East Coast: June 2007 Meltdown

30 Aug 2007 0 Share

By Ben Horvath

Moff stalling for the inevitable pit section at Ours in June.

Moff stalling for the inevitable pit section at Ours in June.


June 2007 - The new benchmark.

The month that wiped out a cliché.

“It was so much better back in the day” has now been temporarily retired.

<b><i>“You should have been here yesterday.” “Only a surfer knows the feeling.” Or “It was so much better back in the day.” All of the above are probably the most common tribal clichés we surfers use.</b></i><br>

Every surfer, no matter what age, race or gender has had one of the above three most overused tribal clichés, whispered, barked or slurred to them, depending on the venue the conversation took place.

Whilst chilling at the local watering hole, talking up the weeks waves over a few ales with some mates, you have probably had to grit your teeth and grin through the odd, “You Shoulda been here yesterday” call from one of your smart arse homies who noticed you were absent (without a note from your mum) from the standout session of the week at your favourite beachie, Point or reefbreak.

Similarly you’ve no doubt also encountered a few “shoulda been here yesterday” digs when you’ve pulled into the carpark at your home beach, or even when travelling up or down the coast when you front up a day after the swell peaked, the wind shifted, or a bank moved etc.

Worse still, some pissed kook may have even bailed you up at a nightclub and tried to out cool (whilst you cringe) you by busting an “Only a surfer knows the feeling” presumptuously assuming you don’t even partake in a paddle. Ouch!

On the other side of the coin you may very well of been guilty of letting rip with the occasional “Only a surfer knows the feeling” yourself when trying to explain what it’s like to be lost in a deep time tunnel when talking to relo’s or non surfing work crew at a family bash, or after work drink.

Of course all of the above examples are kind of tolerable when you take the circumstances into consideration etc, (unless you’re trying to tune a cool inner city Goth chic or something)

It was better back in the day.

Cloey Bombie on fire.

Cloey Bombie on fire.

The one catch cry, or cliché that can make us all run for the hills though is the old - “It was so much better back in the day call.” That one pretty much always leads to a conversation no one really wants to have 1 - unless it’s late and your rapping with the old barney with the best bush buds in town, or 2 - if he or she is a lucid legend with total beach cred and they really know their shit. (Then and only then is that convo worth having.)

In most instances though, it’s usually your cue to go get another drink or to split to the dunny (anything to get away from the old sea lions who talk it up just because they can, or because they’re thriving on the fact that you weren’t there.)

That is until now, June 2007 has changed all that. The only cliché applicable if you were away, or out of town in June 07 is “You missed it."

(To see the surf reports for June, checkout June Surf Report Archive)

June 2007 has set a new benchmark for contemporary surfers.

Why? Well as I said above, just in case you have been under a rock, or MIA, June 07 was an incredible month of waves on a large stretch of The East Coast (Particularly the Ballina to Bega slice of NSW.) A new benchmark has undoubtedly been set. All of a sudden, quite paradoxically it is cool to respect and listen to the old crusty sea dogs when they talk about May 1974 and beyond.

The most positive by product of the temporary retirement of the “It was better back in the day” cliché is that as a result of all the swell in June 07, younger crew can chime in and say,” Nothing could beat June 07 though surely.”

Respect.

Respect for the commitment, skill and go for it attitude.

Respect for the commitment, skill and go for it attitude.

 Nth Bra off its head.

Nth Bra off its head.

The banks at Tama in June were as good as they get.

The banks at Tama in June were as good as they get.

Consequently, all of a sudden respect is back in vogue. Younger and older surfers in the tribe are talking; comparing notes and have their eyes back on the main game - IE nature, the elements and waves.

Of course the fact is it’s always been cool to respect, listen and learn to our tribal elders at grass roots local beach level, especially of course if he or she is a lucid legend with genuine cred that really knows their shit.

However, somewhere in amongst all the blatant commercialism of surf company marketing, – product sell through and contest results were given precedence over natures moods, surf conditions and the broad subject of respect in much of today’s surf media. It’s also glaringly obvious that they don’t teach respect at too many of the scores of surf schools popping up all over the coast, but I digress.

One thing a month of big swell teaches us all, like it or not, is Respect. Respect for the oceans power. Respect for nature, the fragility of our beaches and the environment. Respect for your elders and the pecking order at your local Point or big wave reef. Respect for the crew that take the drop and pull in on the bomb sets, and last but not least, self respect. Respect for your body and the physical conditioning required to even paddle out on double or triple overhead days.

Mark Mathews exiting tube 2023 for the year.

Mark Mathews exiting tube 2023 for the year.

I know when I was a grom in the late 70’s and early 80’s respect was the key to getting waves in the first place. If you had respect for your elders, and you earned a little bit as a result of your wave choice, paddling wide of the break, waiting your turn etc, you were eventually given waves and slowly earn’t your place in the pecking order, based on a combination of both your wave riding skill and respect for local elders.

You learnt about where to paddle out from older crew, how to read a weather map, where to go in what wind and swell direction, as well as what board will perform best when you get there. If you learnt how to pack and punch a decent cone you might of even have scored a lift down the coast to a new break.

These days a pimply faced truant on a dept store home brand esky, or a 12 year old in the A – class that mistakenly took surfing for sport, might just paddle deeper than you at your local break. He may also look at you like you’re the weirdo, wondering why your growling at him like a deranged dog.

That didn’t happen in June 07. Instead as mentioned above, there was a welcome air of respect back in the air.

Respect for Koby, Mark, Rich, Wayno, Moff and a whole Lota the other younger Bra crew they’re training up to charge morgue death barrels at ours. Respect for Terra who was charging 10ft back peak Island on his own at low tide on Wed the 27th. Respect for Dylan who charged Reddies, The zone and countless other reefs at the height of the swell.

Even more respect should go to all the underground crew – you know The Michael Mackie’s down at Ulladulla, Jason Gava’s at Sandon, Victor Levitts and Jason Garling’s at Deadmans or Queenie Bombie. The Steve Austen’s or Michael Crisp’s at Cronulla Point, and the hundreds or perhaps thousands of other similar crew who dodge the crowds and the cameras right up and down the coast in their life long search for drainpipes.

Respect too goes out to the forecasters who have been around and acquired the knowledge, and are now sharing it with the next gen. Crew who can compare May 74, to June 83, July 01, April 06 and now June 07.

Respect goes out to those who want to learn how to take the drop, pull into a big bomb when it’s their turn, and also want to understand more to read about meteorology.

The waves.

Nielsen Park deep in Sydney Harbour was surfable 3 or 4 days in June

Nielsen Park deep in Sydney Harbour was surfable 3 or 4 days in June

A combination of factors contributed to the reality that June 07 will be remembered as one of - if not the most consistent month of waves ever.

Firstly, the normally consistent month of May was abysmal on the East coast. WA, SA Vicco and Tassie were drenched in consistent high quality surf during May, whilst on the east coast of oz the normally magnificent month of May was pitiful. Respected, experienced observers had no hesitation in calling it the worst May in memory. Some like former Cronulla based touring pro and multiple Australian champ Glen Pringle had no hesitation in calling May 07 in Sydney the worst he has ever seen. Glens been surfing for 35 of his 40 years.

The prolonged flat spell was due to a series of large high pressure systems lodging themselves in the Tasman during May according to Coastalwatch head forecaster Ben Macartney. Ben said,” A long wave trough near WA formed. All the southern ocean storms tracked up into WA and SA, before being deflected SE towards Tassie by the blocking highs in the Tasman.”

An intense series of low pressure systems generated large swells for the southern states in May, but the blocking highs kept those lows away from the East coast’s swell window until all hell broke loose on Friday June 8 when that now famous first East coast low intensified off the Hunter on Friday June 8.

Whilst on Friday the onshore SE winds limited surfable options to breaks inside Botany Bay, Port Hacking or Newcastle Harbour, on the weekend winds eased a little and shifted more Sth and so began an unprecedented three week period of consistent sizeable surf in Sydney and surrounds.

There were three highly publicised East coast lows that bombarded the coast with 8ft+ waves within 14 days. There were also two other lows that slipped off down the coast a little, generating less publicity, but delivering arguably cleaner 6-7ft + swells.

 Very sizey highly surfable Cronulla beachbreak late June

Very sizey highly surfable Cronulla beachbreak late June

There were in fact 8 separate low pressure systems that penetrated Sydney’s swell window in June (that is if you include the small to medium Sth that hit on June 1 and 2. That’s an unbelievable average of two low pressure systems a week sending swells our way.

A whopping 510.6mm of rain fell on Sydney, making it the second wettest June on record. There were 16 rain days, and only 140 hours of sunshine out of a possible 300. The average maximum temperature of just 16.8 degrees was the coldest June in 18 years. All of the above can of course be attributed to the series of east coast lows that also delivered the epic waves.

Cape Solander broke more days in June than it did in 2006. Deadmans a notoriously fickle big wave broke on several occasions. Sandon, Reddies and too many Sth coast reefs to mention broke more times in June than they have in the last 12 months.

Old school Sydney big wave proving grounds like Dee Why Point and Cronulla Point pumped for days on end in June. (Remember the old Peter Simons, Dave Shaw, Peter Crawford, Channon and Attion shots in Steve Core’s Surf, Tracks and SW.) It was like that all over again.

Kurt Jacobs reckons he enjoyed a couple of the biggest, most perfect days at North Steyne in a decade on Sunday and Monday the 17th and 18th. Sth Narra too was all time. Tommy Whits was on the record claiming Tama’s outer banks were the best they had ever been on Wednesday the 27th and Thursday the 28th of June. Tommy and Azza Graham turned a lot of heads with there surfing on both those days.

Zahn Foxton and Matty Bemrose scored some uncrowded size at Dontals on Wednesday the 27th whilst Terepai Richmond and Fletch Haylar were amongst the standouts at Cronulla Point.

I could go on and one about Paul Morgan and Dean Bowen charging solid “Hammerheads” on Sunday the 24th, or how good Lennox and Sth Straddie were on more than half a dozen occasions, but by now I think everyone gets the picture.

June 07 is the new benchmark. The scale of beach erosion is comparable to May 74. In the coming years as climate change becomes more and more pronounced, brace yourself for more and more extreme weather events. Whilst on a human and earth preservation level it is sad and scary, from a surfers self interest angle it’s going to be a wild ride.

East Coast Lows - Brave new world or yesterday's news?

The Pasha parked at Nobbys.

The Pasha parked at Nobbys.

Mike Perry a forecaster at Coastalwatch is one such respected elder who took the time to share some of his wealth of experience in analysing weather related variables and how they affect the oceans moods. Mike kindly prepared this piece to run with this review of June 07.

For those of us with an interest in things meteorological, the spate of East Coast lows in June 07 may be surprising. If you own a ship that was parked on Nobby’s' Beach, Newcastle, it was probably more of a piss-off than an interesting surprise.

In fact, the phenomenon wherein a single, relatively small but highly intense Low pressure cell just seems to pop up off the East coast is not uncommon at all. It's just been on a long holiday; only returning now and again to say 'hello'.

Back in the mid to late 1970's East Coast Lows were the source of many of the best swells to be had in winter on the Gold Coast and Northern New South Wales points.

Storms would form up between Coffs Harbour and the South Coast of NSW and drift slowly North for a while before stopping well offshore and winding up into real little monsters. They often had very little weather associated with them, (unless you were out at sea), and were usually accompanied by strong offshore winds along the beaches.

 The paddle out at Cronulla Point on some days had to be timed very carefully or you were duckdiving slabs

The paddle out at Cronulla Point on some days had to be timed very carefully or you were duckdiving slabs

It was very common to look in a newspaper and see a perfectly round, tight fisted low, black with isobars, sitting off the lower Mid North Coast for days at a time. Occasionally rain inland would hit flood levels and deepwater groundswell would eventually wind onto the Gold Coast point breaks.

Perfect weather and flawless offshore winds were a given. It was a golden time. Often Sydney profited too. Then, it stopped. Well pretty much stopped anyway.

For decades now, many of the wiser members of the meteorological family in Oz have been saying that the end of the '70's marked the start of 'less than normal weather ' on our East coast. Time has proven these blokes to be correct as we've had nothing like the weather that came through the place in the 60's and 70's. This means general weather, including cyclones and East Coast lows too.

That means that three generations of surfers in Australia haven't even seen a 'normal' year. Think about that for a minute. It hasn't been flat but it sure hasn't been as good as the old guys always say it was. There's a reason. They're right. It has been weaker. Oh sure there have been some nasty weather events but no exciting, gnarly weather for days and even weeks on end; season after season, now has there?

This is a related mainly to the Great Ocean Conveyor Belt which is a deepwater system, slowly circulating around the entire globe and subtly controlling the entire major weather systems through its longer term influence on the atmosphere. until relatively recent times, this wasn't even known about, although its influence was certainly there to be seen as an effect.

When these systems' actual cycles are finally determined we'll likely discover that they influence our weather patterns in roughly 20 year periods.

And bear in mind that this is not an El Nino or La Nina event either. These occur in much shorter cycles and La Ninas may only add to the effect when they're present.

It appears to many that we exited the calmer weather scenario late in Australia in the very late 1990's and are now heading full steam into a fifteen to twenty year period of more 'normal' or more frequent severe weather. This has nothing to do with climate change, (although that may very well have additional effects).

There is evidence to show that this return is in effect now and the 4 or 5 lows might be part of the new/older weather pattern which we should now expect and prepare for. This point is key because, in the 20 years or so that the weather was mellower, much construction has occurred along our Eastern marine coastal interface.

That's BEACHES for those of us interested in plain English. This has implications for insurance and lifesaving as well. Big implications.

So get yourselves ready and if you think that old gangster at your home beach is tripping when he goes on about 'the good old days'; you'd better have a listen, because when the shit really comes down, he's going to be the only person around who'll actually know the right places to paddle out at. After all, he probably learned from a guy who was there before him. A guy who was there when things were...normal.

How East Coast Lows develop.

A typical synoptic of an ECL forming off the East Coast

A typical synoptic of an ECL forming off the East Coast

Darrell Strauss is another senior forecaster at Coastalwatch.com. Darrell made the Following observations about the spate of East Coast lows in June 07.

The sand trashed the prom and the skate ramp at Bondi.

The sand trashed the prom and the skate ramp at Bondi.

East coast lows often develop following upper level troughs over eastern Australia. The intensification of the trough and adjacent areas of strong high pressure drives the rapid development of the low.

While destructive when forming near the coast with gale force winds and heavy rainfall they can be a blessing for surfers when they form or move offshore. June is the most common time of year for ECL's and while usually only lasting a few days, a pattern of similar atmospheric conditions will often produce repeat appearances.

Extreme beach erosion is often related to a series of events like this rather than just a single event because the outer storm bar has little chance to return shoreward and build before the next round of high wave energy.

(To see the surf reports for June, checkout June Surf Report Archive)

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