The waves with the heaviest barriers to entry.
Taking off in surfing is pretty crucial. Some waves provide easy access, some make getting to your feet very difficult. And then there are these breaks that make life almost impossible from the very start. From backwashes to steps, these are waves that have the trickiest takeoffs. And for the ones we’ve forgotten, please let us know in the comments below
The takeoff behind the rock at Snapper is one of the planet’s most intense second in surfing. A takeoff zone the size of a blanket is packed thick with some of the world’s best surfers. A horrendous sweep threatens to take you down the line and into surfing’s longest queue in a heartbeat. The wave lurches suddenly onto the packed sand with the bare rock metres away. If then, by some miracle, you manage to be in position after overcoming all those obstacles, the backwash adds a violent twist to the whole ridiculous dynamic.
“Those steps come at you at all angles and at different times,” recalls Kieren Perrow of his epic session in Tracks in 2000 that broke Shipsterns. “And each wave is different; you never know what will happen when you go over the ledge.” Add the cold water, the remoteness, the huge boulders, and the fact it only starts breaking at 10 foot and you can see what Shipsterns might be the trickiest takeoff in surfing.
This mutant wave created at the Santa Barbara Harbour has a backwash that makes Snapper’s look like a mere ripple. The waves refracts around the break wall, and triples in size with the wash, then runs downs the line. Add a category five sweep, a packed crowd, and getting up and over the ledge here is a slight miracle. The pain is made worse by what awaits down the line; a perfect tube reeling easily down the shallow bank.
If you’ve plucked the courage to traverse the shark-filled channel then waiting for a set at Blacks is one of the most harrowing and adrenalin-fuelled experiences in surfing. Thick sets emerge out of super deep water and suddenly hit the brakes on a solid wall of ledge. The wave then folds in on itself for 250 metres along the shallow rock. There’s a split second for a surfer to gain entry into that physics maelstrom. The drop is always late, never easy, and a millisecond of hesitation or poor technique comes with heavy consequences and deep, deep hold-downs. Make it though and you're locked into a below sea level vortex that makes it all worthwhile.
Another shallow ledge where every part of your body screams to paddle to the horizon whenever a set comes through. However, to catch a wave here you have to hold your ground, stick on the button, and wait for those thick walls to slow down and catch the reef. One in ten offer an easy access in, the rest require total commitment and a willingness to free fall into the abyss. If you stick it you just have to negotiate the series of ledges, then drive into the backdoor barrel. Simple, right?
We’ve all seen the 40-second POV tube footage, the drone image, and the line-up shots, but the sheer difficulty of the Skeleton Bay takeoff is rarely captured. The volume of water drawing down the shallow bank makes each wave far wider than they are tall. The incredible current drags you out of position in a heartbeat, and the actual drop is an exercise in pure faith in your ability. For those without pro-level skills, that faith will only get you a severe whomping and a two-mile run around.