[The Wavelength Drive-In Cinema is back for 2021, bringing you a range of surf cinema, cult classics and family favourites from the clifftops of Cornwall. Browse the full lineup and get your ticket here. Or, subscribe to Wavelength now to get free entry to a screening of your choice.]
Before fake news and post-truths, there was just stuff people said, and surfing had little shortage of mirthful myth or funny falsehood.
A friend once told me, as we stood clifftop, beholding an as yet unarrived yet greatly anticipated swell, “It’s a groundswell, so it’s harder to see. They travel along the sea bottom, along the ground…”
Then there were the more quirky, gossipy urban myths – a former multiple World Champ has a son growing up on a council estate in Plymouth, ‘he looks just like him, and he rips’. There’re the more general fictions, like water swirling the other way down the sink in the southern hemisphere.
Who starts such big fat fibs? Impossible to say. A friend of a friend, probably, someone your cousin sat next to at a wedding.
Back in Point Break’s pre-bot farm day, architects of misinformation could either just start a whispering campaign and hope it caught on, or alternatively, spend a few dozen mill on a feature film with Swayze and Reeves.
That oughta do it.
“Well guess what? A fifty year storm is in fact, a thing…”
The 50 Year Storm
Bodhi’s beach fire prophecy of a meteorological event the following year, on the other side of the world, certainly had Special Agent Utah spellbound.
Be honest now… you too, right?
“Bodhi believes the 50 year storm is coming…” tees up Tyler.
“Everything moves in cycles,” explains Bodes. “So twice a century, the ocean lets us know just how small we really are.”
Sounds pretty good so far; aside from the anthropomorphising of the sea, that and the bizarrely neat regularity. But we – and Utah too – still need specifics to be convinced though.
“A huge storm will come out of Antarctica (next year) and send a swell thousands of kilometres, and when it hits Bells Beach Australia, it’ll make the biggest waves ever seen. And I’ll be there…” concludes our man.
Well guess what? A fifty year storm is in fact, a thing.
But rather being a super long lived cyclonic depression that’s been bouncing around the ocean building intensity for five decades, out there in the big blue gaining potency and honing its act like Jesus in the wilderness or Colonel Kurtz up the river, it’s used in reference to something statisticians call return period.
Return period is essentially how often something happens at a specified place. A 50 year storm refers to a storm that has a 2% chance of occurring on any given year, and usually refers to rainfall events.
You don’t have to look far for a real life 50 year-er; Hurricane Ophelia, the storm that hit Ireland in Oct 2017 was described as the biggest storm to hit in Ireland for 50 years (and delivered 3ft closeouts to Dublin Bay).
The Great Storm of ‘87 (the one Michael Fish and the Met Office computer, unlike Bodhi, didn’t see coming) meanwhile, is described as a 200 year storm, with winds reaching 119knots/137mph in Quimper, Brittany). In fact, looking in a old growth hardwood forest will show the periodicity of severe storms making landfall, take a stroll through a Kent or Sussex woodland and you’ll soon see plenty of beautifully decaying, sideways greats oaks from ’87.
There are different methods of making seasonal forecasts too, even back in pre-internet/crap computer era. Like sun spots, for example, fluctuations in solar output as observed by telescope can make incredibly accurate forecasts, although for average metrics over a season (climate), as in how hot/dry the summer might be, rather than specific depressions (weather).
But even more suspect than being able to forecast the 50 year storm a year in advance (10-14 days would be around about the limit of accuracy due to instability in the numeric model’s equations) is the fact that Bodhi choses Bells to find the big one.
Even a cursory glance of a map by a non physical oceanographer would probably reveal that Bells is sort of in a bay. Surely the biggest swell ever would hit the bottom of Vicco and be much bigger there, then get smaller when it propagates around into Torquay?
Lineup Knife Assault / Shower Punch Up At Latigo Beach
When Latigo is on the cook, those sweet, soft slow rights are the sole property of (mainly ponytailed) gangs of ne’er do wells such as the Death Squad Surf Nazis; Warchild (musclebound Hawaiian shredder Vince Klyn), Bunker, Tone ( the Chilli Peppers’ Anthony Keidis) et al.
So watch out.
The good news is that while both violent localism and Latigo Beach does technically exist, even in real life heavily localised zones the kind of instant violence Utah gets served seems pretty unlikely.
Utah drops in on Bunker, resurfaces, and get a straight punch to the face. “Ding my board? Ka-pow!”
Now, in the water punches are thankfully pretty rare; and when they do happen almost always preceded by some kind of verbal dispute first; a stranding of ground by the dropper in, an exchange of insults. Things escalate, tempers flare, a breathless, splashy punch on ensues.
While other real life Malibu adjacent surf zones, private beaches with keys only for residents are known to be a bit moody to outsiders, the vibes could well have been inspired by LA County’s Palos Verdes estates, as suggested by the fictional baddies’ laughably posh real names; Palos Verdes was basically Southern California’s most badass, violence-backed localism hotspot, perpetrated by a bunch of trustafarian middle aged white dudes with names like Trenton P. Knudson III, who live with their millionaire moms in gated communities and cosplay tough guy in wetsuits when in the sea.
As for the knife pull, this kind of thing is much, much rarer. Wearing a knife while surfing is pretty impractical, you’d have to have one of those diver’s ankle sheaths, which has never been proven to have a positive correlation with good surfing.
Rare as it is though, a French water photographer did famously once pull a blade one on another French photographer (temper, temper) for getting in the way while shooting at La Graviere (he later claimed to have had it for entanglement in fishing nets). Fortunately, the photog was no gurkha, and the weapon was resheathed with neither flesh nor leash being torn.
As for leash slashing, pretty sure that’s never happened in the water, ever. Fins punched out? Heard of it. Aggressor’s nose stabbed into the deck/underside of adversary’s? Seen it once.
“It would seem leash cuts, just like revenge, are a dish best served cold…”
But cutting a leash at a 3ft right doesn’t seem quite gnarly enough a follow up to having just punched someone right in the face.
When I was on a trip to Madeira once, some Spanish bodyboarders did cut the leashes of a group of American surfers, at night, and not all the way through. The first the Americans knew of it was upon bailing their guns at Jardim do Mar on the next 10ft swell and seeing their precious Merricks splinter into a thousand pieces on the most unforgiving boulders in surfing.
It would seem leash cuts, just like revenge, are a dish best served cold.
(Moral of the story: mess with neither Latigo Beach Death Squad nor softly spoken, approx 5 ft tall Spanish boogers. Yikes!)
As for the shower punch up, it does seem a much more likely place for argie bargie than the water itself. Famously, twenty year ago this summer, Andy Irons and Mick Campbell had a set to at Les Bourdaines in Seignosse after a heat, and AI even hit Mick with the rail of his board, just as Bunker does to Utah in the douche.
Alas, it seems the fight gods don’t consider the 6’0” rail swing very Queensbury Rules, and Andy – just like Bunker – ultimately loses both honour, and the fight.
Join us in a beautiful clifftop location overlooking Watergate Bay in West Cornwall throughout the summer for a series of drive-in screenings of Point Break Click here to buy a ticket, or subscribe now for free entry.