Of giant waves and those who ride them


The Offsider, pretty pleased with himself for meeting Nathan Fletcher at Shipwreck Bay recently.

Yes, he accepts that for many readers, the name Nathan Fletcher means absolutely nothing despite being one of the most highly regarded big wave surfers in the world.

Nathan was travelling around the North Island with his grandfather, Walt Hoffman, equally respected in his time from the early days of big wave riding in Hawaii, along with Hawaiian surf shop owner, Pua Rotherman and Henry Ford, another old, big wave charger.

For The Offsider, who has been closely following the highly documented lives of the notorious Fletcher clan of California since he began surfing more than 30 years ago, it was an unforgettable moment.

He had always wondered how Nathan would prosper when, for most of his younger years, he seemed overshadowed by the exploits of older brother Christian, a heavily tattooed, heavy metal-loving bad boy who ruled the skies and the cover of many a surfing mag in the pioneering days of the aerial.

Nathan was just as hugely talented and soon came into his own. His most recent claim to fame was riding what some have called the biggest barrel in history at lethal Tahitian reefbreak Teahupoo.

He didn't quite make it but a jaw dropping image showing him about to be devoured by a massive foamball inside a tube you could literally drive an ocean liner through looked as if it had been concocted by the Weta Workshop CGI crew.

The group of visiting Californians and Hawaiians was happy to pose with a small group of locals who had recognised them while The Offsider approached with caution, not wanting to be pushy and aware he was intruding on a family moment. Thankfully, Nathan proved obliging enough throughout while being asked to pose for repeated group photos although his intimidating shimmer was ever present. Some time ago, he told one reporter he trusted while giving a rare interview that he felt more comfortable in the water than on land: "I have social anxiety a little bit."

The Offsider asked how his infamous father, Herbie was, as if he knew him, and Nathan said, "He's real good." Next question, a tad belligerent one, was why he wasn't at the Volcom Pipe Pro with the Banzai Pipe barrelling heavy at the time to which Nathan snapped straight back, "Because I'm on holiday with my granddad!" Sadly, The Offsider missed the opportunity to turn the subject to heavy metal. Nathan - like Christian - also loved the brutal musical form so surely he and The Offsider would have had a fine old time sharing their favourite tracks by Black Sabbath who they mutually admired.

Unfortunately, the group hadn't picked the best time to visit Ahipara: a totally flat ocean chopped up in a brusque easterly hardly allowed the pointbreak to show its best side.

Speaking of giant waves and those who surf them ... Shortly after putting out last Thursday's paper on Waitangi Day, The Offsider headed to Houhora to cover the major bowling tournament but put his board in the car just in case a nearby beachie was firing. He left Kaitaia smiling at the sight of the Mana Party flags flying in the warm breeze, indicating the wind direction and where it would be offshore.

After catching up with some old friends while covering the men's 4s in Houhora, the sportsbuster continued north to check out Rarawa. He was descending down the unsealed road toward the coast when a newsflash came over the radio that an earthquake had hit the Solomons and authorities eared this would generate a tsunami towards the North Cape. The public was asked to stay away from the coast while those there were being warned to remain alert and possibly prepare to be evacuated.

The Offsider wasn't sure what to do. Turn around and drive home? No way. Or, what if it was pumping and he paddled out and was out in the water when the tsunami hit? Should he try and paddle into the giant leviathan, over it or duck-dive? Maybe it would arrive as he was driving away from the beach, pursuing and then engulfing the sportsmobile before flinging it across the Rarawa foothills like a ping-pong ball. Or if the surf wasn't much cop, whether he should stay on the beach to document the impending tsunami like the fearless intrepid reporter he had always claimed to be.

In the end, all he found a hideous onshore seabreeze totally ruining any potential for decent waves and the tide acting rather weird. He gradually made his way home, hair still dry, while the threat was steadily downgraded throughout the rest of the afternoon.

Experts' final calculations were that the tsunami did eventually land that night, all 900mm of it. Which left The Offsider feeling strangely deflated.

The Offsider is Age sportsbuster, Francis Malley. Respond at sports@northlandage.co.nz

- Northland Age

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