Shark Island: the queen of all Australian bodyboarding waves

March 8, 2022 | Bodyboarding
Shark Island: one of the heaviest bodyboarding slab waves in Australia | Photo: SIC

Shark Island is an exposed rocky outcrop located 150 meters off the coast of Cronulla, New South Wales. Welcome to one of the world's most feared waves.

Australia is the home of contemporary bodyboarding and some of the planet's finest and most dangerous slab waves.

With 22,292 miles of coastline, the Southern Hemisphere yields a large number of outstanding bodyboarding spots.

Shark Island is one of them.

Infamous amongst the surfing community as one of the most dangerous waves in the world, the break produces a wave whose mission is to bruise and crush one's outer shell.

This wave makes no apologies for beatings.

It loves dishing it out pain; it loves the taste of blood and senses the fear in every rider, punishing those who show it the most.

It is only those who inject sheer adrenaline into the very veins that pump one's ability to block out the mental game that Shark Island plays.

Shark Island: the home of one of the most challenging bodyboarding events on the planet | Photo: SIC

A Slab Heavy as Hell

As one of the most challenging bodyboarding waves on the planet, Shark Island can be as heaviest as Teahupoo or Shipstern Bluff.

"After takeoff on the peak comes White Rock, a shallow ledge plastered with sharp barnacles which turns the wave inside out as it dredges further than you thought possible," notes Owen Pye, author, of "The Bodyboard Travel Guide."

"Do not come off here; you will regret it instantly."

"The barrel at Shark Island is wider than it is tall, and the thickness of the lip comes second only to the mutant that is Teahupoo."

"That lip will blast all the water off the shelf and throw a shock back into the barrel, which you will battle to overcome before the wave turns to Surge."

"This end section is where it slows down, stands up, and warps with boils before detonating onto a cunji-covered shelf with 3-4 inch barnacles ready to rip you to pieces."

The wave breaks beyond shallow - sometimes dry - and is one of the most intense places you will ever take on.

The crowd is often large and aggro, as the weekend warriors from Sydney pop down to Cronulla on the train to get their fix.

"Shark Island has to be one of the most incredible waves that you can ride on a bodyboard," stresses Australian bodyboarding veteran Dave Winchester.

"It breaks quite close to the land, it is extremely shallow, and the locals charge harder than anyone. Although many people have been hurt there, it's a break that you just want to go to and score. It's so good."

Shark Island: the shallow and death-defying reef break roars to life 150 meters off the coast of Cronulla, New South Wales | Photo: SIC

Swell and Wind Conditions

Shark Island works best on a solid SE-E swell powered by low-pressure systems in the Tasman Sea and SW-W-NW winds.

However, track a straight, clean, medium-to-large SE 4-to-8-foot swell for perfect conditions.

Shark Island can only be surfed for two hours on either side of high tide - a miscalculated move can land you on a dry reef.

"It's not the fish you should be worried about when taking on the sinister square shacks of Shark Island," underlines Antony Colas, author of "The World Stormrider Surf Guide."

"The original slab from hell has fascinated the surf press for decades, and while it may have lost some of its cachet to slightly scarier mutant barrels in other parts of the world, Shark Island is still one of the most fearsome pits on the planet."

"Airdrop, hopefully ollieing the staircase, into a way wider than higher tube before being spat out into the surge or driven onto the shelf."

The right-hand waves are best on a SE swell, while less deadly left-handers appear in E-NE.

"Bodyboarders love it, hellmen charge it, and most everyday surfers should avoid it," concludes Colas.

"Localism, attitude, and crowds of disdainful bodyboarders add to the hazardous nature of this cunjevoi-covered outcrop. So paddle from the point and don't think about the name."

Shark Island: the experts-only bodyboarding wave require full committed riders | Photo: SIC

Cronulla's The Point

A few meters further north, a solid S-SE swell and SW winds at Cronulla's The Point racks up some seriously powerful righthand walls that would fit into the world-class category.

It is long, thick, and challenging, especially at size, which it handles with aplomb, as do the local chargers that rule this coveted line-up.

The Point will break hollower in smaller NE-E swells but fragments a bit.

The reef is always ready to catch out those sitting inside because the crowd is thick.

And the rogue closeouts threaten to drive bodyboarders and surfers hard into the limestone reef at any moment.

"Cronulla Point has many moods," writes Chris Rennie, author of "The Surfer's Travel Guide Australia."

"On solid days, 'The Point' is a serious right-hand wave that rapidly detonates across the reef with Hawaiian-like power and class."

"It's at its best in a solid S-SE with S-SW wind. 'The Point' is rideable in any swell direction and is sometimes more hollow in an E-NE swell. However, when it's really big, S swells are best."

"'Voodoo' is right on the northeastern tip of the Bate Bay and is at its best in a solid S swell with NW-NE winds. It is a world-class left that can handle up to 15 feet easily."

These are expert-only surf breaks, so take care and never surf by yourself.

Shark Island, Cronulla, NSW: the slab works best with solid S-SE swells and SW winds | Photo: SIC

The Shark Island Challenge

For over 20 years, Cronulla's Shark Island has been a proving ground for high-performance bodyboarding in Australia.

In 1997, this proving ground was extended to a selected international contingent when a hardcore group of Cronulla locals led by Mark Fordham and Nathan Purcell a competition format they named the Shark Island Challenge (SIC).

The concept was simple.

Invite the world's best riders to Cronulla to surf Australia's original wave of consequence to compete in a winner-takes-it-all shootout.

Over the years, the Shark Island Challenge has become one of the most prestigious events in the world, synonymous with some of the most breathtaking competition images in bodyboarding history.

For many years, SIC has been voted by bodyboarders worldwide as the most prestigious event on the planet and one of the toughest contests on tour.

Guilherme Tamega is the bodyboarder with the most number of victories.

The Shark Island Challenge provides spectators with incredible visuals as the riders negotiate a sharp, shallow reef that regularly breaks bones and bodies.

"Shark Island is one of the reasons I bodyboard. As a child, I would stare at images of the waves out there and dream."

"For me, the Shark Island event is the epitome of competitive bodyboarding," world bodyboarding champion Ben Player once stated.

Shark Island: a fast and dangerous death pit breaking south of Sydney | Photo: SIC

Shark Island, New South Wales, Australia | ID and X-Ray

Location: Shark Island, Cronulla, New South Wales, Australia
Type of Wave: Left/Righ-Hand Reef Break
Length: Up to 110 yards (100 meters)
Best Swell Direction: SE
Best Wave Size: 4-10 feet
Best Wind Direction: W
Best Tide: Rising/Falling Medium-to-High
Best Time to Surf: Fall-Winter
Skill Level: Advanced to Professional
Best Board: Bodyboard, Shortboard, Tow, and Gun
Crowd: Heavy and Slightly Intimidating
Water Quality: Good
Hazards: Reef, Rocks, Sharks, Rips, Urchins, Locals
Bottom: Rock and Reef
Water Temperature: 64-74 °F (17-23 °C)
Getting There: Paddle Out from the Rocks

Bibliography and References:

B. Sutherland and A. Colas. "The World Stormrider Surf Guide," Low Pressure Publishing, 2018
O. Pye. "The Bodyboard Travel Guide," Orca Publications, 2012
C. Rennie. "The Surfer's Travel Guide Australia," Over the Falls Press, 2016