The South­ern O cean’s S weet­est Nec­tar

Tracks - - Contents - Story by Mimi La Mon­tagne. All pho­tos Ed Sloane

It was one of those nights you just knew you were go­ing to wake up to some­thing spe­cial in the ocean. Silent. Dark. Com­pletely still. The faint out­line of a mag­nif­i­cently large cloud mass loom­ing in the black abyss. We went to sleep in our own beds, but our sleeps didn’t bring calm as they nor­mally do. An­tic­i­pa­tion pulsed through our twitch­ing eye­lids, our fum­bling fin­gers and toes. Beep beep. Beep beep. Beep beep. A moth­erly voice calls from down­stairs. “Xavier, wake up!” 15-year-old Xavier Huxtable springs from his bed. It’s a Tues­day, but he’s not go­ing to school. To­day, Xavier Huxtable is get­ting on a plane and chas­ing a wave that few surfers have had the lux­ury of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing. You might not know who Xavier Hux is, and that’s okay. But you soon will. He’s a two-time Aussie Ju­nior Champ. He’s a Torquay lo­cal. He’s a red­head. He’s a video game nerd. He’s an AFL fan. He’s your typ­i­cal Aussie grom, with an in­cred­i­bly atyp­i­cal tal­ent. And a few weeks ago, he just so hap­pened to pull the trig­ger on his first strike mis­sion ever, to one of the least ex­ploited is­land waves in Aus­tralia. Of­fi­cially, King Is­land is a part of Tas­ma­nia, but when you’re there you feel as far re­moved from any other part of Aus­tralia as pos­si­ble. When you land in your twin en­gine, eight-seater air­plane – which is an ex­pe­ri­ence in it­self, fly­ing

through a stormy and tur­bu­lent Bass Strait – you step onto the tar­mac and re­alise “Holy crap, I’m ac­tu­ally in the mid­dle of nowhere.” In fact, those are the words Xavier Huxtable ut­tered as he stepped into the side­ways rain that pelted down from a low, grey sky. “Wel­come to King Is­land, guys! Ain’t she a beauty?” Our pi­lot yelled out over the wind, hur­riedly chuck­ing his fur jacket on be­fore open­ing the wings and start­ing to un­load the 17,000 boards we’d brought for the day. You can never be too care­ful when it comes to a strike mis­sion. And be­fore you ask, yes, the boards were ac­tu­ally stored in­side the wings. It was Xavier’s first mis­sion to King Is­land, and he hadn’t done much re­search – not that you’d ex­pect any­thing less from a grom­met. In the lead-up to the trip he kept telling peo­ple he met that he was go­ing to Kan­ga­roo Is­land, and he was so ex­cited that we just didn’t have the heart to tell him Kan­ga­roo Is­land was off the coast of South Aus­tralia, way to the west of where we were head­ing. It wasn’t un­til his dad, Chris, heard this non­sense – at the air­port on Tues­day morn­ing! – that Xav’s Kan­ga­roo Is­land dreams were crushed. “Yeah, so when I found out I was go­ing to King Is­land,” Xav says, “I watched a video of Joe van Dijk and Harry Bryant and I re­alised how sick the waves were. Be­tween that footage and Craig Ando’s shots, I was froth­ing. So I knew it was go­ing to be awe­some, but I didn’t know what the land­scape was go­ing to be like. I didn’t know how good it would all be in per­son, I guess.” Af­ter un­load­ing the plane our pi­lot and his co-pi­lot, who also dou­bled as his four-year-old daugh­ter, waved us adieu and we scur­ried away in our “rental car”, which I’m pretty sure was just a lo­cal’s car bor­rowed for the day. The first stop was Cur­rie, King Is­land’s only town, where surfers hit the bak­ery to stock up on sup­plies en route to Martha’s. We not only stocked up, but we ate up too, be­cause this is no or­di­nary bak­ery. Fresh wal­laby pies? Tick. Cray­fish pies? Of course! And oh, even just that very first bite of juicy baked-to-per­fec­tion de­li­cious­ness is well worth the $15 … so with a full belly and a bag of Cloud Juice (King Is­land’s own wa­ter com­pany), it was straight to Martha’s… Now, King Is­land isn’t ex­actly pre­dictable. Ev­ery­thing can look right. The winds, the swell direc­tion, the size, the tide – and within min­utes, it can go to com­plete shit. Sit­ting in the mid­dle of one of the most treach­er­ous chunks of ocean in the world, most weath­er­worn ar­eas on the globe, it’s fickle – to say the least. From tip-to-tip of the is­land it’s about an hour’s drive, and the bak­ery is ex­actly mid­way. So from there we had half-an­hour of pedal-to-the-metal an­tic­i­pa­tion. “I had no idea what to ex­pect,” Xav says, in that fast-paced voice only grom­mets have. “But when we rocked up it was so men­tal. There were no houses at all; we were four wheel­ing in a Toy­ota Corolla, and then we came up over these sand dunes and saw these per­fect A-frame bar­rels. I’ve never been any­where like it be­fore. There’s no other place I’ve been to that’s like that. It’s so re­mote, so per­fect. It’s by far the most re­mote place I’ve ever been.”

“Just wait! Don’t move around too much. Just wait for one to come to you, be­cause even­tu­ally it will.”

Martha’s, con­trary to com­mon per­cep­tion, is not just one wave. It’s an en­tire beach of per­fect, crys­tal blue A-frames with­out a soul in sight. There are about four dif­fer­ent car parks where you can set up camp, each one fur­ther in and harder to reach with­out an all-ter­rain ve­hi­cle. But once you park, you quickly re­alise the trek is well worth it. Martha’s is your play­ground and it stretches as far as they eye can see. Pick your peak … it was this set­ting that ini­tially made Xavier, who is more ac­cus­tomed to the pre­dictable, stretched lines of the Torquay points, feel like a dog try­ing to catch a fox that keeps pok­ing its head out of too many dif­fer­ent holes. “We got there, and like I said, it was men­tal. We were all los­ing it. But once you’re in the wa­ter you re­alise it’s re­ally not as easy as it looks. Be­cause there are so many peaks, it’s re­ally shifty – I’d be sit­ting there and would see this per­fect bar­rel come through just next to me, so I’d pad­dle down to it. But then I’d look back to where I was be­fore and a per­fect one would come ri­fling through. It was just hard to find the right spot – but on the rare oc­ca­sion that hap­pened, it was great. Take off and back­door the most per­fect bar­rel…” Xav had one piece of ad­vice he’d give any­one who wants to go to King Is­land to surf Martha’s. “Just wait! Don’t move around too much. Just wait for one to come to you, be­cause even­tu­ally it will. Wait for the waves, and when they come, wait for the set. The biggest one in the set will be like noth­ing you’ve surfed be­fore.” On pre­vi­ous trips to King Is­land, Craig An­der­son had that tech­nique, and it worked. Pho­tog­ra­pher An­drew Shield once said that he watched Ando sit in the lineup at Martha’s, on his own, for most six hours one day. He caught three waves. And those three waves scored him more pages and mag cov­ers than a year’s worth of travel. It’s funny. When you fly into the is­land and land in es­sen­tially a semi-frozen cow pad­dock, you think about how iso­lated you are. And then, when you see the lo­cal “roo” truck driv­ing past at 160 kilo­me­tres per hour – with it’s large metal spikes stick­ing up off the back of the tray, dead road kill hang­ing out to dry be­fore be­ing sold to the bak­ery – then, then you re­ally think you’ve gone off the grid. Yet, in ac­tu­al­ity, you’re about a 45-minute plane flight to one of the biggest ci­ties in Aus­tralia, and you’re on a rel­a­tively ac­ces­si­ble is­land with a rich and well-known history. King Is­land is no se­cret. It’s known far be­yond surf­ing cir­cles. In fact, amongst sea­men, it’s one of the most talked about is­lands in the south­ern hemi­sphere. Since 1801 there have been over 60 known ship­wrecks, with a loss of over 2000 lives. And for an is­land span­ning less than 500sqm, that’s a pretty frig­gin’ high num­ber. The is­land it­self is shaped by these wrecks to a great ex­tent. Not only are the ma­jor­ity of breaks and beaches

named af­ter no­table ship­wrecks, but also a large chunk of the pop­u­la­tion is made of up de­scen­dants of those wrecks. Head out to just about any wave, and chances are there’s a story be­hind the name. A good story, at that. Hell! Even Martha’s … named af­ter a schooner called, you guessed it, Martha. This was a seal hunt­ing ship cap­tained by a Euro­pean man named Reed. This was also the ship that stum­bled upon the is­land for the very first time – and Reed was the man who made its ex­is­tence known to the pub­lic way back in 1799. Al­most a cen­tury later, in 1861, af­ter hun­dreds of lives had been lost on the bat­tered shores of King Is­land, it was de­cided a light­house must be in­stalled. This is the Cape Wick­ham Light­house, and it still stands tall to­day. Very tall, in fact, as the South­ern Hemi­sphere’s tallest light­house. See, when you go to King Is­land you’re not only chas­ing per­fect, empty A-frame bar­rels with­out a soul in sight – al­though sure, that’s not a bad bonus. In­stead, you’re also wit­ness­ing a place so rich in sto­ries it’s al­most in­com­pa­ra­ble in a coun­try like Aus­tralia. Af­ter a long and tire­some day in the sun and wind and ocean, we went and did the only thing that seemed right – we went to the pub. And the pub on the is­land is un­like any other ex­pe­ri­ence. We walked in look­ing like ab­so­lute weath­er­worn, sun­burnt, ex­hausted drowned rats, ex­pect­ing to get a few side­ways glances. But not here. Not at the King Is­land Pub. From the 22-year-old elec­tri­cian who’s been work­ing in the field since he was 10, to the 72-year-old man who sur­vived a ship­wreck and never left, to the 42-yearold mum who tells pro­mis­cu­ous tales of town af­fairs and the un­solved mys­ter­ies sur­round­ing them – you get so wrapped up in these sto­ries and these char­ac­ters, that you never want to leave. But we did have to leave – Xav is in school, af­ter all – and as we packed up our boards and bun­dled into the eight-seater twin-en­gine plane and took off from this tiny is­land in the Bass Strait (pop­u­la­tion es­ti­mated to be around 1500), we re­alised that we’d just dis­cov­ered an en­tirely new world, in one day. We flew through the tur­bu­lent clouds, took one last look at the light blue wa­ter at Martha’s, at the light­house on the point, at the out­line of the tiny town of Cur­rie, and ex­haled. Strike mis­sion? Com­plete. Ten hours? Well spent.

A King Is­land diet is com­prised of cray­fish pies, prime beef, qual­ity cheese and all the A-frames you can fit in.

Xavier takes a break from the tube and ex­e­cutes a neat, back­side jam.

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