“It Was the Day of Days” – Merewether Saturday was as Good as it Gets

25 May 2020 4 Share

Sean Doherty

Senior Writer

Screenshot of Paul Mountford at Merewether Saturday May 23 – from the video "Tow" which you can find below.

Screenshot of Paul Mountford at Merewether Saturday May 23 – from the video "Tow" which you can find below.

COASTALWATCH | SWELL EVENT

Words by Sean Doherty

Rhys Smith knows a little something about big Tasman lows hitting Newcastle. Back in 2007, Smithy was immortalised on the cover of Waves magazine after paddling out and surfing next to the Pasha Bulka which had been driven up onto Nobby’s Beach.

While the weekend’s swell didn’t wash too much shipping onto Newcastle beaches, it was strong enough to send a few surfers back to the beach at Merewether, Smithy included. “I tried to paddle out on Friday but got washed in three times. There were guys surfing on the high tide on Friday morning, but I had to do school drop-off so I didn’t get out there till about 10.30 when the tide was dropping. Normally you’d jump off the back of the baths but it was just too scary out there. I jumped off further in but got washed in twice, then on my third one I ended up all the way down at The Cliff and just gave up. It was a nightmare.” 

Rhys Smith and Paul Mountford towing at Merewether Sunday May 24 2020, by "Novacastrian Waves":

The guys who got out on Friday – including locals Ryan Callinan and Jackson Baker and corona stowaway Leo Fioravanti – got some bombs, but with the swell yet to peak and the wind forecast to blow offshore southwest, Saturday would be the day.

Fuelling up the ski in the dark on Saturday morning, Smithy ran into Ryan Callinan who was in the car chasing the swell further up the coast. Smithy launched the ski with his mate, Paul Mountford and headed around to Merewether at first light to find it as perfect as it gets. “It was huge but actually really beautiful. It was kind of a lot calmer out the back and super glassy. It was pretty magic.”

With it too big to paddle out, Smithy used the ski to come in and pick up crew off the beach and drop them in the lineup. “We’d just look in toward Dixon Park and there’d be guys waving their boards to come pick them up. Basically it was Smithy’s taxi service all day. I think a couple of guys might have managed to paddle out, but even getting the ski back out was sketchy. There was no gap. You just had to run it. You’d drive up and down the beach until you got a break then you had to pin it. We told the guys we were picking up, ‘There's one condition… as long as you don’t mind us towing a couple of the deeper sets.’ They were like, ‘No worries, get me out the back.’ It meant that it was pretty much just our crew out. I had both of my brothers, I had all my mates. It was pretty special.” 

Drone video of Merewether by David Bennell/AirHunter:

As for the waves: “I’ve never surfed Merewether that perfect. Normally they hit Third Reef in this one spot, and you surf it on your seven-foot paddler and take the drop. But there were these deep ones breaking outside Third Reef that you couldn’t get without the ski and they’d barrel across the whole thing. It was this kind of section I haven't really seen before. It was kind of at the point where it felt like it was nearly gonna break further out again than Third Reef. It was like right at that tipping point. Yesterday [Sunday] we checked it and the swell was even bigger – too wild to surf – and it actually was capping out behind Third reef which I’ve never seen before.”

The view from the lineup on Saturday was pretty surreal. “It was so big. You were looking into these massive pits. Like, honestly, if you didn't look into the beach you would've thought you were somewhere overseas.” From early morning, the beachfront between Frederick Street and Berner Street was wall-to-wall with punters watching the show. Smithy’s old boy, Warren is the long-time promoter of Surfest, while Rhys works water patrol, driving the ski around Merewether. “It dead set looked like Surfest was on. Looking into the beach I’ve never seen that many people.”

Smithy and Paul surfed all day, only taking a break to come in for lunch. “My missus came down with a pie and an ice coffee, but apart from that we were out from first light until the tank on the ski was almost empty, which was like five o’clock.” 

Tim Dickson on an MR 6'6" gun on the "best waves I've ever seen at home". Caught by @jacksonlana on Instagram:

It wasn’t till about 3pm though that Smithy got the wave of the day. “It was one of those deep ones inside Third Reef. I’d pulled into a heap of waves without making them because they pinched a bit at the end and it's a bit harder on your backhand to pump through them. But this one was as wide as it was high. I didn’t even have to do anything other than stand there. I came out of the barrel and there was Jacko Baker there with his arms up hooting. I’ve sponsored him since he was like 10 years old and to have him there was pretty special. The whole session was pretty special.”

“It was the day of days for Merewether,” reckons Smithy, who’s surfed there his whole life. “I’ve never surfed Merewether that perfect, but I’m wrecked. We surfed for like 10 hours, and driving the ski in and out of that lineup all day was hard work. I haven’t got the grommet body anymore – I’ve got more of a retail body – but days like that don’t come along all that often. You had to make the most of it.” 

Michael Delore was mad enough to swim Merewether on Friday, snagging this incredible shot of Ryan Callinan on Instagram:

Throwing Buckets captures the crowd that showed to watch the swell at Merewether on Sunday:

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