Nick Carroll: The Holidays That Never Were

9 Jan 2020 1 Share

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer

Kurt Nyholm with Toby Martin at the Surfers Unite to Fight Suicide event in 2019, which Nyholm organised. Photo: Surfline

Kurt Nyholm with Toby Martin at the Surfers Unite to Fight Suicide event in 2019, which Nyholm organised. Photo: Surfline

COASTALWATCH | NICK CARROLL

Surf shop owner Kurt Nyholm is part of a community trying to recover from too much all at once

A small handful of craft from David Ford’s amazing board hoard did survive, but not on his property.

They’re hanging from the walls of Akwa Surf surfshop in Milton, just outside Ulladulla — borrowed by shop owner Kurt Nyholm, to buttress some pieces from Kurt’s own collection.

“It’s just good to feel the history,” Kurt tells CW, sounding a bit like David himself.

Kurt’s a lifelong Ulladulla surfer who’s managed to turn his passion into a life and a good little business. He is welded into the community.

SEE ALSO: Here Are a Bunch of Ways You Can Help Our Coastal Communities During this Bushfire Crisis

He’s seen other fires in the area, including one a few years back when a helicopter pilot died after his aircraft’s water scoop was stuck in a tree. “But the longevity of these ones, the lifespan, that’s the biggest worry.”

The fires in his area began over a month ago. They quickly took over a dozen houses on the fringes of Milton, including Kurt’s ex-in-laws’ place. Then went, and came, and went, and came, and got worse.

In the Christmas break, when everything exploded, “It was like Mordor. Red skies, fireballs, and noisy, incredibly noisy. People were building bunkers in the sand dunes.” He praises the RFS and their heroic efforts, yet says at the same time, it was all too little too late. Or the fire was just too much.

Kurt tells story after story. About Laurie Andrews, Mollymook Longboards legend, who died in his car by the side of the road. About big wave aficionado Elliot Marshall, who found himself fighting to try to save a family home with relatives. They ran out of water and thought, well that’s that, when two guys pulled up with trucks and water tanks. The pair weren’t RFS — they were just local crew who had the tanks and went out looking for people to help. They worked together and ended up saving the home.

Going out to salvage after the fire had passed, he says, “the sights were hideous. Fried livestock. Things I wouldn’t want my younger children seeing. They’re not ready for that.”

Now comes another kind of reckoning. This was a time of year many South Coast towns rely on for an economic boost, as people come down in their tens of thousands for holidays. That boost is eagerly awaited by everyone: bottle shops, real estate agents, restaurants, gift shops, and yep, even surf shops.

But there were no holidays, and many of those businesses were stranded with huge stocks, which they’ll now find impossible to sell. The evacuees have all gone, and Milton, usually a vibrant little town that thrives on the Chrissy-New Year break, is almost empty. “Right now it’s like a cold day in July,” says Kurt.

It’s a picture being repeated up and down the fire zone of southern NSW and north-eastern Vicco.

Kurt says that in his case, the surf brands are putting up their hands to help, but, “I don’t think they fully understand what’s gone on here. Towns have lost 80% of their housing.

“We’re having people walking in here having lost everything. Smoke dust still on their faces.”

One surfer came in for a pair of boardies, and told Kurt it was the first day in three weeks he hadn’t had to defend his home. “The anxiety. It’s exhausting. You don’t know what or where it’ll hit next.”

Akwa has received a unique boost from local resident and legendary fire survivor Turia Pitt. Two weeks ago, Turia was eight months pregnant in a town without a maternity ward, re-living the worst experience of her life. Rather than simply freak out or flee, she began a campaign on social media to highlight local businesses. She calls it @spendwiththem and the first business she highlighted was Kurt’s.

He hopes the sentiment behind Turia’s campaign takes hold, and suggests buying vouchers for use at local businesses for use by displaced locals.

Looking from outside this ravaged zone, a surfer’s first instinct might be to help people back into the water. Maybe an emergency board donation, or 300? But when CW raises this with Kurt, he sounds like other crew we’ve talked to in the area — a bit fried to think about that right now. “The guys here need clothing, toothbrushes, little things,” he says. “As they go on they’ll find more and more things they need. Maybe then, a board for someone who’s lost one might be good.”

Then again, at times like these, possessions tend to take on different value.

“A lot of guys are doing a stocktake of their lives right now. Family and friends first. You can do without that 60-inch TV.” He laughs, that familiar black-humoured Australian laugh. “Well, till ya sit down in front of it that is."

Kurt Nyholm shredding at the Surfers Unite to Fight Suicide event in 2019. Photo: Surfline

Kurt Nyholm shredding at the Surfers Unite to Fight Suicide event in 2019. Photo: Surfline

Read Part 1 in this ongoing series: They're All History Now, The Story of 300 Lost Surfboards

Read Part 2 in this ongoing series: The Storm Front, Mallacoota Local Dale Winward's Perspective

Read Part 4 in this ongoing series: A southerly saved Phil Macca’s town. But what now?

Stay tuned to CW for more stories from surfers who’ve felt the heat of these flames. In the meantime, we'd like to encourage everyone to donate, if they can, to the following organisations:

Australian Red CrossThe NSW Rural Fire ServiceThe CFAWIRES, or register to give blood if donating money or items isn't a viable option for you.

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