On its day, Cape Solander might just be the heaviest pound for pound wave on the planet. If you stick the drop, then it's a high-speed navigational nightmare on a slab that sucks and draws off the rocks, a kamikaze blitz over a face punctuated with steps. It is carnage.
But for a select few, when a head-high swell rolls in, it is also opportunity. Nick Brbot and a crew from Sydney have been bodysurfing that slab for years. Cape Solander, known as Cape Fear, Ours etc, is capable of dishing out severe beatings and Nick's witnessed his fair share of broken ribs and shattered knee caps while out there, amongst it – and that's after a paddleout that requires perfect timing.
We caught up with Nick to talk through that paddle, equipment, safety (what safety?) and jostling for position in the lineup at one of the wold's most notorious slabs.
So, who're the crew bodysurfing Ours?
So I have been told there was actually a crew from the 60s that would regularly bodysurf Cape Solander when the local breaks were too crowded from boardriders. I actually came out from a session recently to have an old local describe to me that he hasn’t seen it bodysurfed since his mates were doing it in his heyday.
The boys bodysurfing it these days are pretty much doing so thanks to Peter Sperling. In my opinion, Peter is Australia’s best bodysurfer, competing in numerous Pipeline Bodysurfing Classic’s and three time winner of the Flatrock Bodysurfing Invitational in Newcastle.
He’s been bodysurfing Cape Solander for over 15 years and knows the wave better than most. Another one of the crew is Russel Pollard of the online bodysurfing store and blog Bornwithgills. He's pretty much the complete waterman and can be seen on his gun charging the local bombie at 15ft or you’ll see him 60ft below the water freediving or spearfishing.
Rikki Gibley of WAW Handplanes is also quite the regular out there. Shaping handplanes seems the dream job, as Rikki is a weapon bodysurfer from all his 'product testing' and is always on call ready to bail from the workshop to hit the water. A few others from the crew are always on call and sometimes make road trips of up to three hours to get down to the wave when its on.
Talk us through a typical session?
The types of waves caught are similar to those of the Cape Fear contest, just about half the size. The waves caught and time in the water varies on sessions for example I spent four hours in the water on the recent session.
However, weekdays before work, I can normally only fit an hour or two in, depending on morning light. It's not very often that the conditions are right for Cape so we try and take advantage of the short time it's on.
And talking of work, what do you do, how does this fit in?
I work as an environmental consultant. When I'm working in the office as long as I get my load of work done and put my hours in it's fine with work. My boss is a surfer himself, so he's pretty good with understanding the work/life balance. However, when I'm out on a site I have very little flexibility and normally watch the pics from that day flood in wishing I was out there.
This isn't a wave for your average Joe surfer. How long have you been doing this and what inspired you to do so?
Growing up on the beaches of Sydney, I’ve always bodysurfed. However, it wasn’t until my best mate Julian came back with a pair of DaFins from Hawaii about seven years ago that I started stepping up in wave size. It was at the time my mates were escalating their surfing game progressing up to reefs, a couple of snapped boards and I thought to myself, why not just bodysurf instead.
I actually grew up in the small suburb of Kurnell and have been watching the wave since I can remember, hoping one day I’d have the balls to surf it. But it wasn’t until I saw a couple of photos of Peter Sperling smashing it on Instagram that I flicked him a message and asked if he could show me the ropes out there.
What kind of size are you surfing Cape Solander?
Generally we bodysurf out there in anything from 3-6ft. However, I can attest to the wave feeling double the size on every drop and wipeout.
There have been many injuries over time out there. Lacerations and bruises are just an expectation when you head out there. However, within the crew there has been a broken forearm, broken ribs, nerve damage and a shattered kneecap just to name a few. Growing up near the helicopter landing area, I have also seen many surfers with spinals who have had to get airlifted out.
Tell us a bit about the equipment you're using.
When I go out bodysurfing, I’m always using my DaFin's and my WAW Handplane. You need the power from the fins to get in the right spot of the wave, otherwise you will be going straight over the falls. In my opinion DaFin are the best choice for a balance between comfort and performance.
My quiver of WAW Handplanes are individually handcrafted from sustainable paulownia timber and recycled Patagonia wetsuits which makes them the most environmentally sustainable option when it comes to handplanes.
After testing out a few other shapers, they are my favourite too when it comes to performance. The extra lift from them reduces the amount of body dragging on the wave, giving you plenty of extra speed across the wave.
I normally just bodysurf in my Delfina Sport speedos, I've played water polo since I was seven-years-old and I have always just worn them in the water. Boardshorts create too much drag and just don't feel good. I was lucky enough to meet bodysurfing and Hawaiian legend Mark Cunningham recently in Noosa for the Australian titles who is also a Speedo enthusiast. If it's good enough for Mark, it's good enough for me. Anyway, the water is warm enough in Sydney, although some may think its not in their 2-3mm steamers.
How's that paddleout?
Timing is everything. One slip up and your in a world of hurt, just like many attempted rock entries as seen on @kookslams. The same goes for the exit. Without access to a ski, on a big day you can see yourself swimming 1-2km to the next exit point which is inside Botany Bay, a breeding ground for some friendly men in grey suits.
The topography at Ours, if you screw something up, it's going to be a bit of a flogging – ever turn up and you think, this is too big, too gnarly to bodysurf?
Yes and yes. The Redbull Cape Fear event last year showed that it can definitely get way too gnarly to bodysurf. Half the time when I’m in the water about to take off and I can see the slab start to drain I’m still thinking to myself, this is too big and gnarly to be bodysurfing.
Cape Fear is never a safe size, the smaller it is, the closer you are to the reef and rocks. The bigger it is the more strength the wave has to push you into the reef and cliff face Cape Fear is never a safe size, the smaller it is, the closer you are to the reef and rocks. The bigger it is the more strength the wave has to push you into the reef and cliff face. If you screw something up you can expect to free fall and hit the reef, followed by a washing machine style flogging whilst being pinned down to the reef. When you reach the surface there's a scurry to the channel like your life depends on it before the next set.
What about safety?
What safety? The safety measures in place are always trying to have someone in the water with me or having solace in the fact my mate and photographer Keeland Tracy who shoots from the land is a very capable swimmer.
Any jostling for position between surfers/bodyboarders?
As is custom worldwide, us bodysurfers are at the bottom of the pecking order, scavengers of the sea. On a busy day we bide our time sitting on the inside, waiting for one to slip through, or a boardrider to wipeout on takeoff.
Where do you go next with bodysurfing?
My next goal is to go down and bodysurf Shipsterns in Tasmania with Peter Sperling. It looks very tasty at 6-10ft. We've been eyeing it off for a while now and are hoping to get down there and have a crack soon.