HAPPY NEW YEAR

posted by / News / January 14, 2003

What would you do if you lived on a small tropical island and the biggest storm in history was about to turn you into tossed salad? Hide! Run and Hide! Heck, yeah, you would. That’s exactly what the residents of Tikopia, Anuta and Fatutaka, in the South Pacific’s Solomon island chain did in early January when Tropical Cyclone Zoe rolled in from the north. Holding winds of an unprecedented {{{200}}} knots, this muscliest-ever of the famed South Pacific surfmakers went through the eatsern Solomons like a colossal vacuum cleaner, obliterating entire landscapes along the way. Images of the islands taken from an Australian Air Force survey airplane after Zoe’s passing showed forests and villages stripped to the bone, with what seemed like a bare handful of survivors of the estimated 1300 locals wandering along savagely eroded beachfronts. Tikopia — {{{600}}} miles east of the Solomons’ capital of Honiara, and 400 miles northwest of Fiji — is one of the Pacific’s truly remote outposts. There’s no airstrip, the only radio broke down back in October 2002, and it took several days for any help to arrive from the bankrupt Solomons Government disaster council. But when it did, amazingly, rescuers found the islanders largely safe and accounted for. “They headed up into the hills and hid in caves away from the wind,” said a spokesperson. “Islanders have been surviving cyclones out there for generations by themselves. They know what to do.” The whole thing highlighted the irony of surf-creating tropical storms: What’s destruction to one group of people is delight to another. Zoe’s southern quadrant winds provided a splendid feast of swell for the entire Australian east coast, rescuing surfers from Noosa Heads to southern NSW — 1,000 miles of coast — from their New Year’s hangovers. Gold Coast points fired like crazy, and Lennox Head was cranking, according to newly minted WCT pro recruit Luke Stedman. Like most of the Australian elite pro contingent, Stedman was on vacation, and scored at the famous northern points. “It was clean most mornings, just really good quality,” he reported.

Further south, the Central Coast and Sydney areas were hit by beautiful double-overhead surf for six days running, wearing down the thousands-strong summertime crowds and boosting already super healthy surfboard sales through the period. North Narrabeen was especially good — and surprisingly mellow for one of the nation’s tougher beach environments, according to locals Nathan Hedge and Chris Davidson. “Not everyone’s getting waves, but nobody’s being stopped from paddling out,” summed up Hedgey. Meanwhile, damage back in the Solomons will run to hundreds of thousands of dollars. And in a nicely Karmic touch, the islands will be forced to depend largely on financial aid from Australia and New Zealand to stitch up the damage. Perhaps in the circumstances, that’s the least the Aussies can do.

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