Autumn has arrived and the drought has broken. For the entire summer, Australian surfers on the East Coast have been forced to endure a three-month flat swell. No cyclones have formed in the Coral Sea to swoop long lines that can travel the 1000 miles from Noosa or Narooma. Nor have any deep lows formed in the Tasman Sea, the depressions that cause abrupt and powerful south swells to barrage the coast from Bermagui to Byron. It's been head-high since long before Christmas.
That is, until now. Saturday in Manly dawned with an unexpected bump in all areas. When the competitors in the Australian Open of Surfing and Girls Make Your Move Women's Pro checked the surf at first light, they saw a very different, and very alive, ocean. On the long time dormant Queenscliff Bombie, wind torn swells tried to cap on the deep water reef. To the south, waves wrapped around the Fairy Bower, the pointbreak coming alive for the first time in months.
Out the front though, where the surfers would compete, six-foot lumps detonated on untested sandbanks, causing a huge rip to roar from right to left up the beach. It wasn't exactly victory at sea, but it made for a day of competition when it was those surfers who could adapt the quickest and change strategies mid-heat that prevailed. It was less about surfing against the opposition, and more about reading the new ocean conditions.
Julian Wilson, for example, was wary of the effort required to surf the rights, even if they were longer and larger, knowing that paddling back out after one was impossible. "I knew if I went right then I'd have to do a run-around," Wilson said afterward,"so my tactic was to go left and use my backhand." His strategy worked, his two waves scoring both in the excellent range and leaving him as the only CT surfer in the quarterfinals.
Tyler Wright, the other top seed, also used her experience, adjusting her approach mid-heat to outscore Dimity Stoyle. "I had to change my strategy a little to maybe not catch as many waves and make the few that I get really count," she said. "You have to roll with it a little more when it's like this and let the waves come to you instead of hunting for them."
For others, it was equipment that had to be changed, and changed quickly. Malia Manuel having watched the earlier heats, decided to use her step-up as the swell ramped up during the day, and credited her last-second win with being comfortable on the bigger boards.
Sally Fitzgibbons, another standout, ignored her opponent, the veteran Claire Beviliqua. "I knew Claire would come out firing, but the solid swell meant we didn't have to use tactics too much in the heat."
Over the course of the day the waves never relented, and the field was reduced to eight surfers in each event. It was each of those that dealt best with the sudden change in conditions, using a combination of strategy and strength. We can expect more of the same forecast for the final day. Autumn is here, and us surfers are the winners.