This is THE wave of Gnaraloo. It is a left hand, full on barrel from start to finish, depending on the tide and swell. Ideal conditions are at mid to high tide when the winds blow south southeast. It can break for up to 300-500m and is described by WaveFinder Australia as “a hell of a paddle, a triple suck takeoff and ledging freight train…”. Even on slow days, it’s a full all-around wave.
Be aware that at low tide, the reef is exposed; the Tombies are famous for dredging and ugly steps in the last wave.
The parking lot for this wave is just a short 2 km drive South of the 3 Mile Camp.
Gnaraloo’s Surf History
Surfing in Gnaraloo has been a bit of a diamond in the rough.Surfers have been coming to this stretch of the west coast since the 1960s. For them, it was an isolated paradise, because only surfers willing to drive to such a remote area would access the waves.
Into the mid-1970s and early 1980s more surfers had found the spot and became very protective of “their wave.” They were resistant to outsiders – especially media. If the was area publicized, they worried Gnaraloo would become a crowded surf destination. Stories got out anyway and the media created a growing local interest, as well as a small international buzz, about surfing in Australia’s northwest.
The buzz drew Jack McCoy one of the filmmakers of 1982 surf classic Storm Riders. Despite the resistance from the surfers, permission was granted to make the movie, so long as they promised that it would make no mention of the real location.
Growing media attention continued in the area during the 80s – but it wasn’t all for good. Further south of Gnaraloo, where surfers had been free to camp where they wanted, had transformed into a dump with rubbish and human waste scattered everywhere. A severe health outbreak forced a lot of campers to move closer to Gnaraloo and the discovery of new waves came along with it.
With the growing number of people in the area, the station owners at Gnaraloo chose to create a campsite – now 3 Mile Camp – to minimize the campers’ impact on the coastline. Its location next to a lagoon, a water tank, and the few toilets and showers that were built in the next several years made 3Mile an attractive destination.
This destination attracted pro surfers to Gnaraloo into the late 80s and early 90s, for its proximity to the infamous Tombstones. Filmmaker Jack McCoy returned with the Billabong surfers to catch the action, filming Bunyip Dreaming, Green Iguana, Sik Joyand Occy: The Occumentaryover the 15 years to follow. In 1995 and 1996 Billabong challenges were hosted in Gnaraloo. Media attention was growing with articles in Australia’s Surfing Lifeas well as Tracksmagazine (there were also articles in Western Anglerand Fishing Worldas Gnaraloo was catching on as a great fishing destination too).
Though some people tried to downplay the waves at Gnaraloo, international visitors began showing up to catch the breaks. Much attention and awareness evolved from the creation of websites in the late 90s and 2000s. Surf-lovers were now able to discover new surf spots from the comfort of their home and make informed trips up the coast knowing exactly what to expect of wave length, swell direction and the best season to go.
Today, there is a consistent flow of visitors coming to check out the surf here at Gnaraloo. Many are return visitors, who are back to share the waves and remote area with their family and friends. Others are new guests – like the Australian Chamber Orchestra who came to surf, get inspired and create beautiful music out of the sheep shearing quarters.
One repeat visitor was quoted in a report by Plymouth Univeristy on The Sustainability of Surfing Tourism at Remote Destinations speaking about increased visitors to Gnaraloo:
“First we are going to drive and check Tombstone (i.e. Gnaraloo) and have a look at it. If it is perfect conditions and big, even if it is crowded, it probably doesn’t matter so much…you will do what you have to do to get specific waves. But if the conditions are not that great, that waves are smaller and if you know what somewhere else could be nearly as good and there won’t be many people, you are better off to leave that environment that is crowded and enjoy somewhere else.”
Surfing spots here can be considered a slightly more polished diamond in the rough, as Gnaraloo will continue to be a spot that not just anyone will come to. The distance to drive, the remote location, the basic accommodations and the massive rolling barrel with the reef below will be a challenge only few will take on.