“The biggest Shipsterns wave I’ve ever caught”

A tale of dedication and glory by Nick Nairn-Smith

Shipsterns Bluff is certainly not like your local wave. There is no rocking up at the carpark and simply watching the waves roll in from the comfort of your air-conditioning.

To say it takes dedication is an understatement.

We asked Tasmanian charger Nick Nairn-Smith to pen some words about this absolute beast of a wave he caught last week and he ended up sending us back a small novel about what goes down to get a good wave.

After reading this story, it only makes the accompanying footage seem more dramatic.

Words by Nick Nairn-Smith

I think it’s easily the biggest paddle I’ve ever had since I’ve been surfing out there. At the start of the day I was skeptical, the wind was strong, the swell was lumpy and the tide was also getting higher. It was looking pretty grim so I sat around on the rocks with my good mates Tom and Trav. We ate a heap of food and enjoyed the first really warm sunny day we’ve had since winter subsided. 

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Frame: Travis-Leigh Hutchins

One by one I watched all of the usual local stern surfers and bodyboarders jump off the ledge to go out for a look. Marti Paradisis, The Ward’s (Harley and Charles) and a few others were finding occasional bombs, truth be told I thought I’d blown it because as soon as I suited up I thought the wind was turning.

The nature of a Shipsterns adventure is often hit or miss. Every session down there someone has their day and others get nothing. I’ve had plenty of surfs out there and managed to avoid anything that resembles a good wave.

It’s always the way, some days you leave disappointed and other days you leave on a manic high after collecting everything. This day was bizarre, I had two surfs and both of them were my shortest surfs ever. I happened to paddle out around 11.30am and within five minutes my first wave rolled through. I bounced over the ledge and pulled into a round one which had me feeling pretty amped. 

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Frame: Stu Gibson

I paddled back out and decided to jump in a mate’s boat to catch up with everyone and watch the action.  

The wind became light and variable and the surf quickly became bumpy and very average. Everyone returned to shore, ate lunch and debated the idea of staying around for the late session. There was a low tide and the chance the wind could change and clean up again. People weren’t patient and I didn’t blame them, it was pretty 50/50, but my friends and I had the whole day free so we stuck around.

After a quick sleep on the rocks, I woke up to local photographer and drone pilot Stu Gibson talking to Marti Paradisis who had come ashore to swap boards. He was saying he’d seen some 12 to 15 footers starting to roll in and he thought the swell was kicking. I looked at Marti and asked him what he thought, ”Yeeaahh it’s gonna be pumping. Come out”. He was the only one in the lineup so I said I’d keep him company. My mate Tom had been razzing me up hard the night before to finally have a crack at towing. I’ve never been too keen on the idea so I thought maybe I could give it a go.

pic Thomas Webster
A look down at Shipsterns from the check spot. Photo by Thomas Webster

This time, less than two or three minutes after arriving in the lineup a large lump of water started moving towards us. I looked at Marti and asked the question if he was keen. He ended up being a little too deep and yelled at me saying I was good to paddle. So that was it, I swung and it let me in. I hit the step and kind of got flung upwards but managed to land ok. Then I realised I was in way bigger barrel than I was expecting as the south bowl had flared up a few extra feet. It all happened so fast but at the time I actually legitimately thought I was close to making it but I definitely wasn’t! I didn’t feel like needing a tow after that either so I gave that idea away. Just two, five-minute-long surfs and that was my day of surfing complete! Not a lot of exercise but a few good memories.  

Everyone had packed up and there were no photographers in the channel. My mates were taking photos but got washed off one of the rocks close to the lineup and missed the best part of the wave. Luckily they were all good and their camera’s survived. I was really stoked to hear that Gibbo had his drone above me and that another well-renowned photographer, Andrew Chisholm, had filmed the land angle.

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A GoPro angle of the wave.

I didn’t make this wave, but I’ve always wanted that view. It’s what I would call the fear cave I’ve always wanted! I’ve looked at waves that size before, felt nervous and wondered what it would be like to be right back inside something like that. It definitely didn’t disappoint! 

It always feels like your going to make it on the large ones out there because the barrel is so round that the channel is easy to see from inside looking out. Im sure on the right one it could be done. As for that wave, I was about 15-metres back inside and it was all over! 

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Frame: Andrew Chisolm

Local stand-up chargers Shaun Walbank and Alex Zadawadski looked out for me and came and collected me on the ski after I got washed down the point. I didn’t think it was quite as big as the footage showed, but they were talking it up to me when I climbed on the back of the ski which was pretty exciting. It was an epic afternoon and it was a nice, low key surf with just a few friends in the water. At the end of it all we walked back to the top of the Lookout and watched the day wind down. I felt pretty happy, it was a cracker of a day.