It is a rare phenomenon when the elements all match up to create rideable monster waves. A three day unlikely event began on January 30th 2021 when the mythical Cribbar Reef in Newquay started to break.
A small group of riders took on these monster waves, including the Founder & Director of Bodyboard Holidays, Rob Barber. The lone bodyboarder in the line up.
For the majority of people it’s hard to imagine what it’s like flying down a 20ft wave. Bodyboard Holidays head photographer and trip leader Chris Burton talks to Rob to cover all the behind the scenes action, how to prepare yourself, what it’s really like to take on these monster waves and to nearly drown trying.
00:37 What is Cribbar Reef?
Cribbar is a surf break located at the end of Towan Headland, the piece of land that separates one of the best surfing beaches in the UK, Fistral and Towan beach. A wave is created as there is an outcrop of rocks under the water. This spot needs a big swell and a large swell period.
01:38 Was there anything particularly different about this weather system that made it extra big?
The preceding week saw two low pressure systems tracking north from the East Coast of America, making their way towards the UK. As the building system deepend a massive swell period of 20s was created, usually unheard of around the UK. Although it’s not uncommon to see big swells hit the Cornish coast, this weekend was special as it coincided with a spring low tide and light offshore winds, creating huge, rideable waves.
03:46 What happened the last time Rob surfed the Cribbar?
The last time Rob surfed the Cribbar, years before, the session didn’t end out of choice. He took a left on a 10ft wave, the direction that takes you in front of the rocks at Towan Headland. He proceeded to wipe out on this mega wave and snapped his leash string on impact. This resulted in Rob losing his board in the impact zone and had to make the long swim back towards North Fistral but ended up having to coasteer over the rocks in flippers!
05:15 Does Rob change his kit at all?
Rob’s winter board (and big wave board) is the same shape as the one he uses in summer, but is more flexible with a low density PP core. From previous experience, he ensures his leash and string are in good condition. To minimise the possibility of losing his fins he ties them to his legs. A 5mm wetsuit and hood is usually the suit of choice during the chilly Cornish winters, but for this occasion Rob opted for a 4mm suit. However, he admitted that next time, if the wind was light, he would probably wear a 3mm summer suit due to the amount of paddling needed.
06:47 How does Rob prepare physically and mentally?
When preparing physically, Rob believes that surfing is the best training. He maximises his water time so he’ll be ready for any occasion. As well as fitness he’s also building, technique and confidence. Rob has surfed the Cribbar on many occasions, the first time being when he was 15. But he discloses that mentally there’s still lots of anxiety on the build up as you watch the huge low pressure systems move across the chart. His advice is to steady your mind by staying positive and making a plan. Working your way through the steps of the plan reduces risk and increases your confidence. He times the sets, uses markers, talks to other surfers in the water and draws on previous experiences.
10:46 What’s it like in the line up?
On the biggest day of waves, although Rob was the only bodyboarder in the line up, he was joined by 3 other surfers, big wave pro rider Tom Butler, adaptive surfing England team rider Pegleg Bennett and aspiring big wave surfer, Rob Fowlie.
Rob said the attitude in the line up was great. To make the event safer all riders have good etiquette, spot each other incase of wipeouts and sharing markers.
A big shout out to everyone that surfed the biggest waves in the UK on any of the 3 days!
12:33 Let’s talk about the gnarly wipeout wave!
No matter how many times you watch this wave back, you’ll say ‘ouch’ everytime! Rob’s plan was to have an hour long session, as this time approached he was keen to get a big one to finish. After a late take off and being engulfed in the white water, Rob managed to ride out onto the face of the wave. However he had so much speed, as he raced down the face he hit some chop. His left hand was unable to grip the board and he nose dived. Only just managing to catch his leash as it slipped off his arm, narrowly reliving the past. Rob describes it as the worst rag-dolling he’s ever had as he was tumbled deep towards the reef. Whilst underwater he remembered a piece of advice from experienced pro, Tom Butler – ‘open your eyes underwater, it’ll calm you down’.
Rob believes this wipeout was the result of inflated confidence, making no mistakes on Sunday he said it was always going to be looming!
20:08 And finally, how does it compare to Pipeline in Hawaii and other big waves?
Rob shares with us how it’s a completely different experience. Pipe and other big wave surf spots around the world are hollow and more predictable. As the Cribbar doesn’t have a defined reef, waves break in different spots and in strange shapes. It has big open ocean currents meaning you constantly have to be paddling around and focussed on your markers. He explained that they feel comparable in heaviness but not in performance, making the whole experience completely different.
Either way, big respect to Rob and all the other riders who took on these monster waves! Who’s keen for the big wave Bodyboard Holidays coaching weekend?
If you’re keen to join Rob and the Bodyboard Holidays crew for some waves (smaller waves too!), check out our website for weekend coaching, retreats and international trips!