Rowing into the path of a behemoth
SO there he was, The Offsider, as the winter sports season reared up before him like a behemoth on Saturday. It felt a bit like being in a rowboat only to realise you are sitting right in the path of an ocean liner suddenly emerging out of thick sea mist.
Both domestic league and club rugby began last weekend, seemingly getting under way earlier every year, and it could be seen in the lack of preparation shown by some clubs as players marched reluctantly across the line dividing summer and winter. (Thankfully football administrators had the good grace to stick to tradition and wait until after Easter).
Several games had an early start to allow players to get away for the Six60 competition at Toll Stadium at Whangarei. The massive popularity of the band truly bewildered The Offsider: really, hadn’t anything been learned from the Kaitaia MetalFest in May last year?
The players would have at least been somewhat grateful for the relatively soft grounds this early in the season, thanks to all the rain from La Nina which had made for such a poor imitation of summer. Grey skies the norm, you could literally watch the grass grow while enjoying coffee on the back doorstoop, accompanied by a home invasion of giant black crickets, while praying mantis settled on the lace curtains. Out in the laundry, Smokey the Housecat sat patiently in front of a washing machine for days, waiting for a field mouse to come out.
The news on the radio was reporting cauliflower was going for $10 a head, with the market gardeners’ crops left to rot in sodden fields. Same thing seemed to be happening to the surf on the west coast; warmer water temperatures decaying budding lows which the neighbourhood pointbreak relied upon for decent swell from the inside out.
Hopefully, the trend is set to change later this week thanks to what was described as the largest single storm on the planet forming in the Southern Ocean over the weekend. If the modelling is correct the storm will span almost 4000km north to south, with a pressure drop potentially bottoming out at 935hPa (Hola in comparison only managed 950hPa). May not be exactly welcomed by the sellout crowd of 1000 surfcasters hitting Ninety Mile for the pointy end of the Snapper Bonanza, nor the sailors crossing the Southern Ocean in the Volvo Ocean Race.
Local surfers, meanwhile, may have to contend with a bit more than big seas according to various recent shark alerts on Facebook: “One saw the fins pop out and cruise. The other saw it breach and munch a shag that was swimming around . . . Said it was a good size and had a good head on it.” One chap “saw one” while out at Waipapakauri Ramp earlier this month, another said three white pointers had been cruising around Houhora Harbour for the past couple of weeks like they owned the joint, and yesterday, someone noted there had been a “sighting of a 3.5m great white” at Whatuwhiwhi. Shark scares rule, okay.
Overseas, the men’s and women’s championship tours of the 2018 World Surfing League got off to a cracking start on the Gold Coast last week. The Quiksilver and Roxy Pro contests are run during cyclone season when the famed right points are expected deliver. The place has gained a bit of a reputation for turning on in the past, but only on either side of the event window in a cruel case of Murphy’s Law. Not this time but. The first four days went down at nearby Snapper Rocks, which held a hint of The Offsider’s local break in the setup, allowing him to mind-surf many of the inside waves those in the two-/three-man heats left unmolested.
The swell picked up for finals day last Wednesday and the organisers shifted proceedings to Kirra. She may not have been as good as those days of lore but it was still pretty bonkers, with Julian Wilson N Australia beating Ace Buchan G Australia in a heaving mutant sanddredging kegfest. Other standouts included two rookies, A) Griffin Colapinto scoring the only 10 for pulling into three deep barrels on the one wave on finals day, and, B) giantkiller Mikey Wright N Australia claiming the scalp of two world champions during the week, current titleholder John John Florence N Hawaii and Gabriel Medina G Brazil. Also nice to see Taranaki’s Paige Hareb return to the women’s tour, although she looked a little out of her depth and was gone by round 2.
The Offsider rated the event 7.5/10 but if Kirra had shown a fraction more of the form which had seen it come to be regarded as one of the seven wonders of the surfing world, he could have easily gone higher. It was almost enough to forgive La Nina for the way she’s been acting lately. The circus now heads to Bells in Torquay at the end of the month. Exciting. ■ The Offsider is Age sportsbuster Francis Malley. Respond at [email protected]landage.co.nz
BLUE FLAMES: Sally Fitzgibbons draws a bead on barrelling Kirra during the semi-finals of the Roxy Pro Gold Coast.