Snapper Rocks: the first wave of Gold Coast's Superbank

November 17, 2022 | Surfing
Snapper Rocks: a fast, barreling righ-hand wave | Photo: Shutterstock

Someone once called Snapper Rocks the "Formula 1 of surf breaks." Here's everything you need to know about the Superbank's pole position wave.

It is one of the most crowded but also one of the most exciting freight train waves in the world - fast and sometimes unpredictable.

Snapper Rocks is a world-renowned sand-bottomed point break located near Rainbow Bay on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia.

The spot is home to a long, hollow right-hand wave that peels across the man-made Superbank.

But it wasn't always as perfect as it is today.

Superbank: Snapper Rocks is the kick-off wave for a long ride across a man-made sandbank | Photo: Shutterstock

Dredging Started in the Late 1800s

Since before European settlement, the Tweed River mouth entrance has been constantly plagued by strong currents, sand bars, and sandbanks, making it a difficult and dangerous stretch of water.

It's no coincidence that Captain Cook named Point Danger and Mount Warning when he sailed past in 1770.

Strong swells combined with dangerous rocks and sandbanks were a recipe for disaster for ships and swimmers on nearby beaches.

River dredging had been undertaken in the Tweed since the late 1800s to improve navigability.

These works culminated with the extension of the training walls at the river entrance during 1962-1965.

Although the extension of the training walls improved navigation for a period, the sand bar over the entrance began to reform in the 1980s and 1990s.

While the rock walls did help to improve the passage of watercraft for a time, their presence altered the erosion and sediment patterns of the southern Gold Coast beaches, resulting in a build-up of sand along Letitia Spit and significant erosion along the south Gold Coast beaches.

By 1994, large amounts of sand had moved past the end of the breakwater and created a large, shallow bar at the Tweed River entrance, which was highly hazardous to navigation, especially at low tide.

In response to the issue, the New South Wales and Queensland governments formulated the Tweed River Entrance Sand Bypassing Project (TRESBP) to maintain a safe navigable entrance to the Tweed River and restore and maintain the amenity of the beaches on the southern Gold Coast of Queensland.

The project's first stage - undertaken between 1995-1998 - involved dredging more than three million cubic meters of sand from the Tweed Bar and entrance to create a navigable channel.

The sand was pumped out via outlets at Snapper Rocks and Kirra, and it did an excellent job of replenishing the beaches in Coolangatta's Rainbow Bay.

While that pleased the sunbakers, the natural tides and currents quickly worked their own magic and turned the fresh sand into a massive bank stretching between the two pumping outlets.

When the northern and easterly swells began to hit this new bank, a brand new type of wave was formed.

Snapper Rocks: on a good day, there could be 500 surfers in the Superbank | Photo: Shutterstock

The Magic Sandbank

And in big swells, under the right conditions, the Superbank becomes a combination of the original Rainbow Bay surf spots - Snapper Rocks, Greenmount, and Kirra.

"Superbank was created in 2001 after a local surfer and former world pro champion Wayne Bartholomew suggested that sand taken from a newly commissioned dredging project at the Tweed River boat channel, located a half-mile up the coast and around the headland from Snapper, be directed to an outfall on the northern side of the headland between Tweed River and Snapper," explains Matt Warshaw, author of "The Encyclopedia of Surfing."

Before the dredging of sand that took place between 2000 and 2002, the spot was just a reasonably consistent right-hander with occasional lefts.

On a good day, a long ride would get surfers 200 yards west until Greenmount Beach. And that was rare.

After the dredging works, everything changed forever - for the better.

"Eleven jet-powered dredging pumps moved up to 13,000 cubic yards of sand a day, and the area between Snapper and Kirra was soon filled in by a broad mile-long beach, which immediately began to produce freakishly stretched-out waves."

When the engineering process concluded, the first XXL swell produced 15-second barrels and high-performance walls of water.

Soon after, in 2002, local Gold Coast surfer Damon Harvey rode a four-minute-plus wave from Snapper Rocks to the Pizza Hut restaurant in North Kirra.

In March 2006, a storm generated by an offshore cyclone sent five-meter-plus waves crashing into Rainbow Bay, and much of the bank was washed north to Surfers Paradise.

Dredging saw the bank reformed and back in action soon after.

Superbank: in 2002, local Gold Coast surfer Damon Harvey rode a four-minute-plus wave from Snapper Rocks to Kirra | Photo: Shutterstock

One Wave Set, 500 Surfers

On a good day, there could be 500 surfers in the Superbank, trying to link Snapper Rocks, Rainbow Bay, Greenmount Point, and Kirra Point.

It's hard to get a good wave, and ruthless locals make sure to impose their rules - drop-ins are recurring and merciless.

However, there are always a few gems and open sections, here and there, left unridden. The trick is to try and sit wide and wait for sets that miss the pack.

On less perfect days, getting your share of waves is easier.

The famous Gold Coast point break shines in all its glory with S-SE and S-SW swells and offshore winds.

In other words, for consistency, try surfing Snapper Rocks during the Coral Sea's cyclone season (December-March); for size, paddle out in winter months (May-August).

For ideal performances, eye a solid and good-looking four-to-six-foot wave at mid-to-low tide, as the chances of getting barreled will be higher.

"Superbank is in a near-constant state of flux," underlines Warshaw.

"Waves reshape the sandbar, and new sand is periodically dumped at the top of the point."

The process is 100 percent natural, though.

"Natural drift redistributes the sand in a northern direction along the point," add Chris Nelson and Demi Taylor, authors of the book "Surfing the World."

"The new system also has the ability to pump sand out of Duranbah if the wave quality is affected by less sand accumulating on the beach."

Snapper Rocks is the first station of the Superbank surfing train line. It's a highly competitive arena where confidence and skill go hand in hand.

If you commit to a wave, you've got to surf for your reputation. Respect is something that you earn here and not something you are entitled to.

Episodes of violence and localism are so frequent that local authorities have already analyzed the possibility of establishing a special surf police to patrol the crowded and tense lineup.

However, this will always be a wave that is easy to get and paddle to and, if you're an early riser, you can even park your vehicle a few yards away from the main peak.

Then, all you have to do is get your ticket to ride.

Stephanie Gilmore: the world champion is a member of the Snapper Rocks Surfriders Club | Photo: WSL

Snapper Rocks: Home of World Champion Surfers

The legendary Queensland surf break is home to the Snapper Rocks Surfriders Club, founded in 1964.

Since then, local organization members have snatched over 12 world surfing titles, including Phyllis O'Donnell, Peter Townend, Wayne Bartholomew, Joel Parkinson, and Stephanie Gilmore.

The iconic custom-built Australian sandbar sees the elite of surfing ripping its wave faces and tubes and competing for points and glory from Snapper through to Greenmount and onto Kirra.

Each venue allows fans a magnificent view of the world's best surfers in action.

The contest's kick-off begins with the traditional blessing of the site by the Dhinawan Dreaming dance group.

Once the day's competition is over, the southern end of the Gold Coast comes alive with a bursting nightlife ensuring the event is also one of the most popular on the Championship Tour.

Have you ever wondered where does the spot's name come from?

According to Queensland's historical records, the surf break possibly owes its name to the colonial cutter HM Snapper that passed by Point Danger in July 1822, commanded by W. L. Edwardson.

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