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Frother of the Month: Ben Macartney

By Brad Malyon on October 7, 2011 in People

Photo: Bill Morris

Coastalwatch’s Ben Macartney tells us about forecasting big swells and the moment he was caught up in one.

Name: Ben Macartney
Age: 39
From: Sydney
Local Break: Bondi
Goofy or Natural: Goofy
Board details: Usually 6’0” or 6’1” x 18 ¼” x 2 3/16”, but lately I’ve been riding a 5’10” Channel Islands that’s a bit wider and thicker.

Your recent wipeout during the big swells at Bronte featured on the front page of the Daily Tele; what were your thoughts when you first saw the shot? I just thought “What a great shot, is that really me?”

Most people would have been petrified in that situation; how did you feel? Truth is, the angle of the photo makes it look like I’m about to be swamped by massive sets but I was in a pretty safe spot in deep water. Bill snapped me when I was bailing off the back of the wave before it closed out on the inside sand bar. It’s always a bit intimidating when it’s big and I did cop a few heavy wipeouts but it was a great day. I’d paddled out early during a lull and then it really picked up as the tide dropped, making it really hard for everyone else to get out there. The bigger waves were around 8 foot, the wind was offshore, the sun was out and there was about half a dozen of us sharing the sets, looking at each other going “How good is this!”

Other than Bronte bombs, what’s the craziest wave you have ever ridden? Nothing too extreme. I can’t think of a single wave that stands out. The biggest waves I’ve ever been out in were in France, and they were easily ten to twelve foot. I surfed pretty heavy waves at Voodoo and G-Land but I’ve probably had more extreme games of blitz chess.

As the head forecaster at Coastalwatch you informed us this swell was coming; next time the big ones are due to roll in do you think you will be frothing to get back amongst it? Absolutely. I love days like that. And I think the only way to get a real perspective on the size and characteristics of any swell is to paddle out there and get amongst it.

How did you get into surf forecasting? I did a lot of travelling in the ‘90s and got pretty curious about it. When I came back to Sydney I went to uni and that’s where I just became obsessed, using forecasting to pick the best window between lectures and get a jump on swells arriving along the east coast. In the end, for me forecasting was just way more interesting than uni and I landed a job at Coastalwatch.

What’s the best thing about your job? Just being able to watch these phenomenal natural processes unfolding, all the way from a storm’s inception to tracking the evolution of a swell and finally being there to surf it when it arrives. There’s so much energy being displaced in big open ocean storms and surfers are really lucky to be able to tap into it.

Coastalwatch has had some pretty exciting changes lately; can you tell us about them? We’re about to launch Coastalwatch Plus, a new extension of the site that has a comprehensive new forecasting system called Wavetracker, which is pretty exciting. There’s also a stack of new functionality, like upgraded high res surf cams, exclusive videos and photos, and discounts on surf gear. You have to pay a bit to access it but there are no ads and the existing Coastalwatch site will still be free.