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Cape Fear

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The big-wave surfing contest is set for Tasmania this year…but when?

Red Bull Cape Fear, the one of-a-kind, invitation-only big- wave  surfing competition, is set to run in 2018…but nobody’s sure just when.

The event uses a unique, overlapping heat format where four surfers compete across 45-minute heats, with the heats varying between paddle and tow, and surfers scoring points for their highest paddle and highest tow. The winner of each heat goes straight to the final while the runners-up qualify for a re-charge round to surf for the remaining spot.

The highest-placed finisher in the final, in 2016 it was youngster Russell Bierke, gets the champion’s crown.

In 2016 the event didn’t get too many props because of the murderous conditions and some questionable judging decisions, but Russell Bierke established himself a world-class big-wave surfer at Cape Fear in 2016.

Bierke went from being an unknown 18-year- old surfer from the south coast of New South Wales to being an 18-year-old big-wave hell man poised to change the game in big- wave surfing. And he hasn’t disappointed.


It’s not always easy to get conditions right for a big-wave competition. In 2017 organizers announced the event would take place ‘between May and August’, whenever the savage and huge break on Sydney’s Botany Bay served up suitable conditions. Suitable conditions mean a big swell pitching up on to a shallow ledge, then in just a few seconds, a 10-foot slab forms and barrels towards a cliff- face just a few meters ahead.

The swell never did get big enough and the event had to be abandoned.

Now everyone’s playing the waiting game again. Safety concerns have been addressed, and 20 of the world’s best big-wave surfers have been invited to take part in the comp which has been moved to Shipsterns Bluff in Tasmania. It’ll be the first-ever competition at the notorious Tasmanian slab, which, due to its remote location – it’s either a two-hour hike or a long boat ride to get to – isn’t likely to have many spectators. In fact, it’s closed to spectators. It’s just too dangerous.


20 surfers

Five, 40-minute, round-one heats with four surfers

15-wave maximum per surfer. Single highest paddle and single highest tow wave will count for each surfer’s total heat score

Overlapping heat format will vary between paddle and tow, whereby surfers will adhere to a priority system that will in effect allow all surfers to catch both paddle and tow waves

The winner of each heat will progress straight to the final, the second place surfer in each heat will move to a re-charge round pending conditions whereby they will surf for the final spot in the final.

The highest-placed surfer at the end of the final will be crowned the Red Bull Cape Fear champion


Red Bull Cape Fear director Mark Mathews, himself a big-wave surfer, said, “The last event was beyond my wildest imagination and I can hardly wait to see what Mother Nature throws up this year.

“Having the 16 surfers from the 2016 event and an additional four internationals will make for an unbelievable show.”

The four-month event window means organizers can assess the perfect swell of the big-wave season.

Ben McCartney, chief swell forecaster of Coastal watch, explained: “I’m analyzing mean sea levels and pressure for any major storms forming over the Tasman Sea or Southern Ocean.

“Then I’m assessing potential surf-heights, wave period, wave direction and arrival times, as well as local winds ideal for running Red Bull Cape Fear.”

He said: “I’m excited to see what kind of swells are brewing this winter. The southern hemisphere has swell systems developing everywhere at the moment so I have a good feeling that we will run this year in some amazing conditions.”

The event is closed to spectators but will be broadcast live and for free on Red Bull TV.

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