/Youve got to pay to play: Firefighter to take on Hobarts monstrous surf break

Youve got to pay to play: Firefighter to take on Hobarts monstrous surf break

Posted

May 12, 2019 11:15:31

Shaun Wallbank’s mum must endure her fair share of sleepless nights.

During the week, her son is a career firefighter, while on weekends, he takes on the ocean as a big-wave surfer.

“I thought about my poor old mum who worries about me going to work, and then worries about me not going to work,” he said.

“I have to convince her that both things are very safe if you do them correctly.”

Doing things correctly is vital at Shipstern Bluff — an enormous surf break south of Hobart.

Wallbank has been surfing the notorious spot for years and knows better than anybody the perils of such a monstrous break.

“You’ve got to pay to play. Occasionally you come off second best, and occasionally you get the wave of your life,” he said.

“You have to commit to it, to catch a wave.

“There’s heaps of water drawing up the face and it’s a big matter of getting into it, which is why it’s more difficult to paddle into it than to tow in with the assistance of a jet ski.”

He’s doing something right, though.

Wallbank is one of a handful of people invited to surf Shipstern as part of the Cape Fear Big Wave contest.

So volatile is the break, organisers have had to wait nine months for perfect conditions to present themselves so the event could take place.

This week the planets aligned, and this Monday was finally announced as competition day.

“It’s all a bit of a relief to be honest, to know it’s finally on the way and to get prepared and get down there,” Wallbank said.

“For the majority of us, it’s about going down there and having a bit of fun, putting ourselves to the test and going up against others that are considered the best in the world.”

‘Shippies’ not for everyone

The Cape Fear Big Wave event will feature 20 surfers from across the globe — including former world champion Mick Fanning — and will be streamed to a worldwide audience that is expected to number in the millions.

“This will be the pinnacle of any type of media coverage we’ve seen down at Shipstern,” Wallbank said.

“I’d imagine they’ll be pushing it pretty hard and aiming for a wide audience.”

Those viewer numbers could well open doors for locals hoping to be signed by sponsors — but could also result in the overexposure of ‘Shippies’.

The Tasmanian surfing fraternity continues to wrestle over whether or not staging the event could do more harm than good for the spot, which is located inside the Tasman National Park.

“My personal opinion is the days of the spot being blown out and revealed are long gone. People know where it is and forecasting technology is so good that no place in the world is immune,” Wallbank said.

“I hope that if it does become more popular, it’s managed in a good way.

“But on the other side of the coin, it’s the kind of wave that honestly not everyone wats to ride. A few people walk in there with surfboards but once they get there, [they] realise it’s not for them.”

The fragility of Shipstern means public access is being restricted in a bid to preserve the site.

Shayne Clarke from Surfing Tasmania said it was the right call.

“It seems disappointing in one respect but on the other hand, you don’t want 500 people clambering down at Shippies in an area that isn’t safe when the swells up,” he said.

“The last thing you want is an event that ruined by problems on the land, caused by people on the rocks and people potentially getting injured and leaving rubbish behind and whatever.”

Topics:

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surfing,

human-interest,

tas,

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