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Victoria, Australia. Easter, 2017. The contest is in full swing at Bells and a big swell is forecasted for just after Easter. I’d moved to the mountains after a sudden family tragedy – a tough decision for a keen surfer – however, the impending snow season and the mountains were calling to me I’d looked at the weather charts and the conditions looked to be perfect, so I loaded the vehicle with camera gear and started the seven-hour drive to a destination I had a hunch would be firing.

Seven hours later, I arrived on the coast before sunrise and made myself a cup of coffee. It was still dark but I could hear the waves hitting the outer reef, booming like thunder. This day was going to be big. Traveling further along the coast as the sun rose, I got my first glimpse of the swell in daylight. Big corduroy lines were stacked up against the horizon. Once I parked, I scrambled along the cliff to see perfect 15-foot sets rolling in and only a few people out in the lineup.

Standing on the cliff in a moment like this makes you aware that you’re in a very raw, unique part of the world. I noticed one guy on a yellow toothpick was making surfing this place look easy. Having surfed it years ago myself, I knew it could be a very unforgiving wave. I’d taken some sequence shots of this anonymous surfer’s first few waves and then I heard somebody else chirp up in the crowd. “That’s Kelly Slater,” they said. Sure enough, a few of the ‘CT surfers who were no longer competing in the contest had gathered with some locals and were taking full advantage of the booming swell.

By mid-morning it really started to pump with sets approaching the 15 – 18-foot range. I’d never seen Kelly surf in person, so this moment felt like finding a unicorn in the forest. It was a privilege to witness such wave mastery. Although Kelly has his own unique style, I couldn’t help but notice flashes of Tom Curren in his approach – such grace, poise, and finesse in the big stuff. By noon that day, my memory cards were full and the tide had moved onto the reef. Sets were less frequent but there was still plenty of quality and size. Full credit goes to all the crew who charged it that day. It was my own an epic “Big Wednesday.” And after a long drive back through the night and two packed memory cards, I made my way home knowing I’d witnessed something special that day.

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