Over the years I’ve heard whispers of remote waves that break only in certain conditions. And while the Great Barrier Reef is known for its spectacular beauty and unrivaled fishing, if there’s surf on the 1,429 miles of coral and low lying islands that border the northeast coast of Australia, the locals who travel there are notoriously tight-lipped about any specifics—I’ve heard vague rumors, but have never come across anyone willing to share their knowledge.

I’ve recently taken up fishing, and in the last couple of years since I started, whenever I’m in the area, I always keep an eye out for signs of waves. I’ve scoped out patches of reef that seem to have potential, and began formulating a plan to go back and kite them one day.

Photo Stu Gibson

All the best spots are around 35 nautical miles out to sea and far beyond where most dare go. I’ve got a small 21-foot fishing boat that until now, I’ve mainly used in calm seas and although I’m not afraid to take it far offshore, I’d normally plan my trips around forecasted glassy conditions— those ideal for fishing. The boat is set up with fishing in mind: center console, depth sounders and just a small stowage area with enough space for two people to sleep uncomfortably overnight. It’s a cramped layout with a hull that was never intended for big swells, much less windy seas.

The wave spots I had scoped out were all miles offshore, promising a rough and windy challenge for my little boat. But the week before Easter I kept a close eye on the forecast and everything started to line up.

Suggestive evidence of a kitable
wave on the Great Barrier Reef; photo taken on one of Ben’s previous fishing trips. // Photo Ben Wilson

There’s a lot that goes into planning a trip up there: swell direction, tides, moon phase and wind. Any one of these things can make it or break it. I called up our drone and still photographer Stu Gibson and it didn’t take much convincing before he was boarding a plane headed to the Sunshine Coast. I also wanted someone to come and shoot video, so I contacted a local guy, Tom Rawlins. He hasn’t shot much kiting but he was eager to join us.

The three of us met at my place in Queensland to plan and pack. We had to pre-rig kites specifically for boat launches, buy enough food and fuel for the days we would be at sea and load it all into the boat. We talked about how we’d launch and land kites and then the conversation darkened as we discussed contingency plans, like who’d drive the boat home if something happened to me.

Stu Gibson in Ben Wilson’s garage going through the checklist, preparing for the unknown. // Photo Tom Rawlins

From my place on the coast it’s about a five-hour drive up north with boat and trailer in tow and then a few hours further in the boat. The conditions looked pretty good as we left the harbor so we made our way to what I assumed would be the best wave spot we would find in a little over three hours.

I thought I’d lined everything up perfectly, but unfortunately, the moon was full and the tide was way too high. The wind just wasn’t working for the wave and we were all totally deflated. Disappointed, we hung around watching for 10 minutes hoping the wave would show signs of life but got nothing.

Amidst our dissatisfaction, a massive turtle swam up to our boat and began circling us. Stu pretended to feed it and it came right up close. I jumped in and had a swim with him—I’ve never seen such a friendly turtle. Swimming with such a marvelous creature reminded us that trips like these are about more than just kitesurfing, they’re about spending time taking in the natural wonders of the world.

We named that place Turt’s Break and left to find a safe place to anchor overnight. I knew of a lagoon close by so we headed there. The wind was blowing 25 knots and the open sea was rough, but as soon as we pulled into the lagoon everything became still. It was so calm, just like you’d imagine a reef to be—schools of fish, nobody around and coral unmistakably evident through the crystal clear blue water.

We thought we’d get ahead of ourselves, pump a kite up and practice launching from the boat. Although I’ve done plenty of boat launches, mostly from sailboats and catamarans, I’ve never tried one off my little fishing boat. Despite all the rod holders and chaos, the launch went smoothly with my kite in the air and me jumping off the stern onto my board.

One tight package: learning the ropes of launching off of Ben’s fishing skiff. // Photo Stu Gibson

Stu filmed with the drone and the incredible water clarity made for an epic session, even if it was on flat water. Shooting from the side of the boat was Tom, who doesn’t film a lot of kiting, so I tried to get up close and make it a bit easier for him. Suddenly a gust pulled me even closer and my kite smashed into him, taking out Tom and sending his phone, gimbal and camera into the water—I also managed to rip my kite in half. The day went from an amazing high to, “oh shit, we’ve just written off a few thousand bucks worth of gear!”

I dove down about 30 feet to the bottom and with such clear water, was able to find the camera and gimbal mount, but there was no sign of the phone. We ended up saving the footage but Tom’s phone was a goner; not much service in the middle of the Pacific anyway. Fortunately I’d packed some kite repair gear so we spent the next hour or so taping up my torn kite. Tom had a backup camera and my shoddy patch job seemed to hold so the journey wasn’t over just yet.

Morning came and we pulled anchor and jammed back to Turt’s. Everything had changed for the better: the tide was out and the chop had disappeared. The reef was now protecting a right that was peeling head high towards the channel. Watching the sets roll in, I just wanted to jump in the water and go kiting but we had to set the boat up properly so we could shoot.

We set anchor, angling the boat in the best position for shooting. Wave after wave unloaded in the background as perfect side-shore wind swept by. Finally I got out there and although it wasn’t big or heavy, it was a perfect playground and I had it all to myself, without another soul in sight.

Photos Stu Gibson

Like one of those dream sessions where you feel relaxed and in the flow, I kited right until the tide drained out and killed it. When years of speculation and planning culminate in this kind of day it makes all the effort and anticipation worthwhile.

We wanted to check another wave before sundown so we pulled anchor and motored to the second location where we found another setup with plenty of potential. The swell was pulsing but with the ebb tide it was reeling right onto dry reef. We made plans to come back at a mid to high tide when it wasn’t so heavy. Anchored up, we relaxed with a few beers and watched bombs unload into coral until sunset.

We spent the night back in the calm waters of the lagoon and in the morning woke to find the wind still howling. There were two other waves about seven miles downwind from the lagoon. Getting there in our 21-foot skiff was going to be gnarly; I was on edge the entire time. With the wind advancing hard against a strong current, the mix created turbulent waves that jacked up and really thrust us around, nosediving the boat and tossing us from side-toside. It was a scary trip and at times the boat felt close to capsizing. There were a couple of sketchy moments during this trip where I was relieved to make it to the next reef— this was one of them.

Finally we arrived downwind. The swell had cleaned up and the wind was on. Stu and I jumped in the water and although the swell proceeded to drop throughout the morning we were happy with what we scored. The wind was still blowing over 25 knots making this unprotected anchorage pretty unpleasant. So instead of going further downwind to the next wave which was even further offshore, and undoubtedly more treacherous of a boat ride, we headed back to Turt’s because of its proximity to our lagoon.

With the wind side-off on their second reef discovery, Ben makes quick work of the last bits of swell just before a boat full of G-men send Ben and his film crew back to Turt’s. // Photo Stu Gibson

We were just about to head back upwind when we were intercepted by a massive government boat. They hailed us to stop, came alongside and told us we had to leave the area immediately. Apparently we weren’t allowed to be within a mile of the island, not even to surf or kite. The wave we had just scored was off limits and while these government researchers didn’t seem like the kind to prosecute, I was fairly devastated to learn we wouldn’t be able to return to the wave that could have been legendary under the right conditions.

Turt greeted us back at his home break and continued to swim around our boat. High water was washing over the reef and conditions were ugly so we went fishing a few miles away while we waited for the tide to drop.

We hooked some tuna, but it would be our only catch of the day. Conditions were deteriorating; the swell was dropping but the wind was making the seas particularly rough. We had to make a call—charge for the mainland or wait out the night in the lagoon. Given the conditions, neither option was particularly appealing, but we set our sights on home. After all, if we made it, we’d be sleeping in real beds that night.

Ben proving that contingency plans on boats are absolutely crucial—dinner is served. // Photo Tom Rawlins

We started the heavy trip back to the mainland. Green waves broke over the bow and all three of us huddled behind the console. We tried for hours but it was painfully slow and scary. Tom was pretty rattled and while Stu wasn’t fazed, he was unimpressed with our progress. Using our GPS, we calculated that at our current speed, the trip back would take 10 hours. Exhausted, we finally made the call to head back to the lagoon.

Punching our way back to the safety of the lagoon was equally as horrible as on our way out, so when we finally reached calm waters it was pure relief. We cruised around, found some particularly blue water and anchored. Stu and I went for a kite, just riding around and exploring. In the evening hours I tried to show the boys the calibre of fishing on the Great Barrier Reef and it was on! We fished until sunset and Stu and Tom both caught their first coral trouts and red emperors. There we were, drinking beers and hauling in fish instead of bashing our way through the open ocean—what were we thinking?

The sun sets over the Coral Sea while the boys holdover for cleaner conditions for the passage home. // Photo Tom Rawlins

We loaded the cooler in the bilge with all my favorite fish then anchored up, had some dinner and settled in for a great night’s sleep. We couldn’t have been happier with the decision to come back to the lagoon. Sometime around midnight the relentless wind that had been blowing for days finally let down and in the morning the sea was calm and the wind fairly light. We cobbled together our last breakfast in cramped quarters and headed for home—it was smooth sailing and a passage that took only three hours. We spent the rest of the day trailering home and putting away the boat. That night we filleted our fresh fish for dinner and recounted the stories of our remote find. While the kitesurfing around the Great Barrier Reef is anything but easy to access and often fickle in nature, we couldn’t help but think that we’d only scratched.


This article was first featured in Tkb’s summer 2017 issue, Vol. 14, No. 2. Want more like this? Subscribe here: https://www.thekiteboarder.com/product/magazine-subscription/