Inside Intelligence

A local guide to the Margaret River Pro playing field

Published Wednesday March 19, 2014

Roughly midway between Capes Naturaliste and Leeuwin in the south west corner of Australia, Margaret River main break, or 'the point', is a formidable jewel in a ridiculously ornate surfing crown.

As a new stop on the WCT this year, the wave will soon be in focus more than ever before. We asked established local surfer Dave Chick if he would be interested in rationing some of his hard-earned knowledge of the wave...

Quality form. Photo: Jamie Scott

How would you describe your history with the point?

I surfed Margs for the first time about 32 years ago. I was 15, it was a sunny autumn day with a light offshore, probably only 2-4 foot. It was scary and exhilarating. Adjudicated by half a dozen crusty old boys out the back on their guns, the fast moving swells coming out of the deep, dark southern Indian Ocean, the powerful hit and hold down of the white water, the boils in the wave face and the sharp, shallow ledge at the end, called the “surgeon’s table”. I only got a few lefts but the speed from the drop through the bottom turn was unforgettable.

I grew up in Perth, learnt to surf at Mullaloo Beach, I’ve lived on the east coast and surfed a dozen other countries. I used to compete and missed a lot of good waves doing so. I’ve been living here since ’96 and I still love surfing the point.

I share this info with respect to those souls that have left this plane while surfing the point and the traditional land and sea caretakers, the Wardandi, the Noongar and all indigenous peoples of Australia and the world over.

It seems to have a wave on any swell. What's it like at different sizes?

1-2ft - shifty peak, low tide only, a bit of a grovel ending on dry reef.

2-4ft - peak on very inside reef, prefers lower tide, right ends on reef.

4-6ft - starting to show some quality form, a well defined peak focused by the outside reef and holding up until it throws over the inside reef. This is when Margs serves up her easiest tubes and most of the footage is captured. Ride your favourite stick that holds a rail at speed.

6-8ft - she starts to get shifty again, the peak becomes wider and can stand up and break on your head, even when you think you’re right out the back, over the outside reef, "the bubble”. Those that know her intimately start to shine, the tubes get challenging as she pinches over the deeper reef and the right starts closing out. Getting caught inside usually results in an 8-15 minute tour of duty, washed over the inside reef into the lagoon to paddle all the way around back out via the channel. Boards and leggies snap like dry twigs and I suggest ridding a step up to semi-gun.

8-10ft - shit gets real, there’s a lot of ocean moving and 3 waves could take 3 hours. Rarely does she show a lot of form at this size but if you happen to get it you wont forget it and nothing I write will help you prepare. If you’re an avid charger you’ll know to take time, sit, watch and learn before hitting the water with your gun.

Above 10ft - it’s all about the drop 'n' survive, I choose to go elsewhere.

Shit getting real. Photo: Jamie Scott

Any tips for paddling out?

Possibly one of the easiest in and outs as far as WA reef breaks go. Jump in 'the keyhole', the water from the lagoon will sweep you north out into the channel, stay wide, especially late winter with the river rip. When surfing the right, same deal, stay wide out of the way and clear of the wide sets. When you’re caught inside (it will happen) go with the cross current, usually to the left channel. If caught inside on the right, beware the sharp, shallow reef.

What about positioning?

There’s different positioning necessary for each set of conditions, it’s impossible for me to convey because it’s purely experiential. It’s a large area, hundreds of meters offshore, be aware of the reef and the boils and watch the horizon.

How easy is to get a wave? Are the locals friendly?

We get crowds and we’re getting more every season. If you are friendly, respectful, smile, leave your attitude at home and can surf you’ll get waves. Any day when it’s 3-6 foot and the wind is good there’ll be a lot of tradies starting late and you’d be wise to go search elsewhere or wait until after peak hour. Minimum crowd window can be just as the wind comes in before the sail and kite boarders hit it. If you want to taste the “champagne hour” and strike up a convo with the old boys out the back, you’ll be greeted with a smile and a yarn.

The locals at Margs have a large visual presence you’ll notice whenever you visit the point carpark. They have a very strong bond, glued together by a history of tragedy (shark attacks, bush fires and cliff collapse), a common love for the wave, the carpark, surrounding environment and the community.

A local who can’t share doesn’t understand travel. I love to travel and love to share, give respect to gain respect, wait your turn don’t blow it, spread the word and show Mr Greedy the way. I’m a local of Mother Earth and hope to share waves with you at your local some day.

Any insights into boards you favour for different days?

Locals ride anything from 10ft rhino chasers to 5’3” quads - they’re an eclectic bunch. Ride what you like but paddle speed is important over 6 foot.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Although the above is all true from my perspective, it is just a guide. Mighty Mother Ocean is always in charge, Margs can go from flat to 10 foot in 6 hours and she has many moods, controlled by the wind, swell and light direction as much as the size of the swell. I’m uneasy sharing these secrets that have taken me decades to know. My soul is not for sale, I’m helping a friend. Even if you glean wisdom from the words, nothing equals experience…

Sincere thanks to Dave for sharing this valuable knowledge. We're indebted.
The forthcoming Margaret River Pro runs from April 2-13.
All photos by Jamie Scott Images.