Updated: Jun 1
Images taken with a Nikonos V during small swell at The Bombie in April, 2020.
Although my surfing ability sits embarrassingly close to ‘Kook’ levels, and the likelihood of me finding fame on the @kookslams instagram account is worryingly high, I’ll continue to surf as long as there’s a wave. For those of us living in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs during Lockdown, this meant adapting your game. Bronte regulars now warm up with a fence vault followed by a duck and sprint. Whereas those surfing Mackenzies Bay prefer a rock climb followed by an abseil, (How we didn’t see a repeat of THAT Walrus scene on BBC’s Planet Earth I do not know). However, for locals who didn’t fancy braving fines and climbing fences, surfing was practically off the cards. Lockdown laws permitted surfing but with beaches closed and limits on travel, we were left confused. Surfers aren’t known to sit back and watch waves go unridden and soon enough they were searching outside the usual beaches. That’s when I discovered The Bombie. Until recently I didn’t even know what the wave was called. Previously, all I’d heard were rumours of inconsistent surf off the back of the Clovelly carpark. To my joy, what I found was a thriving locals’ wave, rejuvenated by surrounding beach closures, and ridden by broad smiling surfers happy to escape the house.
Now, don’t be mistaken by the Utopia I paint above, this is not a beginners wave. Offering up a right and a short but sweet barrelling left, surf breaks off an exposed rock called The Pebble. At 4ft, fun waves break over a shallow reef, towards the base of Coogee cliffs. At 6ft+ the wave breaks behind the pebble and surfers can all too quickly be swept towards the rocks. These bigger swells are often ridden by more experienced surfers and best witnessed from the car park if you have any doubt in your ability. The Bombie is also a butt-clenching 150m paddle offshore over deep water, and although there are no doubt much scarier places to surf, it’s still an unpleasant paddle. Thankfully, It wasn’t until after my session that I was made aware of the two sharks who’d been seen lurking the day before. Consequently, there’s now little chance I’ll be swimming to The Bombie.
On a gorgeous afternoon in April, still too scared to jump the fence at Bronte, I decided to paddle out to The Bombie. After some words of encouragement from a fellow Drag boarder, who I saw taking a beating early on. I climbed down from the carpark, waited for a wave, and launched easy enough. On my 8ft foamy, with my Nikonos V strapped to my shoulder, I paddled out to a group of about 15 psyched surfers. After a much longer paddle than anticipated I sat off the end of the right, sussing out the crowd and catching my breath. My camera was immediately spotted. Surfers don’t exactly carry much gear, so you stick out with a Nikonos in your hands. Word must have spread through the group as one of the older guys suddenly shouts out, “Hey whose got the camera, put your hand up?” I acknowledge him, raising my hand and waving. With a battle cry, he calls out, “find me on instagram, @maddog!” As the group and I laugh, he paddles hard into a barrelling left, away from view to be followed shortly by whoops and cheers.
At the time I wished I’d strapped my fins on and swam out. With the 8ft log I couldn’t sit inside, therefore missing the best views of the left. A teen repping a ratty mullet tried to send me over inside the pebble, “Go left bro, you’ll get a better shot!” Too far away to explain, I laughed awkwardly and smiled that way one does when you’re not sure what someone said. He’d apparently been out there for hours and was definitely catching the best of the lefts. It was shortly after this that I was caught inside, hit by a clean up set. Strapped to my 8ft log, I was dragged towards the cliffs, bouncing along the reef. I was shocked at the speed of the water, it didn’t appear that strong from where I sat but I sure felt it then. My board was caught in the white water and dragging me along with it. I was actually surprised the leg rope didn’t snap. Encumbered by my precious Nikonos, I eventually made it off the reef and into the deeper channel that runs parallel into Gordon’s Bay. I could just make out the group and the pebble far off in the distance. An exhausting 150m paddle back to the line up lay ahead of me, so I balanced my camera on my board and put my head down. Needless to say this kept me honest for the rest of the session. There was definitely some amusement from this amongst the rest of the lineup and I was smiling too, albeit too tired to laugh.
Guys of all ages were shredding nicely and the sun was shining. There was a solid crew of about 8 or 9 teens, many of whom I recognised from surfing and photographing the other local beaches. However, there were also dads out, Maddog included, surfing with their sons and offering up advice for those who’d hear it. It was nice to watch, and with the sun behind me, I paddled into the group to have a chat and get some photos of the guys in the line up. I’ve found with the Nikonos you almost need to shoot into the sun and from in the line up, I could catch the sea spray and the surfer’s silhouette. Sat in the crowd, it was clear to see almost everyone was familiar. Cheering each other on, laughing and joking, it was another beautiful afternoon in the ocean. I contemplated paddling for a wave but I’d already smeared wax over my lens from my trip across the reef, and with the high possibility of a repeat, I decided not to risk my camera. I finished my roll of film and sat waiting for someone else to paddle back. I hoped I could make the trip with someone else, but with the waves still firing, I gave up and worked my way back to shore. The swell was picking up now and the waves breaking on the carpark rocks were frequent. With a crowd on the shore, and @kookslams calling my name, I decided to paddle towards Gordon’s Bay, eventually finding a more sheltered spot to climb out by some sunbathers. Traversing the rocks, board in hand, I smiled and looked at the world through rejuvenated eyes. After weeks cooped up, being in the water cleared my mind. I can’t stress how fortunate enough we are to be able to surf in these crazy times and I’m thankful to be healthy, safe and surfing. For many Australians, surfing is a way of life and a necessity. Unlike other surf communities around the world, Australia has permitted surfing through out its lockdown period. Although judged by other countries, I can attest the fact that surfing has been key to mental well-being. With Covid-19 Infection rates falling, and incredible Autumn swells hitting our shores, can anyone really say we made the wrong call?
With Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs beaches now opening up for swimming and surfing, the crowds at The Bombie have died down. Locals continue to surf it, but most of us have returned to more popular surfspots at Maroubra, Bronte and Bondi. As I write this, a huge swell and storm has hit Sydney, with 40mph gusts of wind and surf ranging between 12-17ft. I made the short walk from my house to The Bombie, my face salted by the spray coming up and over the rockface at Clovelly. Others gathered here too, anxious to see if anyone was brave enough to get in the water. Sure enough, two bodyboarders could be seen out by The Pebble. Two small specks, rising and falling amongst the waves and wind. Bravely, swimming right off The Pebble, they dived beneath the larger waves as huge bodies of fierce blue crashed over the reef. Even in huge swell, the reef became exposed as the water sucked viciously back to sea. From the carpark, the whole endeavour appeared futile. The right was now barrelling but every wave closed out, and the left seemed to have disappeared entirely. Then, appearing from the clutches of a huge wave, a bodyboarder shot out the far side of The Bombie, surfing straight over the top of The Pebble and rocketing dangerously close to the Coogee Cliffs. Unable to break the white wash, he disappeared then reappeared closer and closer to the rockface. I scanned around me to see if anyone else was witnessing this, certain I was about to witness a tragedy. For five minutes or so he battled to keep himself off the rocks. Eventually, abandoning his efforts to head straight out, he drifted round the cliff base and back into the relative safety of Gordon’s Bay. To my disbelief and his credit, once in the channel, he headed straight back out into the belly of the beast. Balls of steel. As other surfers suited up in the carpark, I wondered where these blokes got their minerals. In these conditions, The Bombie is a dangerous mistress indeed.
Images taken with a Nikonos V during small swell at The Bombie in April, 2020.