The Southern O cean’s S weetest Nectar
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.