A big wave paddling masterclass seals the deal for Hawaiian heavy-water maniac.
He stuck to his (John Pyzel) guns, refused the tow rope, and never looked like losing, until local lord, James Hollmer-Cross packed a psychotic perfect ten tow-wave in the final stages of the event.
Nevertheless, Nathan Florence’s win in the the Red Bull Cape Fear Shipsterns Challenge, using nothing more than his arms, cemented his place among the world’s great watermen.
“I’m full of adrenaline. I’m pumped up. It’s the first contest I’ve ever won and for it to be here in the final with all the boys, the local legends, to surf with them. I honestly can’t believe it I’m so psyched,” he said afterwards.
The day began as it finished for Nate, with the Hawaiian packing nugget after nugget right from the get go. The last time he’d surfed Shipsterns was as a 15 year old ten years ago but you wouldn’t have guessed. Florence read the Shippies ledge “like braille,” to borrow one of cult-commentator, Dave Wassel’s favourites, handling the gurgling take-off with ease and navigating the bumps, ledges and warbles for a dozen or so mind-melting tubes.
With his confidence through the roof, he even attempted an audacious acid-drop over the head of Portugese big wave surfer, Pedro Scooby as he whipped in beneath him. It left Scooby utterly scoobie’d in the channel afterwards as he contemplated the sight of the lanky Hawaiian raining out of the lip above him on ten to 12 foot wave. When asked, Nate put the manoeuvre down to confusion rather than a statement about the redundancy of tow surfing in less than fatal conditions.
His 9.43 in the final, meanwhile, was as good as you’ll see - a deep, steep take off, perfectly timed into an obscenely hollow tube, packed as deep as possible, before emerging with the spit.
This year’s event - the first in three years - also witnessed the return of big wave legend, Bra Boy and co-contest organiser, Mark Mathews, following one of the most horrific injuries on record for a professional surfer.
Two years ago Mark injured his right leg so bad in a tow surfing accident he nearly had to have it cut off. It survived but he was told he would never get full range of movement or sensation in the limb again. While surfing again was almost certainly out of the question.
The doctors underestimated the man they call Chalk as in ‘chalk bones’ as in ‘breaks easily,’ however, who bounced back like Lazarus today. Seven operations and countless hours of painstaking rehab later, he was a late admission into the event after the withdrawal of old school big wave don, Ross Clark Jones, and one of the first out there as daylight broke.
On his first wave in a jersey, he stuffed a serious tow-pit only to be thrown viciously over the falls, resulting in a possible fracture to his “good” left foot. It wasn’t enough to stop him packing a second proper Shippies nug straight after, however, this time emerging with the spit.
“I got my got my foot stuck in my strap and I think I’ve broken the outside toes,” he told the broadcast afterwards.
“I was so scared the whole time that my bad foot was going to get stuck in the straps and then it ends up being my good foot in the straps. If this is broken I will deadset give up I reckon. Another injury, I’ll be that spewin’” he laughed.
Also representing the permanently disabled was 44-year-old firemen and father-of-four, Justen ‘Jughead’ Allport. Like Mark, he was left with permanent loss of movement in his leg after a towing mishap at 50-foot-plus Ghost Tree in California, resulting in a spiral fracture in five places.
The Cenny Coast hellman was a standout in this year’s contest - as he was in the original Cape Fear at Cape Solander - cracking a third place finish in the final where he also stuck the drop of the contest - a heroic bomb-drop-to-obliteration on a double to triple overhead set that had no apparent entry point.
Other stand outs included Laurie Towner, who showed unparalleled style and wave knowledge on his way to a runner-up finish. As well as local legend, James Hollmer-Cross, who waited forty minutes in the final to do what the Shippies hellman do, and whip into the wave of the day for a perfect ten point ride.