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Stormrider Guide to surfing Southwest Coast

Western Australia, AUSTRALIA


The Box, Bill Morris

Summary

+ Massive swell exposure - Cold and wet winters
+ World class reefs - Isolated, dangerous reefs
+ Lots of power - Windy
+ Dramatic coastline - Sharky

The Margaret River area of W.A. is perceived as AustraliaÕs most consistent and challenging big wave forum, where pretensions and pretenders are quickly washed away. Whilst the NW conceals Indo-like lefts, the area S of Cape Naturaliste is littered with rocky ledges and pointbreaks, that get battered by giant Roaring Forties swells. The scenic Caves Road skirts the coastline, meandering through forests, gentle hills and around vineyards that overlook the sea where a truly hardcore crew shreds dozens of world-class spots.

When to Go

The area from Cape Naturaliste to Cape Freycinet is fully exposed to the furious SW swells produced by the Roaring Forties. Waves can be large, although not necessarily clean and orderly, especially in winter, when there can be days of huge, onshore mush. Expect numerous 6-20ft swells in the winter, but usually only the sheltered spots will be rideable. Changeover seasons are the best bet as there are plenty of 4-12ft days at the most exposed spots. Even summertime is rarely flat, when regular 2-8ft swells can occur. WA is plagued by strong SW-W winds, while during the late summer/autumn there can be days with SE-S winds. When a high pressure sits over SW Australia, the mornings will typically be offshore, before an afternoon sea breeze (the Fremantle Doctor) blows out the surf. Tidal ranges are minimal and there is only one tide a day.

Surf Spots

The protected reefs of Cape Naturaliste work when a huge SW-W swell is running, and the SW winds are blowing. The laid-back lefts at Rocky Point start with sloping walls from take-off, then hit a nice bit of reef further in, throwing out a bit more, but generally this wave is accessible to improvers up. ThereÕs more beginner-orientated beachbreaks and a few reefs further around at Bunkers Bay, with spots like The Farm, Boneyards and The Quarries working on similar conditions. The peak at Windmills works on small swells only and has tubey sections in an offshore E, as do other sandy reef peaks along this stretch, including a regular left up at the Other Side of the Moon nearer the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse. A series of reef peaks affectionately called Three Bears, thanks to their ability to have something in the Òjust rightÓ category in a wide range of swell sizes. The hierarchy is obvious with PapaÕs furthest out able to handle triple overhead plus. MamaÕs can be a perfect sucking barrel on those medium-sized SW swell days, with heavy drops and speedy walls, favouring the lefts at mid tides. BabyÕs isnÕt always the runt of the litter and can have nice spiralling lefts and a few decent rights off the peak in small to moderate SW-W swells. Makes the most of small swells and is prone to regular clean-up sets at any size. Yallingup is a major surf community, where steep, hollow waves, brush a scattering of hungry rocks along this curve of classic WA sand. Names like Mousetrap and Rabbit Hill refer to reliable clusters of rock and sand, but the whole stretch can fire all the way down to the learner-friendly peaks and occasionally thumping shorey facing the car park. Supertubes is aptly named and describes the wave right from the off. Vertical to air drops straight to double speedy tube section before kicking out or closing out. Critical, pitching rights are what most are looking for, but there are plenty of lefts as well, which can ledge and mutate over the shallow, angular reef. SmithÕs Beach is blessed with various beachbreak peaks, a rolling left off the point in big SW swells and a reef peak that draws in most swells and unfurls some beautiful, righthand barrels, plus some less challenging lefts that will handle more size than the right. Pea Break is another top-class righthand barrel searing over shallow reef in front of the car parks at Injidup. Typical, ledgy WA drop into full keg followed by Daytona wall for armco bashing and an inside exit ramp. The bendy bowl at the jostling, postage stamp peak offers a far more approachable left for intermediates. The point at Injidup needs a sizeable SW or moderate W swell before the lumbering lefts get going. Steep, open faces, interrupted by ill-tempered sections and itÕs tidally sensitive. Further south past the sucky lefts of Moses Point, are plenty of spooky waves with evocative names like Hangmans, Gallows and Guilotines found in the maze of heavy-duty 4WD tracks between Yallingup and Cowaramup. North Point is one of the most majestic and powerful righthand points in the country. It takes a fair amount of S to SW swell to swing onto the barnacle crusted reef where it rears up swiftly and roars straight into a throaty barrel section before slinging into the often hollower inside, where maintaining speed is crucial to survival. As size increases it is possible to multi-park under the thick, dredging lips along a length of ride that exceeds 300m. It's a massive paddle and really needs higher tides and an E wind to show its class. Non-experts will prefer South Point, a functional, fun-lovinÕ left that runs a sloping wall down the jumbled rocks, standing up in places to work on those drawn-out roundhouses. Stays nice and smooth in SW wind, prefers higher tides and can get shallow over the urchin sprinkled reef. Big Rock, is another shallow, sucky right and along with Cobblestones, Noisies and Lefties, this area will always have a wave and a crowd when the swell and wind is down. The Box is a mutant righthand slab that earns its name from the square-shaped pits, just across the bay from Surfers Point. Make the air-drop then negotiate the dry sucks, boils or stepped faces to claim serious shack time. W swell helps make-ability as does more water over the sharp, sharky reef. Insane wave for the clinically insane or the pros when the comp is on. Sitting 10km west of the town of Margaret River Surfers Point's famous lefts have been a proving ground and contest site for decades. It also holds some rights in swells up to 6ft but MargaretÕs is all about size and the lefts will handle plenty of that. Heart-stopping drops, lumpy bowls and cutback walls are all part of the wavesÕ personality and it can handle a healthy dose of onshore wind, maintaining shape and some face smoothness for long, swooping turns. Watch out for speed bumps when cranking off the bottom and keep an eye on the horizon. Getting caught inside is no fun and positively dangerous if taking on the rights. Best conditions will be solid W swell, skimpy E wind and mid to high tide. The Rivermouth beachies nestled in the bay provide beginner/improver fun. Next door is Southside, another shelf of stone, facing into the SW swell and cultivating some tubular rights into the channel plus some seriously round, long lefts that close-out on the near-dry reef, leaving the rider particularly susceptible to clean-up sets. Beyond the big swell, lefthand reefs off Gnarabup Beach and down toward Gas Bay lies Grunters, an unpretentious wave that does what it says on the label. Seriously powerful righthanders wedge up a way offshore and explode with maximum force on the surprisingly shallow shelf. Often double sucks so be prepared to launch on what is already an air drop. S-SW swells and NE wind plus mid tides up. Inside Gas Bay is another grindy peak that will be smaller and more manageable, but still a challenge with heavy barrels and a covetous local crew. To the south, Redgate breaks mainly over sand creating hollow, punchy peaks in smaller swells. A-Frame shacks will also be found to the north along the Boodjidup stretch.

Statistics

J
F
M
A
M
J
J
A
S
O
N
D
dominant swell S -W S -W S -NW S -NW S -W S -W
swell size (ft) 5 6 7 8 6-7 5
consistency (%) 55 70 90 90 80 50
dominant wind SE -S SE -S SW -NW SW -NW S -W SE -S
average force F4 F4 F4-F5 F5 F4-F5 F4
consistency (%) 67 52 49 61 66 54
water temp (C) 19 21 19 17 16 18
wetsuit 3/2 springsuit 3/2 3/2 3/2 3/2

Travel Information

Weather
The seasons are distinct with summer (Dec-Feb) enjoying hot temps and very little rain. Autumn is a great time but from May-Aug it gets pretty wet and cold with storms often hitting the coast accompanied by gusty SW-W winds. Sept marks the start of spring and some rainy days, but generally itÕs fine. A light steamer is the suit of choice year-round.

Lodging and Food
WA is full of campsites and caravan parks and the towns have plenty of cheap hotels. Recommended ones are in Gnarabup (Surf Point Lodge: $90/dble, 3 nights min stay), Margaret River (Innetown Backpackers: $20); Gracetown Chalets ($130/n Ð 5 people) and Yallingup (Chandlers Smiths Beach Villas: $720/w). A decent meal costs from $10.

Nature and Culture
The Margaret River area produces great wine, so a vineyard tour is a good way to kill a day on the unlikely chance of it ever going flat. The Mammoth Cave is a good visit. Take a boat to Flinders Island to see the bottlenose dolphins and the fur seal colonies.