WRITTEN BY: IAN NEUBAUER
PHOTOS BY: RAY COLLINS, THINKSTOCK & NEWSPIX
IN OUR FIRST ISSUE BACK IN 2010, MAX*D PUBLISHED A STORY ON THE THEN GROUNDBREAKING TV SERIES STORM SURFERS. INITIALLY BROADCAST ON DISCOVERY CHANNEL, THE SHOW FOLLOWED AUSTRALIAN SURFERS TOM CARROLL AND ROSS CLARKE-JONES AS THEY TRAVELLED THE WORLD IN SEARCH OF THE LARGEST WAVES IMAGINABLE. TOWED BY JET SKI IN BEHIND MONSTROUS OFFSHORE BREAKS, THE HOSTS WOULD SINK OR SWIM WHILE TRYING TO RIDE MONSTER WAVES UP TO 10M HIGH.
Without diminishing the duo's incredible display of courage and skill, tow surfing, as their sport is called, is yesterday's news. Today's big-wave surfers speed by jet ski to a reef or shelf several kilometres offshore then quit their machine to paddle right into the face of monster waves.
Leading the charge in the schism between muscle and machine is 27-year-old Isuzu UTE-sponsored surfer Ryan Hipwood. Born and bred on Queensland's Gold Coast, Ryan began surfing recreationally at the age of eight and by 16 was ranked in the top end of the junior pro circuit.
But when the rigour of competitive surfing left him feeling burnt out, Ryan embarked on a new career as a free surfer on the hunt for big-wave glory. "I'm from the younger generation of storm surfers that are riding waves that a few years ago people did not think were rideable," he says. "We're really pushing the limits. And we're doing it without jet skis, so we're getting a huge following in the industry and a lot more prestige.
THE EASIEST PART OF SURFING THESE WAVES IS BEING INSIDE THE BARREL - YOU ARE SIMPLY IN THE MOMENT.
"Another thing that sets us apart is that we are concentrating less on how tall the waves are and more on their intensity—thick, heavy reef waves. It's much more dangerous."
That's how long Ryan was held underwater recently when he was wiped out surfing a break in Western Australia's deep south he calls ‘The Right'. "I can't tell you where it is because it's protected by the locals and they'll get annoyed if I tell everyone about it," he says.
"But I can tell you it's one of the heaviest waves in the world and one of the most dangerous because of how far out at sea it breaks. It breaks off a shelf that's basically in the middle of nowhere and when it hits the shallow shelf it spits you straight back into deep water." A few really big wipe-outs have been reported at The Right over the years, though nothing like what Ryan experienced.
"On this particular day the reef had one of the lowest tides of the year and the biggest swell I have ever seen. The conditions were making the waves themselves and doing some pretty ugly things. But at the same time it was beautiful and I took a gamble." Ryan knew he was in trouble when he hit the bottom of the monster. The barrel caught the back of his board and in he went. When he resurfaced 54 seconds later, one of his eardrums was perforated and he was coughing up blood. But he lived to tell the tale.
"As corny as it sounds, the easiest part of surfing these waves is being inside the barrel because there's nothing you can do to think your way out of it. You are simply in the moment and you know what you have to do; it's actually quite relaxing. "The scary bit is when you're sitting on your board waiting for it. When it comes, it feels like a mountain is coming towards you and the whole horizon goes black, so you really need to prepare yourself mentally for that."
THE MONSTER DEAL
Ryan may not need a jet ski to surf The Right, but he does need one to get there. He also needs a way of reliably towing it to Western Australia from the Gold Coast—a return journey of nearly 9,000km. Which is where Isuzu UTE Australia comes in.
"My main sponsor is Monster energy drinks; they've been looking after me for a while because they know how much people love to watch what I do. But because what I do is so expensive, they put in a good word with Isuzu UTE and set up a meeting.
"The guys at Isuzu UTE seemed very keen to help but I didn't get my hopes up. So I was really surprised when they called me and said they'd like to provide me with a ute to carry around my jet ski." So how has Ryan's D‑MAX ute shaped up as a tow vehicle?
"It's been amazing. Combined with the trailer the thing must weigh about a tonne. But the car has got so much power I don't feel any drag whatsoever when towing it. I forget it's even there."