Dancing with Danger – Kipp Caddy takes on Shipsterns Bluff, Tasmania

Kipp Caddy is a 23-year-old Australian who grew up on the South Coast of NSW and moved to Cronulla, Sydney in his teens. That background exposed him to plenty of serious reefs and he’s developed a passion to surf waves that most people would find terrifying. His easy-going nature can hide that burning desire to follow the next swell and find the gnarliest waves it offers. We caught up with Kipp to get an insight into how this pursuit has led him to get one of the craziest waves ever made at Tasmania’s most notorious location, Shipstern’s Bluff.

As a surfer, when did you first realise that you wanted to surf slabs?
Growing up the south coast I think it’s just installed into your DNA. I'm a strong believer in that you’re a product of your environment and the south coast provided everything that I needed as a

Can you remember when that morphed into wanting to go surf Shippies?
Iremember dad calling me at school when I was 14. I had just ticked Cape Fear/Ours off the list and Tim Bonython had called him and asked if I was interested in flying to Shipsterns that afternoon. I’m not going to lie, I was petrified, but there was curiosity and a little bit of excitement as well, so basically I left school at lunch and was on the plane down to Shippies that evening.

Tell us about your first few trips down to Tassie?
The first few trips were very humbling a lot of uncertainty as to what I was getting myself into, mixed with a lot of tumbling across the bottom, but this made me hungry for more. I started thinking about the slight line adjustments I could make and how to navigate that step. It’s an extremely technical wave with not much room for error and seeing what the local lads where achieving out there during those first few trips kinda seemed impossible. On that first trip I saw Marti Para airing into a 20ft bomb and my mind was blown as to what I was witnessing and what was possible out there. Each trip I learned more and more and started falling less and less.

You’ve walked in there and camped before.
Yeah, that trip was extremely special and one I will never forget. I took on the 8km walk with two of my good mates and we camped out, looking at the wave. We scored perfect 8-12ft stern and had beers as the sun set, it was awesome. There’s an edit of that trip:

What about the crew down there, is there a good vibe?
Yeah the Tassie guys are legends, just like any line up there is a pecking order and they hold it down, they surf the joint really well and love a beer and some banter on the jet skis in the line-up post session. I have to specially thank Zebulon Critchlow, he showed me the ropes over those early years and really looked after me down there. I flew down solo when I was 17 and he picked me up from the airport and then towed me into my first stern bomb. Zeb is kinda underground but knows the wave really well and gets a few bombs himself. Thanks Zeb

So let’s focus on this particular wave. Set the scene in the morning leading up to getting out to shippies?
We were actually down there for a swell four days earlier and it was huge, but kinda maxing the reef with maybe a little too much swell period, but we got some good ‘in-between’ ones. After that session I noticed the following swell so we extended our tickets. I actually lost my surfboard off the Jetski Sled on the way out so the session was almost over before it began! We tracked back about 1.5km and found it, which is like finding a needle in a haystack amongst that much swell, so when I found the board I was like “today’s going to be a good day”! When we arrived, straight away it was pretty clear that it was a ‘day of days’, so big and so clean, even better than the forecast predicted. You honestly couldn't ask for anything more, I was pretty pumped.

What about your wetty and vest options, how do you make that decision?
I had just returned home from back-to-back swells in Europe at Nazare and Mullaghmore, so I was feeling really confident and just wanted to get out there and get one, so I only put a thin impact vest under my wetsuit. Watching the wave back I definitely would have put proper flotation on if I had my time again … haha!

Talk us through from when you first saw that lump of swell, until you let go of the rope?
Well, there was a wave before it and we got excited and started the Jetski up, but it was Tyler Holmer-Cross’s turn. Each swell Tyler consistently gets the bomb, he knows the place so well and surfs the wave perfectly. So they went the first one and then there was this anticipation as to what was going to be behind it. Russell Bierke was driving me and as we bobbed over there was a massive lump that took up the horizon, he looked back to check me and our eyes lit up and we started hooting. As we got closer to the take-off I was monitoring the foam from the wave before, waiting to see if this wave was big enough to clear it. Just before letting go of the rope I knew we were onto the biggest one I’d ever caught there.

At some stage you get to a point of no return, what are your feelings to ensure you make that final commitment on a wave like that?
Just thinking about this moment, and Shipsterns itself, straight away gets my heart rate increasing! I'm thinking all the way up until the point when I commit to the wave - speed, positioning, whitewater and whatever else… but when I psychologically commit to taking that wave, I’m no longer thinking, I’m more feeling. Once I’m past the point of no return I become completely relaxed like I’m in a ‘flow state’ where things change and I’m more in control of my feelings. For example, being on a wave like is really loud, but I can't hear a thing and everything slows right down for me, it’s sick!

OK, so now you’re riding down the face but you know there is a gnarly step coming, how do you prepare for that at Shippies?
The interesting thing about this wave in particular is the direction was very south and sometimes the big south ones miss the step. Russ had me in early and positioned really well so that it felt like a big, dreamy South one and I remember just cruising along going ‘how good is this’. Then it was like someone pulled the rug out from under me and I felt like I was getting sucked back up the face as suddenly, there’s this big drop under me. It happened so quickly! The water sucking up the face and over the step actually felt like a massive vacuum, sucking me backwards. Thinking back, that’s when I realised this wave was significantly bigger than anything I had ever had out there before.

You’re board is almost pointing to the shore as you wait for the step, how do you stay calm and overcome the urge to get away from the danger-zone?
I like to take the step straight on at Shippies if possible, I subconsciously use my left arm to help me straighten up just before hitting the step. I try to keep my nose up, so it doesn't catch (man I’ve learnt the hard way about that) and then you just kinda want to lower the board down, similar to how a plane lands. I’ve learnt the most important thing is to hold your nerve. When I first started surfing Stern I’d see the step and rush to it because I just wanted to get over it, but the trick is to actually wait for it to come to you, because then you’ve got more speed to air off it, making it way easier!

It looks like as soon as you land you have to immediately start turning or the lip will obliterate you, what happened there?
That was so intense, the transition from landing to turning was instant and the foam ball actually helped me out and pushed me back up to where I needed to be. What a trip!

Now you’re amongst a heap of whitewater and actually getting sucked up the face, what are you thinking at this stage?
It was honestly one thing to the next on this wave. I finally started regaining balance after being stuck in the foam ball and then it grabbed me again and I lost traction, suddenly the channel started to look further away!

How do you keep the faith that you can make it with all this going on around you?
A wave like that can come with serious consequences so I don't give up until I physically can't ride anymore.

When did you know you were going to make this wave?
To be honest, through the final stages I had zero vision and the board felt completely weightless as it lifted off the wave face, so I didn’t think it would end well. It wasn't until the whitewater explosion finished and my eyes cleared that I knew I’d somehow made it.

What happened after you made a mental one like that? Was everyone frothing?
It took a couple of seconds to sink in. As I rode towards the channel I looked up and everyone on the boats and skis had their hands in the air, so I threw mine up as well. It was the first wave I've ever claimed, haha! I jumped on the ski and felt like I was floating on a cloud, I couldn't stop smiling as I sat out there buzzing all afternoon. When I look back at the wave now I can still remember every little moment, sort of like a really vivid dream.

You’ve kept the clip under wraps for a while, why is that?
Were there other angles of the wave?Yeah Covid hit Australia as this all went down and the world was a bit chaotic, so I didn't feel any rush to get it out there. My good buddy Cameron Staunton nailed the land angle, but I’m saving that for a Profile piece I have coming out soon!!

You and filmer Chris Bryan have a good relationship, he’s really committed to nailing clips at radical waves, how does that work?
Chris is extremely talented at what he does and we both share a passion for the same type of waves, so we’re always watching the forecast, psyching each other up, He’s pretty much been there for all my key moments at Shipsterns. Stoked to nail a good one and do a piece with him.

Finally, tell us something that only a person who catches a wave like that would know?
In the days leading up to this session, Russ and I were joking around, like “Maybe we’ll get some 20ft bombs”! So I guess … Be careful what you wish for because your thoughts will become your reality!!