Last year’s Red Bull Cape Fear was the surfing event of 2016. Eyewitnesses and viewers at home were left hanging in the uncomfortable position of being simultaneously unable to watch, and unable to turn it off. Spectating as grown men sacrificed themselves to the digital Gods, or at least a barely submerged piece of Sydney reef, was compelling in the same way that going past a serious car prang on the Pacific Highway is. You know it’s horrible and you can’t help but rubberneck, but mostly you are just relieved it’s not you. 
 
“Look, it was borderline last year and when it got low tide it became too dangerous,” Mark Mathews, the man behind the event, told Tracks. Last year a shoulder injury meant he couldn’t compete and so instead spent the two days whipping the boys in. However Mathews believes this hampered his decision making in terms of safety. “Because I was in the water and had so much to concentrate on, it was harder to get a broader perspective and so more difficult to make the call. This year I’ve removed myself from that equation and given the event director Matt Wilson the power to cancel the event if he thinks it’s too dangerous. As always, safety overrides everything.” 
 
On the ski with Dingo at last year's event. Photo: Red Bull Content Pool
 
This year a horrific injury to his leg, involving artery and nerve damage, means Mathews wouldn’t even be able to drive the skis. He now has the sole responsibility of monitoring the forecast and making the call whether the event runs or not. “It’s the most annoying gig there is,” he laughs. “Ideally we’d want it to be like the second day last year. That was perfect. Just too big too paddle, with the odd catchable one. Though I think the first day took it out of the boys last time and by the second day they were ruined, both mentally and physically.”
 
The invitee list is the other area under Mathews’ jurisdiction. Last year some claimed the event featured too many locals and unknowns, however in his defence that was more by accident than design. Injury, the lack of a WSL sanction and date clashes meant many of the original invitees couldn’t take their place in the event. Those that did however stepped up to such a degree it has left Mathews with a dilemma. 
 
“Everyone is so pumped,’’ he says. “Most of the Aussie chargers were alternates, but because they surfed last year, there’s no way I’m not putting them in this year. After doing what they did, I mean they put their lives on the line, so all those boys are in.” 
 
His solution to getting some extra star power was to simply expand the field. He’s added another heat, meaning four extra invitees. “I’ve asked Taj, Makua Rothman, Nate Florence and Billy Kemper,” he says. “They’ve all agreed to compete and it’s only Makua that might be have an issue with the WSL, as he is obviously more series about the Big Wave Tour. So he’ll have to make that call, but the rest are frothing.”
 
He also has Albee Layer, Dan Ross and Koa Rothman on standby, and all three will have a good chance of competing due to injuries or date clashes. “It’s going to be sick,” says Mathews. “The underground guys are pumped, ready to whatever it takes and those other surfers are some of the best in the world. I’m just gutted I won’t be able to surf myself.”