Look, in the time of COVID-19 there's nothing that is going to scare you when you are allowed to get back in the drink.
If there is a 100 metre stretch of dry coral getting bashed by an 8-foot swell, you'll find a way of traversing it. You'll find your way out there too, even if your feet are bleeding stumps by the time you get out the back. Sometimes, a bit of fear can be a good thing, you know. Thinning the lineup, self-preservation in full swing. And that fear can kick in even before you see the waves – because that damn rock off looks gnarly. Here's four that'll elevate your heart to your throat.
Punta De Lobos, Pichilemu, Chile
A former World Surf League Big Wave Tour venue, Punta De Lobos in Chile has so much drama going for it before you even get to the backline.
You stand up on the clifftop, called the Mirador, and watch these massive waves, reeling and bashing into the base of the cliff. Then you find the path down to the bottom. It’s steep and treacherous and you must traverse it with your big board. At the bottom, you get to feel just how freezing the water is, and you paddle across a foaming channel. It has swirling currents that you have to negotiate until you find the little ledge on the other side.
On the island are two monolithic rocks, Los Morros. You have to walk across a shelf to the base of these two rocks to get to the launch spot, and that's when it all suddenly gets serious.
On a big day, you hide behind Los Morros as the sets come, and then when there is a lull, you run across the shelf, jump off and quickly scuffle across the inside of the take-off zone into the safety of the channel.
It's a long and slippery shelf covered in weed, and when you commit, there's no turning back. Should a set come through, even a medium one, you're toast. You could easily get swept off your feet and washed over the inside rockpile or through the gap between the island and the rockpile. It can be a terrifying trip, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Spot guide: Punta de Lobos
St Leu is a fantastic, perfect, barreling left-hand reef break on the Indian Ocean island called Le Reunion. When Jack McCoy brought out the Billabong movie Pump in 1990, St Leu was a hot spot that had South Africans and others consistently sneaking off to their version of an Indonesian paradise lookalike.
The jump-off is wondrous. Everyone hangs around on the rocks along the edge of the point, and when you jump off, the current gently tugs you along, past everyone who waves, and gives you some encouragement and (hopefully) kind French words. As the current drags you around to the end of the reef. Then it is a simple paddle up the reef, past the bowl to the take-off spot.
Nowadays, however, jumping off into the rip is like jumping into a bull shark aquarium at feeding time. In the last decade, there have been 25 shark attacks in Reunion, with 11 fatal. Half of those attacks involved surfers and bodyboarders.
There have been five attacks at St Leu or nearby Etang Sale, and the area has many sightings of bull sharks and others in the lineup. St Leu is the place that surfer, Kim Mahbouli, was attacked and killed in May 2019.
Utterly perfect reeling St Leu, infested with sharks? It is such a great wave that everyone will want to jump into the rip regardless when this is all over.
Jumping over to Australia, there are also sharks at places like Ballina and Lennox Head, but Lennox makes it that much harder to get to the backline to possibly meet them because it has one of the most challenging jump-offs in the world.
Big, round and slippery rocks, too big and too far apart to risk jumping from rock to rock, leads to a grovelling, sliding-between-rocks nightmare, balancing with one hand and keeping a lazy eye on the sets pouring down the point.
Some locals have it so wired, who know which rocks have traction and which ones will make you slip and possibly land on your head or knock a few fins out, and these guys and girls do their sure-footed mountain goat jump off to the amazement of visitors and blow-ins alike.
It obviously can be done – Lennox is crowded – but every jump off is a challenge, a mission, and fills one with fear and loathing, especially on a bigger swell.
The other kicker about Lennox is that, much like Supertubes in JBay, everyone in the lineup can watch you grovel and bounce, much to their amusement. And sharks.
When to go? Lennox Head
Talking about Supertubes in JBay, it's not known for being a drama of a jump-off, but when the swell starts grinding and gets a lot of push behind it, the paddle-out can be atrocious.
A few years ago, I was heading down for a surf, and it was massive and spring-low tide. There was a dry shelf to negotiate at the keyhole, with massive whitewater surges just sweeping over.
One of the locals caught up with me and told me that we needed to jump from the beach break, on the other side of Boneyards.
While walking there, about eight other surfers who were milling around the keyhole followed us nervously.
By the time we got to the corner of the beach, there were about 12 of us. It was eight-foot, but the close-outs at the beach looked bigger, smashing down on a shallow bank.
We jumped into swirling whitewater, and started paddling, pointing to the southern corner of the Boneyards reef. The current was trying to suck us over the reef inside Boneyards – a place where you don't want to be – and we just held steady, ducking under some solid whitewater. The guys behind us hesitated for a few moments, a wave or two, and then launched behind us.
As we go further out, the local told me to go. "Paddle hard, it's now or never!"
I could see a giant set looming, but we put our heads down and sprinted. The current swept us and got us through. Behind us, there was chaos.
I sprint-paddled, nauseous with fear. Did I I tell you I’m not that good in big waves? Never was. I could see a giant set looming, but we put our heads down and sprinted. The current swept us and got us through. Behind us, there was chaos.
Everyone got caught. Two guys broke boards. Two broke their leashes and were swimming, and three others got dragged across the inside Boneyards reef. The rest turned tail and belly boarded to shore. It was pandemonium. They still speak of it today and remind me every time I see them of that experience.
By the time I got around to the take-off, I was too exhausted to surf, caught one wave down the point and went in.
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Cover shot of Punta de Lobos by Danial Eriksen