The Coffs Harbour Masters boat crew struggled with the rough seas at Kurrawa.
The Coffs Harbour Masters boat crew struggled with the rough seas at Kurrawa.

Tough seas on coast hard to handle

LOCAL competitors at the Australian Surf Lifesaving Championships have told the tale of just how tough the conditions at Kurrawa Beach were.

None of the Coffs Harbour surfboat crews made it to the finals but the tales they’ve told show that merely surviving was a greater priority at times than trying to get to the finish line as quickly as possible.

When the Masters crews arrived on Tuesday night they thought the surf was more messy than dangerous but as competition on Wednesday morning progressed surf conditions deteriorated with the wind picking up and swinging to on-shore.

To make matters worse the tide dropped and the swell began to increase in size. This combination produced a savage shore break and saw waves breaking on the gate cans which were more than a couple of hundred metres out to sea.

The shore break played havoc with race starts and it wasn’t unusual for more than half of the surfboat fields to be upside down in the break at any one time.

If a crew made it through the first break unscathed then they still had to negotiate the second break where the waves were larger still, at least they had a bit of water under them though.

The campaign of Coffs Harbour SLSC’s 220 year crew was over pretty much as soon as it began.

The crew got off the beach well but were engulfed by a dumping wave before they could get any real speed up. With pumps going flat out to empty the boat they desperately struggled to correct their direction as wave after wave smashed into them in the shore break. By the time the crew cleared the shore break to make it into the relative safety of the gutter between the two breaks the rest of the field had already cleared the next break and it was going to be a futile exercise to try and catch them. Rather than risk damaging bodies and equipment the crew returned to shore with their Kurrawa dreams dashed.

When the club’s 180 year crew were ready to start, the starter had reverted to using a good old fashioned shot gun so that it could be heard over the thundering surf.

Having won their first heat the crew decided that the best way to attack their next race was to forget about the other crews, simply making it out and back again safely was considered the smartest move because if they managed to do that there was a fair chance that they would progress to the next round.

These words were easier said than done though.

In their semi-final the 180s were forced to stop in the first break and wait until the waves had subsided enough to make it through. Once they had safely negotiated the first break they then climbed over a couple of large waves several hundred metres out to sea before arriving at the turning buoys with only one other crew in front of them.

On turning their buoy, a huge set of waves started to roll through and there was little option but to take the first one coming. Unfortunately the crew didn’t have a great deal of speed and having just come out of the turn the wave just picked them up and threw them sideways.

Sweep Deane Crockett was flung into the water leaving the crew to regroup and then row back and pick him up. With Crockett back on board the crew again headed for shore only to be picked up by another large wave which saw the sweep thrown from the boat once again.

The Thursday morning saw another increase in swell size and though there were no Coffs crews competing that day no-one were going to miss watching the carnage that was bound to take place that day.

Those looking for action weren’t disappointed.

The savage surf was just throwing these nine-metre-long craft into the air while crew members tried to hang on or looked for a soft place to land.

Boaties are a tough lot and will not normally admit defeat to the surf but pretty soon it became obvious that it was only a matter of time before someone was seriously hurt.

Several meetings of sweeps were held where it was resolved to ask carnival organisers to move the event to a safer beach.

The competitor’s pleas fell on deaf ears, however, which in turn lead to the surf boat rowers refusing to start until the matter was resolved.

Eventually one area was closed down while racing continued in the second area. Shortly after, racing was concluded for the day with all remaining races to be transferred to North Kirra beach on Friday.

The tragedy of the loss of a young competitor’s life made all of the North Coast Branch competitors thankful because it so easily could’ve been one of them.

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