing swells.
In the interview below Whippy discusses the forces that moulded his big wave act and how he became addicted to the whole process of predicting, chasing and slaying waves of consequence.
You grew up on the South Coast of NSW around Ulladulla. When did you sense you were drawn to bigger, heavier waves? Yeah I grew up on the South Coast. Moved here when I was 4. It was kind of my brother and his mates that drew me to the heavier waves as they were pushing their surfing. As my brother is three years older than me, the age difference pushed me a little harder than I maybe would have gone without the motivation from them. The fear factor is always there, but it has become second nature to be out there, that’s what we’ve grown up in. Was there a lot of pressure to ride bigger waves when you grew up? Nah, it’s just something that I love doing. Is there a session or person from your youth that stands out as being very influential? From a young age it would definitely have been my brother and his mates. There is one session I remember when I was about 12, with Mick Mackey and Robbie Page at home, I just paddled out and sat in the channel and watched these guys getting 15 footers. Some wide 15 footers charged through the channel, I sort of felt scared but at the same time quite comfy. That could have been a turning point for me, I’m not sure! What about the nickname – Whippy. How did that originate? One arvo after school, the swell was solid. My brother and his mates were going out. I needed to get a lift with mum to the surf. When we got there she saw how big it was and she told me I wasn’t allowed to go surfing. She commented on how big it looked and there were a bunch of rips. One of my brother’s good mates started giving me shit saying “It's too rippy for whippy”, somehow this just stuck. At this stage I was about 10, it’s been my nickname ever since. Do you think the Ulladulla region is home to a genuinely unique group of guys at the moment in terms of big waves? Between yourself, Brett Burcher, Russell Bierke, Paul Morgan, the Wrench brothers, the Taplin brothers, Shaun Mawson and Elliot Marshall. Yeah, there’s something in the water down here for sure haha. But we all love what we’re doing, this area has made it easier for us to adapt to bigger heavier waves for sure. For pushing each other, it’s really Russ that is always raising the bar, and pushing all of us. It’s strange, he’s the youngest, he’s just a freak! Are there parallels with the guys who chase The Right on the West Coast? Well yeah, cos we all love chasing the biggest heaviest barrels we can but some of the guys at The Right are pretty crazy with what they’re doing over there. Obviously you feed off each other, but is it competitive between you also? The competitive side really is just the media side for us. We all have some kind of sponsorship and we need to keep pushing to chase that. We’re all so stoked when one of us is doing really well. It’s not about the competition between mates when you all love what you’re doing. Do you have an understanding that you have to look after one another in heavy conditions? Is safety something you discuss? Yeah, there’s no doubt that we’re always looking out for each other in heavy conditions. Well … now you mention it, this is probably something we should discuss some more! Ha ha. What’s the heaviest situation you have found yourself in? Probably the time I was towing the back of the point and fell before the corner. I felt myself go weightless as I got sucked over and felt myself get driven down with the lip. I still remember the way I was travelling was head-first, and the side of my face and shoulder took first impact. It’s kind of a blur, and I was a little unconscious until I surfaced and got washed around in the bay. What’s the heaviest situation you have pulled someone out of? Maybe my recent project with Red Bull. Mark Matthews had dislocated his knee, and not knowing how bad the situation was until we found out later that they nearly had to amputate his leg. The heaviest thing was to see him in so much pain. How do you strike a balance between going for it and being calculated? A lot of times I just go for it, which puts me in a situation I can learn from. This has helped me work out how to calculate and make some decisions. Do you ever have to tell yourself to take it easy? If you have had a few good ones do you start looking to wrap the session or do you just ride the adrenaline rush until you are exhausted? Yeah, once I’ve had a few good ones I usually chill out a bit. Yeah, if it’s pumping, I ride the adrenalin till the session goes to shit. You gotta make the most of the session when it’s there. Do you make any little rules for yourself, like when to go in or when not to surf or call it quits? It all depends on the wave, but you kinda know when the session is over and you don’t wanna push it! You have worked pretty closely with Leroy Bellet on the tow-behind shots. Is it satisfying when something like that comes off? Was the concept partly yours? I’ve known Leroy for a long time, we started the double tow together. I still remember the first time we nailed some shots, we knew it was something special. We’ve really become good mates over the last few years…I’m pretty stoked to be sharing the good barrels with him! Is it important to keep being creative and looking for new approaches to make it the whole process of hunting and documenting waves interesting? Any plans up your sleeve? Yeah that’s why the double tow photos and footage have become popular in the last year, as it’s just something so different. Everyone in the world who sees this media can appreciate what we do and enjoy the view! We’re currently doing a project with Leroy for Red Bull at some world-class waves, and this shits gonna blow people’s minds if we pull it off!
Without giving away too many secrets you have to admit that the Ulladulla region is a wave-rich zone in terms of big waves, slabs and reefs? Does it help to make you a complete surfer? It’s helped in the path that I’ve taken, but for competitive surfing I think there are struggles to produce top 44 surfers. We’re always surfing good waves, instead of grovelling, and a lot of comp surfing is on those sorts of waves. Which is the most challenging wave in the region? The one you enjoy the most. I’d say Supers is the most challenging wave. It breaks between 6-10 feet on a dry shelf and it’s on my backhand. Every barrel out there is a challenge but it’s the one I enjoy the most. Are you protective of the region? Do you ever worry that a car-load of Hawaiians will show up at Depot Bombie or one of the other waves or would you make them welcome? I am protective of the waves around home, but I also travel a lot. You have to show respect at all locations, every surfer should know that. For the Hawaiians rocking up, yeah I’d make them welcome! It would be mad to have them in the lineup for a session. What level of respect do you expect from travelling surfers when the waves are on? Its pretty easy, you gotta respect the locals. When I travel I always respect the locals and just get what I’m given. Do you think other surfers – possibly some of the Hawaiians and Americans – get overhyped? Do they make a big deal out of stuff that you and your mates are doing on a swell-to-swell basis? Nah I don’t reckon they get over hyped. I think that everyone is just pumped on what they’re doing and the waves they’re surfing. Ahhhh, actually I think the Hawaiians do froth a little harder! Ha ha. Which international surfers do you respect and why? Which Aus surfers do you respect and why? Shane Dorian. I’ve loved him since I was a kid, and now he’s the best in the big waves. The guy’s is a freak. Mark Matthews and Ryan Hipwood. They’ve been at the forefront of Aus big waves surfers. They are the guys I look up to.. Do you have any desire to chase more waves overseas? Have you done a season on the North Shore? Yeah, I’m always frothin’ for new waves. My hit list at the moment is Apocalypse in Indo, P-Pass, big Cloudbreak and Chopes. I’ve done two seasons on the North Shore. Definitely an eye-opener. It’s something every surfer should go and experience I think! If you are not getting big money to hunt heavy waves what’s the incentive? What’s the buzz? To chase and find uncrowded perfect waves. I love looking at the charts and seeing where all the swells are going, you know you just get this crazy butterflies feeling, knowing you’re chasing big heavy waves, it’s kind of addictive.
WHAT HIS WORLD LOOKS LIKE. TUNNEL SPECIALIST SCOTT 'WHIPPY' DENNIS SHOWING YOU
SCOTT DENNIS ROARS WITH DELIGHT AS A THICK, CRESCENT OF OCEAN BENDS VIOLENTLY AROUND HIM. PHOTO: SIMON PUNCH
WHIPPY DWARFED BY A KHAKI LIP THAT'S HEAVIER THAN HAVING A TANK THROWN OVER YOUR HEAD. INSET: MAKING TRACKS PHOTOS: LEROY BELLET