Friday, 11 February 2011

Mixing it up with Axel

People familiar with Justine Curgenven's This is the Sea series will have seen Dutch sea instructor Axel Shoevers doing his thang in a couple of the magazine style installments which showcase her paddling mates. Axel has been in the country for three weeks with the lovely Ginni Callahan, running a series of instruction events in Tassie, Victoria & now Sydney. He was keen to get out & see what the cliffs around Sydney had to offer, & was also very interested in finding some decent surf for a play, so Rob & I took him out yesterday for a spin around a couple of our favourite play spots.
Axel's Head disappearing over a swell
It's always a good thing to understand the subtleties of your local weather and what a given sea state forecast means on the ground. Yesterday was very calm in the air, with a gentle 10kn nor’easter, and the swell was pulsing to 2m from the south. Southerly swells are mostly very powerful, and the hidden message in the forecast was the wavelength of up to 12 seconds. Mix the odd 2m plus set with a long wave period and around Sydney that often means very strong wave energy around our high cliffs, and so it proved yesterday. 
Rob rounding North Head
Axel disappearing over the rebound
We enjoyed big bouncy rebound between north head and blue fish point, with the confused water mostly overhead and plenty of dynamic movement. With the exception of fast following seas, this sort of clapotis is in my opinion the most challenging and enjoyable water you can paddle. You're engaged, concentrating, using all of your blended strokes & skills without thinking about them, and watching, watching for the subtle signals of a free ride. 
Axel in among the bounce
 
Rob Mercer
Rob & Axel looking for a way in close
Kerbooom….Blue Fish Point in good form
 Even though rebound sometimes feels like a stagnant vertical force, there is always enough steepness in the movement to offer brilliant linked surf rides. It's not easy to tune in to, but once you get the hang of things it's brilliant fun.
Axel, in an unfamiliar boat and in conditions that by his own admission are very rare in his home waters, very quickly looked at home. When a paddler reaches for the camera in this kind of rough water, you know they're well within their limits!
We paddled alongside the tall cliffs, and headed east into Shelley Beach and the famous Fairy Bower break.
Axel up on edge running off a wave
The wave that almost cost our tourist his hat & sunnies
We couldn't believe our luck when there was just a single board rider on the break, and spent the next hour riding wave after wave across the shallow boulder reef. When its not something you do all the time, surfing these waves and getting your timing right isn't an automatic skill. Once again Axel settled in very quickly and was soon carving around like a pro.
I caught a wave inside the reef and turned with my camera as Axel lined one up that looked a bit bigger, maybe one of the 'high sig' waves that the buoy data was showing.
 Rob running down the face at the Bower
Edge control on a great Bower runner
Rob on the wrong side of the right hander, about to lose his hat
I got a great view as he dropped down the face, shot off on the steep re-form, and then broached just as the wave peaked up on a little shallow, dropping him hard on his face. The boat stalled upside down & I figured he'd basically stop dead, but as I turned expecting to see Axel resurface, there was only whitewater with the odd flash of red.
Finally he rolled up about 100m further on, triumphant to have saved his hat & sunnies! I've gotta tell you, it would have been a service to kayaking fashion had this particular hat and sunnies gone to the bottom, think Cool Hand Luke meets Gilligan…..
The day's play over, heading back to base at Watson's Bay.
With time running short, we padded into Shelley and had a burger, swapped a few tall stories then ran the gentle following wind waves 9km back into the harbour.
This really was one of the most varied, engaging and challenging paddles you could squeeze into 4 hours, real smile on the dial stuff. Although we were paddling past some amazing natural scenery, it was the sea that provided the highlights.

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