Long, hollow, bullet-fast point surf located in southern Queensland, Australia, near the New South Wales border; an on-again off-again marvel, depending on how the sand has arranged itself along the point. Remembered, today, mostly for how well it broke in the 1970s and '80s. "Kirra is a barrel, a keg, a spitting pit," longtime Kirra local and former world champion Wayne Bartholomew explains. "That's all it is."
The word "Kirra," which refers to the surf break and the surrounding neighborhood, is an aboriginal term for "gathering place." The Coral Sea cyclone season (December through March) generally brings the most consistent surf, but the winter months (May through August) can produce bigger waves along with steady offshore winds. Four to six feet is the ideal size. In its heyday, the wave at Kirra was divided into three sections of diminishing intensity—Big Groyne, the Point, and Little Groyne, as set from the top of the point to the bottom—and on bigger swells it was possible to link all three into a 300-yard-long ride; top surfers could ride inside a funneling sand-bottom Kirra tube for 10, 15, even 20 seconds at a time.
While Queensland's balmy subtropical weather was an added bonus, enormous crowds—up to 200 surfers at a time—more often than not made Kirra one of the most frenzied and frustrating surf breaks in the world, and a dangerously shallow impact zone regularly sent riders to the beach (or the hospital) with sprained limbs and wrenched backs.
Members of the 1917-founded Kirra Surf Lifesaving Club began riding waves at the base of Kirra Point in the '20s, and the break remained the focal point of Queensland surfing in the decades ahead. The Kirra Surfriders Club was founded in 1962; the first surf contest held at Kirra was the inaugural Queensland state titles in 1964. Famous among Australian surfers for years, Kirra was mostly unheard of internationally until it was featured in Alby Falzon's popular 1972 surf movie Morning of the Earth, which showed local ace Michael Peterson—still regarded by most as the greatest Kirra surfer of all time—dashing across a series of aquamarine Kirra walls.
While Kirra hit peak form a few times each season, occasionally a cyclone—or cluster of cyclones—produced a memorable long run of perfect surf. In April and May of 1972, Kirra turned on for nearly six consecutive weeks; the 1975 Queensland titles were held in flawless eight-foot Kirra tubes during the middle of a two-week swell; 1982's Cyclone Abigail produced 10 consecutive days of excellent surf.
Top local riders at Kirra over the years included Graeme Black, national champions Keith Paull and Peter Drouyn, Wayne Deane, three-time national champion Michael Peterson, world champions Peter Townend, Wayne Bartholomew, Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson and Stephanie Gilmore, and pro tour standouts Joe Engel, Michael Barry and Dean Morrison. In the mid- '90s and early 2000s Kirra was often the site of an annual Queensland-based world pro tour contest; winners of the event included world champions Kelly Slater and Sunny Garcia.
In 2001, in an attempt to restore natural sand flow patterns and to make the river more navigable for marine vessels, a sand dredging operation commenced at the mouth of the Tweed River, about a mile south of Kirra. Sand was pumped around a headland and aimed down the point. The enormous sand buildup more or less buried the wave at Kirra (along with two or three lesser breaks), while creating the aptly named Superbank, which started just below the headland. Superbank produced an occasionally mind-boggling wave that was longer, easier to ride, and in places nearly as hollow as Kirra, but with nowhere near Kirra's fierce power.
Beginning in the 2010s, local surf groups began campaigning to restore the surf at Kirra, and have at succeeded in reducing the amount of sand pumped south out of Tweed River. Kirra hasn't exactly been restored, but it comes alive on occasion (mid-March, 2013, saw the best surf there in more than 12 years), and locals hope that with more fine-tuning the break will continue its comeback.
Kirra was featured in Great Waves (1998), a cable TV series produced by Opper Films, and has appeared in more than 50 surf films and videos over the years, including Tubular Swells (1977), Surf Into Summer (1987), Cyclone Fever (1994), Snuff (1999), and Montaj (2002). Kirra was listed by Surfing magazine in 1981 as one of the "Ten Best Waves in the World"; a 1997 issue of Australia's Surfing Life listed it as one of "Ten Waves Every Surfer Should Ride."
In 2012, the entire point, from Kirra to Superbank, along with nearby Burleigh Head, was listed as a National Surfing Reserve