Row­ing into the path of a be­he­moth

The Northland Age - - Sport -

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

PIC­TURE / WORLD SURF LEAGUE / CESTARI

BLUE FLAMES: Sally Fitzgib­bons draws a bead on bar­relling Kirra dur­ing the semi-fi­nals of the Roxy Pro Gold Coast.

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