The rocks of Pedra Branca stand 26km from the southernmost point of land in Australia – well, technically it's the Tasmania part of Australia. Sticking out of the Tasmanian Ocean, the rocks are a magnet for massive south swells coming up from the Antarctic. Big, mean, cold waves. Waves that hurt. Known for years as a tow-in spot for only the most fearless, unpredictable winds have kept windsurfers ashore – until now. Realising the dreams of his countryman Jason Polakow, Australian pro windsurfer and student Alastair McLeod is the first windsurfer to ride the wave.
Watch Alastair’s Pedra Branca bomb
"There are two big rocks: Pedra Branca and Eddystone,” says McLeod. "The wave comes up out of super-deep water at Eddystone and breaks over a reef shelf. There are two sections – this totally hellish slab, then more of a wall that barrels.”
In windsurfing terms, that’s incredibly scary, followed by slightly less scary. And the results of a wipeout? “Every one who surfed here and wiped out has had a serious injury,” says the 23-year-old. “Broken legs, being knocked unconscious, torn muscles – the truth is, death is a real possibility if you go over the falls.”
Contemplating the consequences...
And McLeod almost went there. Prior to catching his first wave in the ultra-light wind, he lost control of his gear and crashed into the lip. Luckily, he managed to climb out the back before getting sucked over the edge. “I went into a hyper-focused state, ready for the tumble,” he says.
But riding a wave at Pedra Branca isn’t the first challenge – catching it is. Light winds meant McLeod couldn’t match the speed of the wave on the approach. Instead, he had to sit on the ‘ledge’ and wait for swell to start building, then do his best to accelerate down the wave face. “I was really scratching just to get on the wave,” he says. Alastair caught his best waves of the day just as the winter sun was going down.
One big, big barrel
Conditions still weren’t perfect. With more wind it’s possible to take off from deeper and ride a more aggressive line, closer under the lip, with a top turn on the big wall before shooting out to the channel. But for a first sesh, McLeod is pretty happy – he caught four waves, each one bigger than the last.
“The biggest was about 10m – that's about double mast-high,” he says. “But it’s thick and nasty. When I was dropping in, it looked like the whole ocean just turns in on itself. I’ve never seen waves like that before. They were just turning inside out.”
So now that McLeod has tested the waters – literally – does he expect windsurfers to storm his surf spot? He doesn’t think so. “I think the wave is better for windsurfing than surfing, because you have the freedom to outrun the second section if you want to,” says Alastair. “But not many people would bother – it’s not like Jaws,” he says. “It’s so hard to do, and it’s such a wave of consequence.”
Keep an eye out for more...
That's not all – Alastair rode the wave for a secretive episode of the Red Bull documentary series Explorers. The story of Alastair’s planning, preparation, forecasting and brutal crossing attempt are the subject of that documentary.