But who surfs the Bluff best?
Day seven. Or is it eight? Or nine? I’ve lost track of time. After three days off the grid a strange kind of waking dream like state sets in, and one week at the Bluff feels like eternity. Time is irrelevant out here. The continuum of experience is measured not in hours of the day, but in increments of enjoyment and the arrival of new swell.
It’s been raining the past four days. Time has slowed to a trickle. I’ve been confined to a dank, cramped tent, desperately trying to conjure up imagery of pumping waves on the dark and gloomy horizon. Around the camp, it’s been eerily quiet. After the first storm, only a few resilient travellers had the spirit to endure persistent rain.
Today, a new swell has arrived and conditions are cleaning up. Late afternoon, and thick pulsing lines wrapping around the headland are a delightful sight. Unfortunately they’re accompanied by an influx of new arrivals. Word spreads quickly around the camp: the Brown Brothers are here. It’s a good omen. If WA hellman Kerby Brown is prepared to chase a swell 1500km from his home in Denmark, it’s a sure sign of epic waves.
The building swell is raw and messy. In the water the crowd is orderly and respectful. Everyone waits their turn and engages in friendly conversation. Amongst longer term visitors, the favoured topic of discussion is the recent run of terrible conditions we’ve endured. We feel a sense of entitlement to this swell. We’ve earned it.
Kerby paddles past the pack and ensconces himself at the top of the reef. Night falls, and back on and he stays in one of the six eco-safari tents. They’re a luxurious feature, usually reserved for honeymooners and glampers, equipped with a kitchenette and camp shower. A sheltered timber verandah has a panoramic vista of the wave. To the anonymous visitor, they cost $90 a night.
Kerby and Courtney are right at home at Red Bluff. They’ve been coming here for years; and Courtney is engaged to Imogen Caldwell, one of the 13 kids who grew up here. There are five kids in Imogen’s family. Her parents manage the camp, and the other caretaker family, the Durants, run a small store.
Visiting pros surf the wave exceptionally, but general consensus around the camp is no-one surfs the wave better than Imogen’s older brother, Lachie. Lachie toys with the wave. This is his backyard, his playground. On multiple occasions he pulls in switch foot, emerging from the tube in regular stance. On one wave, he even sits down in the tube!
For the average surfer, the wave is a tricky beast. Understanding its nuances requires years of mastery. It’s fast, hollow and highly technical. Wave selection is critical. The take-off is steep but relatively straight forward, and for the entire length of the reef the wave demands a fast and high line. If you make one, it’s a wave you won’t forget in a hurry.
Morning. The coals in the fire pit are still white hot. The rising sun casts a deep shadow over the towering folds of the Bluff. I try to imagine the secrets it’s held for millennia; how many perfect, empty waves have wrapped around that ancient headland! Still, aside from the $15 a night fee, little has changed out here since the Dreamtime.