Opening image: “It was good to be back in that magic place in a really heavy ocean,” says Dan Ross. Photo Nick Green

Notes From The Shipstern Step: The Teacher And The Grommet Reunite

“It’s been 17 years since I was last at Shippies. We worked it out. When Noah [Hassett] picked me up from the airport we were having a chat in the car. He was like, ‘When were you last here?’ I said, ‘Two thousand and seven,’ and he started laughing. He goes, ‘I was one!’”

 

“We've made a couple of these new FCD step-decks specifically for down at Shipstern and wanted to try them out. Ramon [Navarro] and all the crew have been going hard on the bigger ones and we wanted to get some testing done on the small range ones – 6’2” through to 7’0”. We also made one for Mark Mathews and they've all been sitting in the shed ready to test. When the swell popped up there were no excuses.”

 

“On the Friday (the swell was Saturday), Mark texted me and said, ‘I'm in Vegas, but you should go to Shippies. I'll try and meet you there.’ I called Noah and he gave me a rundown. He said, ‘Yeah, it’s looking really good for the whole day, conditions look epic. It should be a good paddle day with a few bigger tow waves. If you want to come down, you're more than welcome to stay at my place.’ So, I booked a flight, and if Marky turned up, he turned up. His connecting flights were like 40 minutes and super tight.”

 

“I’d first met Noah when he was enrolled in one of the early Saltwater Institute programs. I think he was 14 and went through the program for a couple of years, which involves ocean knowledge and safety. The day that he came into the program he set out some goals for himself with surfing and one of them was to be the youngest surfer to paddle in at Shipstern. A couple of years later he did it and now he’s charging all over the world. So, to reconnect with him and his family and surf Shippies with him made it a really special trip.”

 

“My flight got into Hobart at 11pm that night and I said to Noah, just text me your address and I'll get a taxi. He's like, ‘Nah, I’ll come and get you.’ Noah and his dad, Richie had been getting all the skis and everything ready that afternoon after Noah finished school. I got in late that night and crashed out and then got up a few hours later at five o'clock to do the early mission.”

 

“The last time we came around the corner on the skis back in 2007 I saw the biggest waves I’d ever seen in Australia. It was frightening, but this time the swell hadn’t filled in yet, so we didn't race to get out there when we turned up. It was maybe eight or nine o'clock when we got there and the first wave I saw was Torren Martyn just knifing into one beautifully and he rode really deep in the barrel. I was like, I can't just sit here on the skis, so we jumped in straightaway.”

 

“I was on a 7’0” FCD which was on the bigger side for out there, but the thing paddled so good. It felt good to have that much paddle power – I think it was 41 litres. So, my first wave I got in nice and early and it felt great on the entry, but being my first ever paddle wave at Shipstern I picked too high a line. I thought maybe I could boost over the step and land it, but as I launched, I got twisted up and got full back slapped to head slap. I didn't hit the bottom, but I was woken up pretty quick. But in saying that the board felt great, I was just like okay, don’t do that again.”

 

“The sets were slow, but I got another one fairly quickly after that. I was just sitting inside trying to pick ones that maybe were a bit more south. I actually got another good one but again was a bit late on the drop. I knifed in and went straight across the step and went to bottom turn up under it but copped a massive chandelier of water to the to the head which just sent me to the bottom again.”

 

“The Tassie guys have organised their own water safety down there, as it’s so sketchy and remote. They’ve got together and organised a safety ski. Noah's dad, Richie was driving it that day with the rest of the crew. It’s decked out with a defib with green whistles and a bunch of safety gear. It’s something they've picked up from other crew involved in safety organisations like BWRAG, and they’ve pretty much built it up themselves with an aim to get two skis fully decked out.

 

“After that, the tide started to get pretty low, and the swell started to push so I just had a breather after those two floggings. While I was sitting there, I got a text from Mark, saying, ‘What do you reckon? Can you pick me up from Whites Beach boat ramp?’ While it was low tide and gurgling, I jumped on the ski and burned across to grab him.

 

“It was a pretty special thing for Mark to be back out there after his injury. I chucked him a wettie and a spare impact vest and we got back out there. There were still some pretty heavy low tide ones, and Kip [Caddy] got lit up on a big one. Mark’s like, ‘I’m getting one!’ so he jumped on a board and got towed into a couple of good ones which was really cool to see.

 

Shipstern Steps by Stu Gibson

“I was watching, and the pulse was quite consistent, with some big, gnarlier ones that crew weren’t paddling. I mean, the bodyboarders were having a real good dig, but every now and then there'd be ones that just had too much water in them. I was sitting there and Noah has hit me up. He goes, ‘You want to get one?’ I didn't bring a tow board, but I hit Dylan [Longbottom] up. He's like, ‘Sure, grab that orange board.’ Noah put me into one that wasn't massive just to feel it out. Then Noah was like, ‘Hey, are you ready?’ A solid lump of water came through and Noah whipped me perfectly into it. I came in kind of deep, trying to straighten, predicting where the step was. Then everything sort of just jacked, like the whole wave lifted and that’s when the step appeared. Okay, you don’t wanna fall here. I got over it and re-engaged the toe-side rail and from there, you feel like you're in the safety zone. I got bucked off at the end of it, but Noah was right there when I came up. I was buzzing. I hadn't felt like that after a wave in quite a while and I jumped on the back of the ski and gave him a big hug. It was just a cool moment to share.

“I jumped on the 7’0” and paddled again. It was late by then and after a few good floggings and with adrenaline pretty high I started to fatigue a bit. Paddling, I was just looking for insiders. Then Mark came out on the 6’4”, which was probably a bit small, so I swapped him, and I surfed the 6’4”. I tried to paddle in on a small one and got so pitched again, another total flogging, and I thought I should probably just ease up here.

“It was nice to get back down there after such a long break. The last time I was there, it was just scary, scary big. The waves we saw when we came around the point that day... I saw Marti [Paradisis] tow into one and the drop just went forever. But it was cool to get back there on a mellower day and have a bit of a crack at paddling. I'm pretty frothing to get the step-decks back down and find a few good ones. Once the body recovers, that is. I’m pretty beaten up right now.”

Opening image: “It was good to be back in that magic place in a really heavy ocean,” says Dan Ross. Photo Nick Green

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