After the solid surf on Saturday & a few close calls it might be a good time to look at how to be safer in the big stuff. Common sense is your friend, panic is your enemy. Unfortunately when you're in a heavy situation panic tends to show the middle finger to common sense and calm. There's no guarantee to staying outta trouble, but being aware of a few things might help.
The most obvious consideration is don't paddle out in waves way beyond your capabilities. Absolutely, push your boundaries a bit, cos that's how you make the step-up, but do it in lil steps, not flying leaps.
Before you paddle out:
Take a few minutes to watch the conditions. Long period swell means longer waits for the big sets. Check out the currents/rips. Big surf in the bay always means some sort of current. 90% of the time it runs northwards - towards Kings Beach direction. So work out where you need to paddle out so you don't end up in the rocks before you're in the backline. If you're heading out at Clubhouse or Millers that means an entry point at least 50m up from where you normally get in, if not even further.
Definitely don't try the paddle out from Hobie beach right next to the pier, unless you are keen to get washed through the pier and into the impact zone on the other side. Been there, done that myself. No fun. Give yourself at least 20m from the pier if you're gonna paddle out from the beach and round the back of it into the line-up. Cos the current's gonna suck you straight towards it quicker than you can blink. And paddle pretty far out behind the pier before you cut across to the lineup - check the image below to see how far the rip line extends.
Check your leash. It's the only thing between you and a long swim. Give the swivels a quick turn & make sure they aren't looking a bit dodge (the white, chalky, salt-encrusted look is a bad sign! That's when they tend to snap) and run your fingers quickly over the whole leash to check for small fins cuts. Leashes don't last forever, the swivels corrode and the polyurethane gets brittle and less stretchy - rather replace them before they snap.
Leash over or under wettie? Under your wettie definitely helps to keep it attached to your leg in the big stuff, but, it makes it a lot harder to get off in a hurry. Personally I'm an over-wettie person, but then I'm also definitely not out there when it's really big either.
And now would be a good time to evaluate if you can make the swim back. Cos if your leash breaks, that's what you gonna be doing. So make sure your swimming ability matches the surf you're heading out in.
Work out how you're going to paddle out after your surf before you actually paddle in. Watch to see where other guys are getting out, and know your options. Have at least a Plan A and Plan B.
Paddling back in:
Make sure you have a bit of gas left in the tank for the paddle back in. Remember the current is going to be yanking you in the direction of Kings Beach, so when you start to aim for your exit point, don't wait til you're right in line with it and expect to be able to paddle straight in. You're gonna need to start paddling in when you're still on the south side of the exit point so as you paddle you'll be drifting towards it.
If you miss your exit point, sometimes trying to paddle back towards it doesn't work out to well if the current is strong. By persisting on trying to make it back there against the current you might end up using all your energy, still not make it, and end up in more trouble (think rocks, slipway etc). Sometimes it's a better call to just call it quits on Plan A, turn around and paddle back out a bit and drift further north with the current to Plan B. So what if it means an extra 100 meters on the walk back to the car.
Fighting the current doesn't always turn out well, and can often be accompanied by a trip through the rocks or over the mussels. Neither of which are terribly exciting. Anyone who's ever been caught in the washing machine current down the bottom end of the Avo's bay on a low tide will tell you it's a kak spot to be. It's super hard to get outta there by trying to paddle back in the direction of the take-off zone. Rather aim to paddle outwards in the direction of Bird Rock, as you'll get outta the whirlpool effect quicker. Might be a bit of a longer route to get back out, but sure is a whole bunch less effort. And beats a trip over the rocks for sure.
Same goes for Clubhouse. The inside section can be like a river. Respect it. There's the Avo's rock itself, as well as a nasty bombie just to the side of it, just off the beach. If you're going to make the run from Clubhouse through into Avo's itself, make sure you make it. It's a kak spot to fall. Have seen Granville West (aka Granny) make it through into Avo's itself on a monster he caught at Clubhouse. He even hooked a massive snap whilst he was right behind the rock.
If things go pear shaped, and you end up with your leash snagged in a rock, bit of coral or tangled in something whilst getting smashed on the inside - get rid of it. Quickly. Which brings up a very important point. Do you know which way to get your leash off? As in, am I reaching down to my inside ankle and pulling it outwards, or am I reaching to my outside ankle and pulling it inwards?
It helps to always put your leash on the exact same way every single time you surf, so you know exactly where to reach and which way to pull it to get it off in an emergency. Fumbling with your leash whilst you're getting pummeled is no fun. It helps to have a leash that has a lil pull tag on the velcro (called a quick release tab), as it's easier to grab and yank.
Hopefully you never get caught in a gnarly situation, but it can happen anytime, anywhere. So rather be prepared.