The mechanics of Shipstern Bluff
Shipstern Bluff is often considered one of the wildest and most dangerous surf spots on the planet, thanks to its slabbing wave, the presence of sea creatures, and a rugged coastline.
It's an extremely difficult wave to master due to its infamous multifaceted inner formation known as "The Step."
But to better understand and respect how challenging and unique this surf break is, you need to break down the science of the wave.
Located on the southeastern coast of Tasmania, in Australia, Shipstern Bluff can only be accessed by either a 30-kilometer jet ski, boat ride, or a two-hour hike through the Tasman National Park.
With its remote location in the Tasman Sea, it attracts frequent low-pressure systems that travel north from the South Pole, generating frequent big swells in freezing winter waters.
The geography of the break is not only advantageous to favorable surf conditions, but it's also welcoming to sea life such as seals, orcas, and great white sharks, with several sightings over the years adding to the fear factor of this chilling coastline.
The wave itself builds kilometers out at sea and forms into a wild beast as it hits the razor-sharp reef, reaching heights of 10 meters or, in surfing terms, 30 feet, the equivalent to a four-story building.
The entire ocean then folds over itself, creating a big barreling wave, large enough to fit a bus inside.
The Mutant Steps
But one of the most notable characteristics of "Shippies" is the mutation of the face of the wave, where a wave within a wave is created due to the shape of the reef bottom, causing several steps to emerge.
Navigating through these steps is usually what brings surfers undone, as their airdrop off them and try to maintain their balance, speed, and composure when landing back on the water.
These Shipstern Bluff steps give the wave its unique appearance and greatly add to the challenge of surfing it.
But when the dreaded steps are overcome, the rest of the wave is a fast-paced barrel, with surfers generating speeds of up to 50 kilometers per hour.
The weight in volume of water is the equivalent to 50 semi-trailers, making it a violent hold-down. And if the surfer can avoid hitting the razor-sharp reef at the bottom, they may end up on the turbulent inside, pushing toward the rocks only meter away.
Shipstern Bluff is a wave of high consequence with some of the most challenging elements known to men.
But when you combine some of the best big wave surfers with a unique spot that delivers consistent swells, it makes for an incredible spectacle.
Words by Red Bull