Wild Rides

Sometimes the interesting part of a surf experience has nothing to do with how well a wave was ridden, or if one was surfed at all

Karl Attkins, really putting himself out there at Shipsterns. Photo: Tildesley
Karl Attkins, really putting himself out there at Shipsterns. Photo: Tildesley

By Todd Prodanovich

It was a brisk afternoon at one of the heaviest lineups in the world. After surfing all morning, Kelly Slater, Mark Mathews, and Laurie Towner were relaxing on the boat, watching massive barrels thunder across the shelf at Shipsterns Bluff. The wind had switched in an unfortunate direction, and the crew was ready to call it a day.

That’s when 23-year-old Sydney native Karl Attkins decided he was in the mood for one more. But this time, Attkins wanted to be towed into a mutant tube as naked as the day he was born.

“I don’t know why, but it just felt like the right thing to do at the time,” says Attkins. “I didn’t go there intending to surf it naked, but something just clicked in my head when we were in the boat. I asked one of the boys if they would whip me into one, and then I just ripped off my wettie. Everyone on the boat kind of freaked out a little bit, but it just felt right.”

Like the Bermuda Triangle, Shipsterns Bluff may be subject to strange forces that are not entirely understood by science. Even though the break is a terrifying phenomenon already, those who ride it are often compelled to spontaneous acts of insanity that make the experience all the more challenging. Cases in point: Mikey Brennan was once captured chugging beers in the barrel, while local charger Marti Paradisis rushed sets wearing a Santa Claus outfit and has even ditched his board entirely to bodysurf the slab at its most menacing.

“It’s a super challenging wave—maybe one of the hardest to surf in the world,” says Attkins. “But it gets a lot of swell, so it’s pretty consistent. The local guys surf it so much that they come up with weird, funny ideas for how to make it more interesting. Plus Shipsterns is such a crazy wave, maybe it just brings that out in people.”

In a blinding flash of pasty skin, Attkins got up to speed, let go of the tow rope, and found himself in a world of hurt. As he started his drop, a massive staircase presented itself. He took the first step in stride, but on the second he faltered, and like an aquatic catapult, the wave pictured here sucked him into the lip and tossed him into a dark, spinning abyss. While held under, he would have had plenty of time to consider his recent decisions, and the potential embarrassment of drowning naked in front of an audience. But instead Attkins’ mind went elsewhere.

“When I was underwater it was kind of warm because I was getting thrown around so much,” says Attkins. “Before that I was pretty cold, definitely cold enough to be wearing a 4/3 and some booties. After that wave warmed me up a bit, I felt alright and got back out for another one.”