The Broadcast / A Lonely Peak On A Long Day

A Lonely Peak On A Long Day

From West Penwith to Western Australia. Cornish writer and surfer, Pete Geall, makes the most of the southern hemisphere's summer solstice to score uncrowded perfect waves on the longest day of the year.


4 min read

Words by Pete Geall

Photography by Russel Ord

My alarm starts humming through the caravan. The layered electronic beat melding with the rhythmic tapping of the last of the peppermint flowers shedding onto the tin roof. I groggily adjust to the surrounding darkness and reflect that humans should avoid waking up before 4 am wherever possible.

A stiff easterly whistles through the moonlit garden. The family of chickens that live under my home sensibly refuse to wake despite my noisy attempt to make coffee. In an effort to make the process as simple as possible I’d intentionally placed each item in order of use the night before: stove, lighter, cafetière, muesli, milk, bowl, spoon, mouth.

The reason for the unusually early start is a pre-arranged surf with friend and talented photographer Russell Ord, timed to coincide with the summer solstice dawn in Margaret River, a township situated on the south-west tip of Australia. A place that I also call home.

Between sips of coffee I close my eyes and try to impose the pre-dawn soundscape into an imagined version of my other home in Cornwall, at this moment embarking on its longest night of the winter. Despite spending much of the past thirteen years split between the two locations, I still find the polarity of the alternate seasons and time difference of the Southern and Northern hemisphere confronting. There is something deeply humbling about the passage of time and when viewed through the prism of cosmological process such as the solstice - that feeling is dialled up to the highest level. A twice yearly reminder to stop, take stock and commit to the season ahead.

Russell is already at the carpark when I arrive. Commitment not being a trait he struggles with - having made a name for himself shooting water images of some of the most extreme big waves around the globe. His eagerness to get going is not exclusive; most West Australians I know wake up early, it’s kind of what they do. As I awkwardly fumble to get my gear in order, Russ gives off an unshakeable aura that this early start is not as far removed from his normal circadian movements.

The sweep of sand that stands between us and our surfing destination is almost two kilometres long and is comprised of the fluffiest, deepest sand known to man. This man at least. Such is the extent of the walk that its hard to separate the surf from the effort required to get there. I’ve heard of crew doing it three times in one day before. That kind of self-imposed purgatory is not worth contemplating right now, but it doesn’t surprise me.

This stretch frequently hosts world-class beachbreak peaks along its extent. Margaret River is truly an Australian surfing capital, albeit a satellite one, closer geographically to Indonesia than Sydney. As a result there are legions of disciples willing to put up with the long beach walk, the numerous flies, crowds and the board breaking closeouts to put themselves in the mix to snag the blue teepee peaks that fold and spit across the southern sections of the beach.

I first started surfing this wave over a decade ago. A flash in the pan compared to others’ connection to this place. I clearly remember the first session I shared with my friend Brett. I took an immediate liking to the chaos and skill required to find and seize one of the aquatic opportunities and as Brett would summarise: “get absolutely coned”.

Deep blue Australian sky, sunbaked coastal bush and gin clear water. I especially loved the jury like ability of the waves to dish out near limitless punishment and joy on the local populace. Broken fibreglass and bodies; then the occasional moment of ecstatic bliss as someone would snag a rare corner and get spat out of the tube, flung into the channel amongst a jet of water and the whistles of approving crew.

With a local tidal range of under a metre, the shape of the sandbars are as much defined by the swell or lack of it in the summer seasons. The buildup of sand and lack of flowing water from the nearby brook frequently turns this often superlative stretch into a diminishing ratio of makable corners to straight closeouts in the warmer months. Weeks can go by without any sessions of note going down.

Despite this, Russ suggested we throw the dice on the dawn mission down here after the west coast got completely smashed by unseasonably large swell the day before. Our hope being that the sand would have been reconfigured in a way that might yield some fruitful conditions on the dropping swell. In the end our commitment to greet the sun on the longest day was also gifted with some lonely shoulder high corners exhaling into the peachy summer dawn. The first and only solo surf I’ve had out here in the decade I’ve surfed the place. A timely reminder to set the alarm earlier and to throw the dice on chance, with the hope it might turn out well. Delightfully in this instance.


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