The Outer Banks: Where Eagles Dare

Luke Atkinson’s local river spot in Australia is not for the faint-hearted. Between various obstacles(some of which have sharp teeth) and a big tidal range, you definitely need to know what you’re doing if you’re heading into the line-up. But the prizes can be worth the risk…

Words: Luke Atkinson
Photos: Steve McCormack

We are super lucky where we live in far north New South Wales, with a massive selection of waves for all conditions. This session was at the mouth of the Richmond River, one of the local stomping grounds where a lot of local foilers have honed their skills, both tow foiling and prone. This spot works particularly well on an outgoing tide, as the water runs out against the waves, they stand up and get a nice steep face. With the right conditions these waves continue right down the river for about one kilometer or more. It can however be quite a dangerous spot… 

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Firstly, dealing with the outgoing tide can be quite a test of the paddling strength, continuously paddling against the water to stay on the bank. There have been a few occasions where people have been sucked outside the mouth and had to scramble up the wall.

Secondly, the debris! With the tide moving out, particularly after big rain events, logs, trees, crab traps, floats and even the occasional boat I have seen wash out of the river. When you’re on a foil you don’t want to run into these and there have been some close calls!

Then the last major factor of foiling and surfing here is the marine life. It is a very fishy place with dolphins and sharks using the area as a hunting ground and even recently a whale entering the river. Schools of mullet washing out with the tide attract a lot of this attention and, being a fisherman also, I see lots of sharks in this river, generally small, but definitely there and feeding. Some days you can actually feel the foil hitting mullet as you’re gliding… All in all it’s an amazing spot in an amazing place and to be able to use the foil to explore and make the most of waves in any conditions is really a privilege.

This day was pretty raw with onshore winds and about 4-5ft of swell. I was riding a Carbon Co custom Vape, 4'6 and 29L, with an AXIS 680 Surf Wing (one of their first releases) with a 370 rear wing and 75cm mast. This setup is my go-to for steep fast waves, carving and surf turns. I also have a 910 wing that is handy for smaller days or when the tide is moving extra fast, allowing a little extra glide and distance if you need to recover some ground.

Inside, the rivermouth was holding the swell really nicely and the banks were setting the waves up nice and steep with plenty of whitewash. The waves kept going through fat sections and re-forming into some quite steep drops, which made for some challenging but extremely fun foil waves with lots of speed. On some of these waves, I was doing all I could to just keep the foil in the water and glide into the next section. Some of the longer waves were continuing right down the river for just over a kilometer, but the steeper, surfier waves were up at the mouth. 

On one of the waves I can distinctly remember holding on for dear life and afterwards, my mate Toby, who also frequents the rivermouth, was frothing out on the speed and reckoned that if I fell I would’ve just about ruptured my eardrum. For me, the froth and stoke between mates coupled with the flow, glide and unmatchable speed of foiling is what it’s all about and keeps me coming back for more. Shout out to the local foil crew for being legends, always pushing and supporting each other through the journey! 

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