The Time I Almost Fell Off A Cliff In Australia

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Below is an anecdote about the time I nearly died at Grinders.

8 A.M:

The sound of my alarm rings inches from ear. I blindly slap around to find my phone that’s hidden deep in between the couch cushions. I roll off of the couch and put on the only clothes I brought; jeans, a t-shirt, and a pair of reefs. As I stumble into the kitchen still half asleep, Michael says, “ Grinders today?” in an eager but questionable tone. He’s already seated at the table in front of the open sliding glass door, eating what resembles a granola bar dropped in a bowl of milk. I go through a mental checklist to try and come up with something other then grinders. Note, the Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach is in full swing this weekend. Bells is off limits, Winkipop has everybody and their closest mates surfing, plus we had already surfed Pt. Addis and the other go to spots with little luck the days before. “Yeah, I’m keen”, I reply hesitantly, as I pull my bread out of the toaster.

The view from the top of the cliff.

The view from the top of the cliff.

Two weeks before:

We had just finished surfing and Michael wanted to check grinders before heading home. We pull into this dirt car park and he jumps out, I follow. As we start heading into the bush following this small footpath, a fence with the cliché “locals only” carved into the wooden post appears. A brisk jump over and we keep moving down this narrowing trail if you could even call it that. Another 5 minutes passes and here I am, getting my first look at grinders. As I stand there looking over the 100 foot near vertical cliff, I think to my self, there’s no f**king way I’m ever surfing here.

Steep enough for ya?

Steep enough for ya?

8:30 A.M:

We’ve finished breakfast and are outside loading up the ute. Boards get tossed in, followed by towels, and wetsuits. We pull out of his driveway and start heading down the Great Ocean Road towards Grinders. It’s a nice day, upper 50’s/low 60’s, partly cloudy, a light onshore breeze, and a forecasted 4′ swell. We pull onto the dirt road leading to grinders and I can feel my adrenaline already starting to pump thinking about making it down this cliff. He throws the truck in park and we start making our way through the knee-high grass to the cliff side. We hop the fence again and this time its for real, I’m actually going to have make it down this cliff.

Not the actual fence, but you get the idea.

Not the actual fence, but you get the idea. Photo: Chris Burkard

8:50 A.M:

Michael leads; showing me what he thinks is the proper technique to navigating this sketchy ass cliff. First, you have two options. Either walk the plank, a small wooden board placed across a 15 foot deep hole, or walk along the foot wide ledge of the hole, which is also the edge of the 100 foot cliff. After successfully crossing the creaking, weathered board, I look up and there’s two pieces of rebar with rope knotted around it. You guessed it, we grabbed onto the rope and navigated the edge of the cliff until I watched Michael take a sharp right and start descending the cliff. Trying to follow his exact footsteps, I take the sharp right grasping the scattered pieces of rebar and century old rope whenever possible. This is where I started to notice my reefs were no match for the crumbling rock. I continue to slowly make my way down and as I approach the last 15 feet of the cliff, I realize there are no more makeshift steps or switchbacks to follow down. There’s just this same piece of rope tied to a piece of rebar that was slammed into the side of the cliff, dangling down to the small patch of sand and rock beneath us. I watch Michael carefully bend over and grab the rope with one arm, board underneath the other, and slowly start to repel the last 15 feet. Yeah, I said repel, like hold onto a rope and jump down a cliff, repel. Now it’s my turn. My heart’s in my throat; I tug on the rope to see if the surfer with an engineering hobby that decided to set up this contraption did a good enough job. Rope in one hand, board under the other; I start stepping down the last drop off with absolutely no confidence in this rope. Surprisingly, my feet hit the sand first and the rope didn’t give out on me as soon as I took my first step.

Grinders hike up

 

11 A.M.

We get out of the water and with high tide approaching, there’s even less beach than there was before. This is the first time it crossed my mind that I was going to have to get up this cliff. Michael takes off first, firmly grabbing the rope and shimmying up one handed with ease. As soon as he lets go of the rope, I start walking my way up the vertical face to catch up with Michael. Everything is going smoothly until we reach the sharp turn. I’m wet, I have my board under one arm, and my reefs are basically as good as using banana peels for shoes. Waiting for Michael to make the last steep step up before we’re pretty much home free, I feel myself starting to slip. I made a crucial mistake; having put one knee down made it impossible to re-stand up with out sliding. I’m trying to grab onto any rock I can find to hold myself in place until I can get better footing, but nothing is within arms distance. Every time I move a muscle I slip more. Michael is up the last step already when I yell that I’m slipping and he needs to get down here. At first it was funny to him until he looked over the edge and realized I was indeed slipping, and slipping a lot. The wind has picked up now. I feel it catching my board; I’m starting to contemplate whether I should just throw it and use both hands or just keep clinging for dear life. While Michael is making his way down the cliff for the second time today, I’m digging my one free hand into the dirt as hard as possible trying not to fall to a certain death. After what felt like an hour, Michael finally made it down to me and  I can hand off my board and now use both hands. I pull my self together and start moving up the cliff again, slowly. Moving at a sloth like pace, I finally made it to the top where we had a good laugh at my misfortunes.

Looking up the cliff.

A better picture of the hike up.

Moral of the story: be glad you don’t have to do this every day at your local spot.

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