Antmans’ trip down south.
How a couple of phone calls can make, or break a day
There are some waves that just should not be ridden, turns out they’re exactly the ones Paul Paterson is looking for.
The veteran big wave surfer, perhaps better known as Antman, woke one morning, surveyed the weather maps and figured a trip down south was in order.
He then jumped on the blower to find a suitable partner for the journey, one which would entail a lengthy drive, a substantial trip via jet ski out to the destination and a couple hours motoring around the deep dark southern ocean towing Antman into the biggest waves he could find.
Not surprisingly, the declinations started to stack up and Antman reached out to the one friend he knew wouldn’t, or rather, couldn’t resist, South African big wave standout, Grant “Twiggy” Baker.
“He said it was going to be big and windy,” Twig recalls of Antman’s less than stellar pitch.
“But I trust Antman’s judgement completely, I pulled the pin and flew over that afternoon.”
Antman also rings photographer Russell Ord, who’d also been studying the same weather map when his phone lit up.
“I was in for sure, although I thought it was a 50/50 call, way to windy in my view,” Ord recalls.
“But Antman makes the best calls, he’s is very rarely wrong.”
With everything set, Antman sets off for the four-hour drive to Perth airport, picks up old mate Twiggy, fires up the engine and heads south.
The duo settles in at a caravan park for a short sleep before waking at 4am for the long journey out to their final destination, the comically large wave known as The Right.
Ord and cinematographer, Darren McCagh, meet them in the line-up.
Twiggy, no stranger to waves of girth and height is shocked when the aquatic behemoth first comes into view.
“The power of that wave looked unfathomable,” recalled Twiggy.
“It looks like the whole ocean is coming out of deep water, hitting a rock and just folding over itself. It looked totally unsurfable to me.”
Fast forward a bit and Twig, who’d been dunking rusks into hot coffee in the living room of his home in South Africa just 24 hours before, is being towed into a wave by old mate Antman. He sets his line and pulls into a barrel.
“The view for those few seconds was comical. But then I fell just as I was coming out of the barrel at full speed,” says Twig.
“It felt like I had broken my neck and both my arms ripped off. I got back on the ski. Then the shit really hit the fan.”
That’s right, and then, the shit hit the fan. It’s also worth mentioning Twig, Antman, Ord and McCagh are all alone a couple clicks out to sea more than likely being stalked by white pointers. And it’s raining.
Twig and Antman swap positions on the ski and make a beeline towards a thick dark menacing look wave.
Ord, shooting from the back of a ski being driven by McCagh, takes a second to dial in the settings on his Nikon D3 before settling on a shutter speed of 1/2500thof a second.
He pulls focus just as Antman lets go of the towrope.
Ord reaches for the shutter release and lets fly. Antman doesn’t stand a chance.
The plucky good-natured big wave veteran is swallowed up by the wave’s mutating end section and goes down hard.
“I knew I was in a bit of trouble,” Antman recalls.
“The waves started to pinch but I was thinking to myself, “Just try and make it to the channel. When I realised that wasn’t going to happen the last thing I really focused on before impact was getting my feet out of the straps” Antman recalls.
Then came the impact and a quick violent plunging to the cold dark depths.
“The wave picked me up then pushed down so far it was pitch, pitch black,” he says.
“I have no idea how deep I was, but I must have done 100 summersaults on the way down. My ears popped and I just knew I had to try and relax and conserve oxygen. I had a feeling I’d be down there for a while.”
Ord, McCagh and Twig scour the surface looking for any signs of their mate.
“The second wave hit, which was as big as the first, and there was still no sign of Antman” Ord recalls.
“The third wave capped but fortunately didn’t break. Then we saw his elbow and what looked like a waving hand. Twiggy plucked him out to the water but you could see Antman couldn’t correct himself for a breath. He must have been down there for a minute. I don’t know how he survived.”
Twiggy, ever the straight shooter reckons his little mate came as close to death as he’d ever had that day at The Right.
“I firmly believe that if that third wave had broken he would have drowned out there in the middle of the ocean,” says Twiggy.
“After that, we realized that it was in fact too big too surf. I don’t think I’ll be looking for a similar wave on South African shores anytime soon.”
The four call it a day and start the long trip back to the boat ramp, battling big winds and bigger waves.
Back in his Margaret River home, Ord downloads, resizes and forwards the sequence of Antman to Tracks Editor, Luke Kennedy.
The familiar “ping” of incoming email draws Kennedy’s attention away from a cryptic crossword he’d been struggling with.
Kennedy sees the subject line and sender and double clicks without hesitating.
“That wave literally made him look like an ant,” recalls Kennedy.
“It had a six-foot barrel with a 26-foot barrel behind it. Such things were not meant to be ridden by mere mortals.”
He forwards the email to Tracks’ photo editor next door and waits for the reaction.
Within seconds a loud “Get fuc…” comes from the room.
The sequence is a shoe in for the next issue.
Antman, fresh from dropping Twiggy back to Perth International airport, throws caution to the wind on a long open stretch of highway and phones brother Jake.
“Antman told me the story before I got to see the shots,” Jake says.
“And when I saw the shots, it all made sense, he’s lucky to be alive.”
Later that day, Antman gets his first look at the sequence of himself.
He had vowed to take it easy on the big wave front since the birth of his three children. The sequence in front of him would suggest a renewal of those vows might be in order.
And the first thought that comes to mind?
“I should have gone deeper and gotten the pit of my life.”
WORDS: ANTHONY PANCIA