Big swells create havoc on Byron Bay's fatal shore

Police and other associated rescue services scour Cape Byron for any sign of the Irish surfer who went missing in rough seas on Saturday.
Police and other associated rescue services scour Cape Byron for any sign of the Irish surfer who went missing in rough seas on Saturday. Marc Stapelberg

A RAPIDLY building swell and treacherous current made paddling out at Tallow Beach an extremely dangerous proposition on the weekend, even for experienced surfers.

Head surf forecaster and meteorologist Ben Matson from the forecasting website Swellnet said conditions along exposed beaches deteriorated fast on Saturday morning due to the rising southerly swell.

"At first light a lot of spots weren't getting much swell, but the trend was upwards very, very rapidly," Mr Matson said.

"The swell just built all day, and it became very big at exposed spots."

Lennox and Ballina boardriders president Jonny Hewitt said most surfers steered clear of open beaches on Saturday, instead opting for points like Lennox, which was particularly crowded.

"The point breaks hold those kind of conditions much better than the open beaches," Mr Hewitt said.

He said the surf doubled in size from sunrise to noon on Saturday morning, which combined with an incoming tide made conditions even more dangerous.

"Those big surges up the beach have to go somewhere, so often they create new rips or make existing rips even stronger," Mr Hewitt said.

Another element making the northern corner of Tallow particularly hazardous was the swell direction - pushing north almost parallel to the coast - creating a huge current sweeping water and sand north around the Cape.

"It's a little baffling why they chose to surf there," Mr Matson admitted.

"Where they reportedly paddled out at Tallows was going to push them immediately into the vicinity of the headland.

"Even if these surfers were quite competent, the tricky nature of these rapidly building swells can catch even the most experienced surfer unaware.

"You've got very, very large waves breaking in close proximity to the headland, some really nasty rips, and a lot of water moving around."

Mr Matson said there was a huge range of factors which influenced what made a surf break dangerous.

"And in this case it appears everything was working against them."

Topics:  editors picks swell weather

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