When It All Goes Wrong


Story By Holtzy Photos by Luke Porcaro & Hugh Davis

We'd been tracking the swell for a week. A massive storm had formed off the coast of South Africa and methodically made it's way towards the south west tip of Western Australia pushing a huge swell before it. The weather predictions had it peaking at more than 35 feet sometime early Sunday morning but most likely the conditions were going to be just as radical as the swell ie big, bad and very nasty.

Despite this we were determined to take it on. We had been chasing a big swell for the pilot of the new HGM TV show for a while and had shot some cool stuff but nothing ground breaking, nothing earth shattering.......until now. Now we have jaw dropping footage of four people coming very close to drowning in some of the biggest surf on the planet.

The HGM team for the mission comprised of HGM presenter and general crazy big wave maniac Alex "Alfy" Cater, his tow partner and possibly the only man in Australia more crazy than Alfy- Jeremy "Eagles" Eagleton both on one jet ski. On the other jet ski was HGM water cameraman Stephen "Doogs" Dewell and stills photographer Hugh Davis. The last part of this elite outfit was Holtzy on film and Caro on stills hanging out of the helicopter from Jandakot Helicopters. The heli was piloted by Dave who is the premier action sports heli pilot in Australia and the only guy HGM uses when chasing the primo footage.

So you'd think with such a pro outfit nothing could go wrong could it? And lets face it if something goes wrong on a 35 foot wave breaking more than 4kms out to sea your in more than your fair share of trouble.

We arrived at the boat ramp before first light. As the first rays of the sun appeared it was clear the surf was big but the weather and ocean conditions were crap. We debated the merits of going but with a chopper on the way we called it go.

It wasn't long before we were all out there and Eagles had towed Alfy into a couple of "fun" 20 footers. It was clear the swell was building and any moment that big 30ft plus bomb could come and possibly be the biggest wave surfed anywhere on the planet all year.

With a massive set on the way Eagles tries to fire up the jetski to tow Alfy into the wave of the morning but the ski wont start. The boys madly signal to the camera crew on the other ski to come and tow them out of the danger zone. They have just a couple of frantic seconds to try and secure the tow rope before certain disaster and possible death descend on them. They almost pull it off but too late a 30 foot wave smashes through them. Alfy gets sucked over with the wave and proceeds to get the next two 30-35 foot waves on the head pushing him the closest to drowning he has ever been. "I had reached a point where I gave up and thought I was dead" said Alfy "When I finally came up I was seeing stars and couldn't focus on anything. That was the heaviest situation I have ever been in in the water" For a guy who last year caught one of the top 5 biggest waves anywhere on the planet you know that is a serious statement.

Meanwhile Eagles who was just a few metres in front of Alfy just managed to swim under the next couple of waves. The last of which was a massive 30ft tube that came within a whisker of breaking on his head. The camera crew faired little better. They took off as the first wave approached but it clipped them throwing Doogs who was driving clean off the ski. That left Hugh alone on the ski but he had never driven one and the next wave ploughed him and the ski as well.

Watching all this from the chopper was almost surreal. Like watching a disaster show on TV where you cant quite believe what you are seeing but you know there is nothing you can do about it. The chopper isn't built for rescue work so all we could do was watch and try and guide the swimmers below.

The aftermath of this set saw one ski completely demolished and two thirds sunk while the other was sitting OK but there was no clue as to whether it would work as it had been hammered too. The four swimmers were more than 4km's offshore in huge seas, spread over the area of about 5 football fields and due to the conditions the nearest help from a rescue boat would have been at least 4 hours away. Other than the fact the chopper was above them and could radio for help if needed the situation couldn't have been anymore serious. In my 15 years filming of extreme sports it was by far the heaviest situation I had seen. There was a real chance everyone could drown as we watched helpless from the chopper Because Alfy had copped all the waves he was closest to the ski that might work. So from the chopper we guided him to it. It was a sweet moment to see the water being pushed out of the back of the ski indicating it had started. Alfy gave us the thumbs up and we guided him to the rest of the swimmers who were a long way away.

Hugh recalled "I have never been so happy in my life when I saw Alfy arrive on the jet ski" He along with Eagles and Doogs had all thought both skis were gone and it was a very real possibility that Alfy had died. They were mentally preparing for 4-6 hours floating around in the most extreme of sea conditions waiting for a rescue boat to arrive.
Once Alfy had picked everyone up they went and checked out the other ski which was a near totally submerged write off. They collected all the bits and pieces that had broken free. To add insult to injury Doogs saw a blue thing that he thought had come off the ski and grabbed it. It turned out to be a Blue Bottle- a very nasty jellyfish- which gave him a nasty sting to go with everything else.

The decision was made to abandon the broken ski and the four lucky adventurers made the long slow trip back to the boatramp on one jet ski (not an easy task).

Back at the boatramp the injury count was just one tiny cut and a blue bottle sting but none who were involved doubted that it was a very near thing to a tragedy. When you deal in extreme situations there's always a danger risk and on this day we came as close to the edge as possible. At least the end result was some amazing footage (The entire drama looks amazing on film from the chopper), and no one hurt other than some pride and a $13,000 jet ski. It could have been so much worse. They don't call them Homegrown Maniacs for nothing...

Footage of the drama was shown on Channel 10's sports tonight program on saturday the 8th of October 2007. You can check out the clip on YouTube at the following link..... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AaCa_jHonSE

Pic Above: Alfy on a mid size warm up wave before it all went pear shaped.

Pic Below: The boys prepare to leave the dead jet ski

More photos from the nightmare day can be found here