A break made of dreams and nightmares alike. Photo: Josh Morris

A break made of dreams and nightmares alike. Photo: Josh Morris

The Inertia

“The Red Bull Cape Fear contest is the most unique and challenging big wave surfing contest out there, in the heaviest waves in the world. It’s progression of the sport at its finest.” – Jamie O’Brien

Big wave surfing fans might have been bummed to go another year without running The Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau. But today, spirits are high as we begin another big wave waiting period — one definitely worth waiting for — with the Red Bull Cape Fear in Sydney, Australia, running from April 17 through August 1 to best encapsulate the Aussie autumn and winter.

The New South Wales break has gone through many names — Ours, Pikers Hole, South Sydney Reef… but Cape Fear defines it the best. Located at the southern-most tip of Botany Bay, the notorious break crashes a few meters away from where Captain Cook and his crew first touched down in Australia in 1770. The break, however, was not re-discovered until the 1960s when it was initially populated by body surfers. That was until surfing troublemakers the Bra Boys took over, claiming — or rather challenging – Ours, telling body boarders like Mitch Rawlins to “f*ck off!”

In order to give Cape Fear the greenlight, the sets at Ours must be of at least four meters, traveling in an east to southeasterly direction and have strong peak wave periods in excess of ten seconds. But to more specifically determine the actual running day, Red Bull turns to big wave champion surfer Mark Matthews. His knowledge and familiarity with Ours is critical to deciding the perfect conditions to run the competition.

Once greenlit, to actually surf at Ours, you need a load of talent, a lot of balls, and a little luck. Riding these waves is a kamikaze mission. Matthews has surfed the break multiple times, still having difficulty comparing its massive waves to any other breaks he’s surfed thus far. “I think of waves like Backdoor Pipe or The Box in Western Australia,” says Matthews. “But then they don’t have cliff faces looming in front of them.”

The waves break right onto a neighboring crag, causing aggressive backwash to affect the swell. Major mistakes are rarely forgiven by the heavy lips of the 10-foot surges that crash against the sharp teeth of the reef before slamming into the face of a savage cliff.

But these athletes live for the thrill.

Cape Fear invitee and Former Pipeline Masters winner Jamie O’Brien loves hunting and conquering monster waves, so when he heard about Red Bull’s mission to hold Cape Fear he was instantly in: “I was stoked! I’ve never surfed it before. I think everyone in the event is really going to push the envelope of surfing.”

Matthews’ Ours experience also pumps him up for the competition. “When you ride through a crazy barrel out there and make it to the safety of the channel is one of the best feelings ever,” says Matthews. “I guess it would be like hitting a hole in one, scoring a length of the field try or kicking a winning goal!”

The format is a little different from the ASP, WCT and WQS:

  • Six one-on-one battles, with a battle competing two best-matched surfers.

  • These battles consist of approximately 20 minutes of paddling in and 20 minutes of towing.

  • There are four surfers in the water at all times – two competing in the paddle-in element and two competing in the tow-in element.

  • The first five battles will be on the undercard for the main event, similar to the boxing card format.

  • As always, surfers will be judged by wave size and difficulty with each battle crowning a winner.

Needless to say, surfers and surfing fans are eager to see how this one-day battle format plays out.

“I like the boxing card format,” says Irons. “It’s unique and different. Head to head format, you can’t beat that. Koby [Abberton] is the guy to beat out there and I want to teach him a lesson at his spot.”

While Matthews is a name to watch out for, he also looks forward to watching everyone else as well. “I love watching awesome sporting events and the excitement of the battle between athletes,” he says. “Cape Fear is one of the most spectacular surf breaks on the planet so combining that with the battle excitement will make for amazing viewing. A sports fan’s dream!”

Starting today, this dream has the chance to become a reality.

Mark Matthews, wave whisperer. Photo: Josh Morris

Mark Matthews, wave whisperer. Photo: Josh Morris


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