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Surf Ed

Rocks and Reefs


As much as Australians love sandy beaches, we also love the rocks. From the 12 (now 7) Apostles in Victoria, to Remarkable Rocks on Kangaroo Island, to The Gap in Sydney, and  Shipsterns Bluff in Tasmania, there are many examples of dramatic formations that  are constantly changing due to erosion by the wind and waves.

There are also rocky reefs which extend from the coastline under  water. Because of these rocks are so stable, they reefs can create very predictable, consistent waves. A spectacular example of this can be seen in this video of Shipsterns Bluff in Tasmania thanks to Surfline:

We do far more than admire these rocks though, we gaze into their rock pools, surf off their headlands and fish from their platforms. Whatever activity you are doing, it is vitally important to stay safe around the rocks.

Exploring the Rock Pools

Children especially love gazing into rock pools and watching the marine life that exists in the inter-tidal zone. Rock pools are made when the high tide allows water to flow into the holes between rocks, then retreats back to low tide leaving a pool of water.


The rock pools are a home to many creatures such as crabs, seaweed, fish, oysters, starfish and sea snails. They are also home to some dangerous marine creatures such as the blue ringed octopus and the sea urchin. It’s very important that you don’t disturb these creatures so look but don’t touch.

Sting Stab Strike is a great kids story book  about some of the dangerous creatures that live around the Australian Coastline. Have a read online here.


Rock Fishing

Fishing from the rocks is a good way of catching some great fish but it can also be very dangerous. By taking some simple precautions you can fish safely.

Top tips for rock fishing safety:

  • Check the weather before leaving home.
  • Always wear a lifejacket.
  • Wear light clothing and appropriate footwear.
  • Always fish with a group of people.
  • If you need help, call Triple Zero (000) Emergency.
For more great tips for rock fishing and to get your own FREE rock fishing DVD visit the Safe Fishing website.


Overtopping Waves

The term ‘freak wave’ gets mentioned a lot when people get swept from a rock platform, but it is often misused. Swells arrive on the coast in regular sets of larger and smaller waves. Some of these waves are bigger than others and are simply the peak wave in the swell. These may arrive long distances apart depending on the swell, sometime 20-30 minutes! These are commonly described as the ‘freak wave’ but are simple part of the regular pattern of the swell.


It’s a long way down from here!

Many of the spectacular rock formations across Australia are so special because of their height. 100ft plus cliffs are common which also means that the risk of falling from these great heights is also quite common!

Fortunately, many of the most frequented locations now have excellent pathways, fencing and viewing platforms to give you a great view. Sometimes though, people just can’t help themselves and go closer to the edge, or worse still attempt to scale the cliffs to get to that ‘ special spot’ halfway down!

The message  is simple, stay away from cliff edges and always stick to the pathways provided.


Underwater Rocks

Not all reefs around the world are as spectacular as the Great Barrier Reef. Most are simple rocky outcrops, home to a variety of marine creatures but not nearly as much coral!

These rocky reefs sometimes reach up towards the surface from the ocean floor, which provides a relatively shallow area in the middle of the ocean. If the waves are big enough, or the water is shallow enough, this can allow the waves to break.

There are many examples of offshore reefs which regularly break allowing surfers to ride them around the world. In Australia, these reefs that occur just offshore are commonly called bomboras or bombies for short.

Case Study: The Cortes Bank

One of the most famous reef breaks in the world is the Cortes Bank which is 166km off the coast of San Diago. At its shallowest point, Bishop Rock, the water can be only 6ft deep. This reef has a long history of shipwrecks, including the aircraft carrier the USS Enterprise which ran aground on the 2nd November 1985, leaving a 40ft gash in its port side. The bank is also home to some amazing surf conditions when there are big ocean swells. Check out this video that explains how the Cortes Bank works thanks to Surfline:

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