Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Places to surf before you die: the Superbank, by Sean Doherty - 17th December 2007 -

IT'S one of the great wonders of the surfing world, but Mother Nature can only take half the credit for Queensland's Superbank.

While man has utterly extinguished the natural beauty of the Gold Coast, it is the ultimate irony that he's been able to create a thing of true beauty - even if it was by mistake. It seems that in the home of the cheeseball tourist theme park, they've even made one for surfers.

In 2001, the Gold Coast council fired up the pumps to start dredging the mouth of the Tweed River, making it safer for fishing boats to put to sea. The sand was to be pumped to the northern side of the river mouth, behind Snapper Rocks, whence it would continue its natural drift north up the Queensland coast.

Gallery: Waves to surf before you die »

When the dredge contractor pushed the button on that morning, he had no idea he would soon become a cult hero for surfers around the world.

Within weeks the local surfers began to notice the change.

The adjacent (yet independent) point breaks of Snapper Rocks and Greenmount were being cemented together by a blanket of sand. A few months later the magic dust had spread out into the bay, the high-tide line was 150 metres further out, and the new wave was even linking up with Kirra, two kilometres away.

It was Frankenstein's monster, only much, much prettier - it was the Superbank coming to life.

Gold Coast surfers couldn't believe what they were seeing. Guys were scoring the waves of their lives.

Twenty-second tubes were clocked; one local surfer, Damon Harvey, rode a wave from Snapper Rocks all the way through to Little Groyne at Kirra. And it wasn't just that the wave was long - it barrelled, walled, spat and slithered all the way. The thing was damn-near flawless, whichever way you looked at it.

The wave begins behind the rock at Snapper - Satan's washing machine. The heaviest section of the whole wave, it's the backwash off Snapper's rocks that makes the take-off here so sketchy, and it's here that the local guys rule.

If you survive this below-sea-level barrel section - which the locals have an uncanny knack of doing - the next kilometre or two is all yours (or, more to the point, theirs).

Beyond this, the nature of the wave itself fluctuates according to the state of the sand.

As a rule, the wave barrels through Little Marley, backs off slightly heading into Greenmount, then goes to the races through Coolangatta into Kirra. But don't worry so much about what the wave's going to do, just worry about getting one.

Cue the circus music, because the best sandbank in the world was never going to remain a secret for very long. Flawless would soon become lawless.

The perfect nature of the wave means that it rarely sections off, so, in theory, a five-wave set can be ridden by five guys for as long as they want. With another 500 guys in the water waiting their turn ... well, you crunch the numbers.

The only way to get a wave is to either take off behind the rock, hope the guy on the wave chokes and falls, or simply burn him.

Sadly, the latter scenario is all too common out here, and the place occasionally degenerates into a post-apocalyptic war zone. From 70-year-olds to seven-year-olds, from Brazilians to the British, from weekend warriors to world champs, they're all thrown together out there, battling each other for their little slice of the legend.

But what man can build, nature can wipe away in a heartbeat, and you always get the feeling there's something impermanent about the Superbank. It will only exist as long as the pumps keep pumping. The bank's short existence has coincided with one of the quietest meteorological periods in modern history, and the place hasn't yet experienced a direct hit from an overdue tropical cyclone.

Maybe Huey, seeing that the place is conjuring up the dark side of the surfing spirit, will do a Sodom and Gomorrah on the Superbank and wash away all trace of it.

The Pilgrimage: 50 places to surf before you die, edited by Sean Doherty, is published by Penguin Books on the Viking Imprint and is available in all good bookshops for $49.95.

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