After weeks of flooding rains, which affected five of Australia's seven states, the last thing people needed to hear from the weather man was that cyclones threatened to hit the east coast.
The destructive winds and weather created Cyclone Vania, which formed off the backside of Fiji last week. Fortunately, its path didn't threaten Australia but it's effects were felt right down its east coast over the weekend.
Vania tracked south and parallel to the coast, pumping a long-range easterly groundswell. The first taste arrived Friday morning with a bumpy four-foot easterly swell. The north facing points handled it better: Noosa, the southern points of the Gold Coast, the Pass at Byron Bay and farther south around Angourie all provided tasty waves that only improved as the days passed.
The main road link between Sydney and Brisbane was cut by flood waters on the mid-north coast of New South Wales. Joel Parkinson had driven to Sydney for an appearance at the Billabong World Pro Juniors and got stuck driving home. He was only three hours away -- in Yamba -- but it took four days, so he missed his beloved home breaks: Snapper and Kirra.
As Parko told it, nobody could get in or out of Yamba, so just a handful of locals, including Dan Ross, had the waves to themselves. "Six to eight-foot spookies with 12 people out," he told his mates late Sunday afternoon as he watched Dingo Morrison and Mick Fanning pull into six-foot pits from the Kirra lookout. Nevertheless, Parko must have had slight feelings of regret because mixed with his stories were tales of Mick Fanning scoring what he's described as one of the waves of his life.
High tide on Sunday was around 6 a.m. It's light here during the summer at about 4:30 a.m., so it had given everyone a chance to check out the conditions. Kirra looked to be the spot but unlike the rest of the Superbank it was strangely uncrowded -- maybe because it was looking fast. As soon as the tide dropped, the lineup started to fill in as people realized that Kirra had hollow, intense barrels running down the sand bank.
Former pro surfer-turned-lifeguard Scotty Wilden slotted himself into two classic Kirra pits, creating a buzz among the assembled onlookers. When Mick Fanning appeared in the lineup, the buzz intensifed. He scored a few overhead barrels before paddling into a six-foot freight train.
Fanning's nickname of "White Lightning" is more about the speed of his turns than his barrel-riding technique, but he needed every ounce of speed he could generate to get into his first barrel on this wave. He made the tube, then slowed for the next barrel, made that and dragged his arms to stall for the third cover up before putting his foot back down to make the fourth heaving lip, which looked to be a close out.
The 60 or so spectators on Kirra Hill erupted as Fanning squeezed out of the last barrel with the wave exploding around him. There was hooting and whistling coming from the packed boardwalk below and from the surfers in the water. Fanning was so elated he was still giving little fist pumps as he rode out on a friend's jet ski. The wave was 200-plus yards long and he had negotiated four separate tube sections to make it, getting barreled through each section.
The motor drive on my camera ran hot during White Lightning's wave and it wasn't until I downloaded my images later that I realized I had shot 53 frames on that single wave -- the longest single sequence I've ever shot. When I told Fanning later, he reckoned that was "ridiculous." With most waves I would have agreed, but this was no ordinary wave.
"That wave was so incredible," explained Fanning later. "Kirra has been so weird for the past few years with only one, possibly two sections along the whole wave and then when you get a wave like that one -- I'm still amped! I was frothing on the first section, then I thought to myself, 'This thing's not going to stop!' It just kept going and going. It all happened so fast, but it has to be one of the great waves of my life."
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology tells us that the Monsoon Trough is one of the most active for years and the sea water around northern Australia is abnormally warm due to the La Niña conditions in the Pacific Ocean. Cyclone Vania has broken up but we've got Cyclone Zella making its way down the coast following a similar track. Two cyclones back to back have the old-timer's tongues wagging claiming we're in for a surf season similar to those of the 1970s. If we continue to get easterly swells and the points keep firing the way they did over the weekend, we might be able to say that Kirra is back.