The Box: the infamous Western Australia square wave

August 17, 2021 | Surfing
The Box: one of the most threatening slab waves in the world | Photo: WSL

Welcome to The Box, a thick and hollow wave and one of the most dangerous and challenging surf spots on the planet.

If there's one place where only experienced local and professional surfers should paddle, The Box is definitely one of them.

And this is especially true on big days.

The Box is a fast right-hand reef break located 200 meters off the coast in Margaret River, Western Australia.

Margaret River is a surf town with more than 40 quality breaks in the region. Despite its shark-infested waters, there is always a beautiful wave peeling down the line nearby.

It is also a big wave surfing destination that often lives up to its reputation.

But The Box is not your average wave. The spot actually sits in the path of the Roaring Forties, west of Margaret River.

It is a sensitive surf zone that only shines with SW-S swell, NE-SE winds, and on a mid-to-high tide.

However, the region is frequently plagued by onshore winds, transforming the lineups into choppy and bumpy, unsurfable waters.

One of the best observation spots is the Surfer's Point car park, but you can also check the conditions from the Margaret Rivermouth.

In the early 1970s, it was hard to get to The Box, as there were almost no roads to the tricky spot.

The Box: a fast, hollow, and dangerous wave that breaks over a shallow and sharp reef in Margaret River | Photo: WSL

Positioning and Commitment

One thing that makes The Box so threatening and wild is that it requires high positioning and take-off skills.

Half a meter to the right or left and lack of commitment while paddling into a wave can cost your life.

And to make things even harder, surfers are often forced to negotiate the steps and boils after airdropping into it.

Therefore, you've got to read each incoming wave well and carefully.

The truth is that The Box is a punishing wave that has already claimed the lives of several surfers.

The wave itself might not be as big and intimidating as Tasmania's Shipstern Bluff - which has never killed any surfer - but it has certainly been more lethal.

Surfers must be prepared to take off virtually over bare rock - any mistake could result in serious wipeouts and injuries.

For instance, the wave's fast-breaking lip tends to drive surfers into the rocky shelf with more or less harmful consequences.

There are two things you need to know before paddling out at The Box.

The first recommendation is to never surf by yourself. Ideally, there should be a support boat in case something goes wrong.

The second piece of advice is to wear a helmet - always.

The Box: the Western Australia right-hand reef breaks requires a committed take-off and advanced tube riding skills | Photo: WSL

Square, Heavy and Unpredictable

Hideous wipeouts are frequent, and the first thing you need to protect is your head. Losing consciousness is not an option here.

It is also important to stress that The Box becomes unrideable when waves get about six feet (two meters).

This is obviously only valid for surfers - bodyboarders have already dropped into 15-foot giant cylinders.

From an anatomical perspective, it's easy to figure out why The Box got this name. The Western Australian beast warps into a square shape when it explodes over shallow waters.

Swells come out of deep water before arriving at the crime scene and exploding on a short, shallow, and sharp reef.

Sometimes, there's only a couple of inches covering the dry reef. And this is what makes The Box such a scary ride.

For many years, the breathtaking surf spot with gnarly drops was deemed unrideable because surfers thought it was impossible to take off fast enough to escape the guillotine.

As a result, bodyboarders had to lead the way. So, they were the first to tame the fast and dangerous right-hand barrel.

The first professional bodyboarding contests ran here around 2001.

The Box: a short and intense barreling wave that has already claimed lives | Photo: WSL

A Mutant Bodyboarding Slab

Today, The Box is considered one of the world's premier bodyboarding breaks, with intense, shallow tube rides on offer and ramps providing riders with the potential for huge moves.

"You've got to know the way the water moves around on the reef - that is a really huge advantage," explains Australian bodyboarding veteran and local rider Ryan Hardy.

So, it is really easy to spot those who don't surf out here much - they are often and constantly getting pulled out of position.

Tony Hardy, Ryan's father, was one of the first to surf The Box in the 20th century.

"When a wave breaks at The Box, it is much more intense than a lot of places because swells travel far through the Indian Ocean before hitting this shallow slab of reef," adds Ryan.

"It is dangerous, but if you know which ones to catch, then it's easily one of the most exciting waves on the planet."

There are also a few heartwarming surprises.

In 2019, while wearing a jersey and competing at the Margaret River Pro, American surfer Conner Coffin took off on a perfect wave, got deep in the barrel, and was suddenly surrounded by dolphins.

"I looked up, and there were all of these dolphins around me, and this perfect big, blue set wave for me, and I was just like 'Oh my, this is insane!'" said Coffin.

"These dolphins were about five feet away from me right as this wave popped up, and I knew it was going to be a special wave."

The Box is one of the most photographed waves in Western Australia.

A nearby alternative is Gas Bay, a locals-only, powerful, and hollow right-hand barreling wave that breaks over sand and reef.

Western Australia's infamous mutant slab delivers a short yet intense ride, so remember to think inside The Box and make sure you find a clean exit out of the pit.

Ryan Hardy: a local The Box bodyboarder taking off on a giant wave | Photo: Sacha Specker/IBA

The Box, Margaret River, WA | ID and X-Ray

Location: Margaret River, Western Australia
Type of Wave: Reef Break
Best Swell Direction: SW-S
Best Wave Size: Waist-to-Triple Overhead (3-15 feet)
Best Wind Direction: NE-SE
Best Tide: Mid-to-High
Best Time to Surf: March-May
Best Boards: Shortboards, Semi-guns, and Bodyboards
Skill Level: Advanced and Professional
Crowd: On Big Days
Water Quality: Good
Hazards: Heavy Waves, Sharp and Shallow reef, Sharks, Localism
Water Temperature: 61-72 °F (16-22 °C)
Getting There: Car, Bike

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