What Just Happened At Cape Fear?

The 2016 Red Bull Cape Fear event was the scariest surf feed I’ve ever seen.

That includes the 2012 Volcom Fiji Pro and the Code Red event in Tahiti. Cape Fear, AKA Cape Solander, AKA Ours, was half the height of Cloudbreak, but it broke 20 feet from a goddamn cliff-face. A cliff-face that, according to Vonn Blakey, is so close “you could hit these guys with a tennis ball if you wanted to… not that you’d want to, but you get the picture.”

Every drop, every step in the face, every backwashy end-section could have non-hyperbolically been the last thing these surfers ever saw. I don’t care how many Jet Skis they had or whether there were “rescuers” on the rocks, if that wave wanted you dead, there’s nothing anybody in the world could have done to save you. Somehow, everyone survived.

So how’d it all go down?

The judges royally fucked up the start. Having only seen a couple wipeouts during the first ten minutes of the event, the judges (I assume) figured no one would successfully thread a legitimate tube. Then, Blake Thornton got a pocket-ride on a medium-sized wave and was awarded an 8.75. Eventually realizing their mistake, the judges did something unprecedented in the age of live scoring: they changed a score that had already been posted and read out to the surfers in the water.

After that, Sydney local Justin “Jughead” Allport, got a nine-point ride for one of the best waves of the day. A few waves later, he had a wipeout. This wipeout was atrocious in general terms but pretty average in relation to others on the day. From this particular spill, however, Jughead emerged with a hole in his cranium while his prepubescent children watched from the cliff. It’s pretty questionable to bring your kids to such an event, in my opinion. Kinda like bringing your kids to fight club, if daddy’s opponents used sledgehammers and bricks instead of fists. Jughead was eventually brought to a hospital for an evaluation but was conscious and mobile on site.

Heats 1&2 finished with the incapacitated Jughead in first place with 15ish (out of 20) points and James Adams (Australian mine worker) in a close second. Adams rode what many believed to be the best wave of the day, a small runner that allowed him to disappear for an extended period of time. Jesse Polock and Blake Thornton (both pro-ish surfers) brought in the rear.

In heats 3&4, a literal child was sent out to surf. It was assumedly under his own volition, but still, having 17-year-old Riley Laing go out there seemed a little risky. The young Australian took a heavy beating early in the round and came up holding his head. He was deemed ok, and continued with the heat, but he looked pretty traumatized from that point on. He still managed to snag a couple decent ones between the rampant kickouts.

Richie Vas, on the other hand, is a fucking lunatic. The dude looks like he recently learned how to stand up on a surfboard, but he tried to make up for it by tripling everyone’s wave count, leading to a series of donuts that would have any policeman green with envy. It’s weird, he almost seemed to enjoy the beatings. With a professional MMA background and decades of slab-chasing behind him, I’m starting to think he might be some sort of super-sadist. Pretty sure he didn’t make a wave all event, but by golly did he give it his all.

With that in mind, it must be said that a few of the guys in this event do not look skilled enough for a wave of this caliber. Local legends, I’m sure, but their squatty, bend-at-the-hips technique indicates that their surfing is probably more bravado than brilliance. This is not only a dangerous precedent to set, but it would also be nice to see more of the world’s best take on this beast. Perhaps one of the problems is with WSL rules, as mentioned yesterday by Albee Layer.

Local boy Evan Faulks, however, is not part of this problem. Faulks looked very confident and composed through the trickiest sections of the wave, something that could not be said for several of his competitors. While he wasn’t immune to multiple vicious wipeouts, Evan managed to complete two stellar rides, earning him an 18 point heat total and first place on the day.

After heats 3&4, Faulks held the lead with 18+ while Laing and another youngster, Russel Bierke, joined Jughead in the 15ish point range. The contest directors chose to call it off for the day due to tricky conditions, because, as Chris Coté noted, “The surfers’ safety is paramount”. While I was disappointed by this decision, I understand why they had to make it.

If the swell holds, they will finish the event tomorrow. Regardless of what happens in the event, it will be today that everyone remembers.

PS: Here are some fun Dave Wassel commentary snippets from the event:

(While watching a succulent, brown lip fall in slowmo) What is that, liquid fudge?

(On people riding 6’ boards out in monstrous conditions) The lip itself is 16-feet thick, doesn’t that mean you ride a 16-foot board?

(About Riley Laing’s fall to miraculous swim-through) What is he a salmon? How did he swim out the back of that thing?