A succession of tropical cyclones moving through the South Pacific has been a boon for surfers- especially those seeking higher thrills.48 Hours reporter Dawn Picken spoke with surfers embracing storm season.
DOUG TAMAKI says he surfs most days in summer, and has been relishing the Bay of
Plenty's recent weather.
"The conditions gotta be right, but on the East Coast, we gotta take it when it comes. I've been looking forward to the storm, we should get a nice swell coming through."
The founder of Tamaki Maori Village in Rotorua says the area is central to so many surf spots, and surfers will go anywhere to catch a wave.
"If it's not happening in one area, it's happening somewhere else."
The 55-year-old says he's surfed most of his life and is grateful his team can take over when the ocean's pumping.
"We've got guys who surf among our team and it's good to see young Maori surfers. I know a lot of people in the tourism industry that surf and they manage their work around it."
It's a grey Wednesday morning when I meet Alex Dive at Backdoor surf and skate shop in Mount Maunganui. The 23-year-old surfer feeds his ocean obsession by working as a retail assistant. When he leaves work, you'll likely find him surfing his favourite not-so secret spot off Matakana Island (near the Mount).
"It's such a good wave over there. We've had heaps, like a lot, of surf. It's been really consistent since the start of January. If you were keen you could've been out there every \ single day since then."
Surfers have had more to look forward to this season, as NIWA (the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research) has predicted above average numbers of tropical cyclones for the 2015-16 season (which runs from November to April). Dive is part of a pack of surfies who live in the Bay of Plenty, chasing waves here, across the country and across the world. He has competed internationally and ridden in places known for giant swells, such as Ireland and Indonesia. But when cyclone season strikes, Dive's happy here.
"Obviously you don't want the islands to get hit too badly, but last year we had a really big one, Cyclone Pam, and it can produce some world class waves. The hard thing is where it's going to track to and what it's going to do. You just kind of pray you're going to get some good surf off it. In our backyard we've got some of the best waves in New Zealand, for sure. It's as good as it gets anywhere. We're pretty lucky to have that."
Dive says big wave surfing can be nerve-racking-and addictive.
"It's such a buzz. More and more now I need to chase something bigger and more challenging. It's not necessarily the size and height-it can be the intensity of a wave. You chase the challenge more than anything."
Travis McCoy also tracks waves when he's not teaching surfing at Mount Maunganui's Hibiscus Surf School. The 25-year-old seeks swells he tells novice surfers to avoid-the ones that follow tropical cyclones. He also favours Matakana Island, with other top spots including Raglan, Northland and near Gisborne.
He says the biggest swell he's seen is about 10 metres.
"Once or twice a year between February and [late] March we get one or two big ones."
McCoy says he regularly gets up at 3am and jet skies to Matakana Island to enter the water at first light. He understands risks, his worst injury happening in Ireland in 2014.
"I got towed into a 15ft wave. I was strapped to my board and the reef went dry because the wave sucked all the water off it. I hit the dry reef and ended up with a concussion and broken nose and two sets of stitches."
He says the injury didn't put him off chasing monster swells.
"It's the adrenalin. You get such a crazy rush out of it. If anything, it made me hungrier. I just get back out there and give it another shot."
Surf instructor Jane Alice also favours medium waves but follows more adventurous surfers into 4m swells for her photography business.
"I do it because I love being in the ocean."
She's snapped surfers in Raglan, where she used to live, as well as in Australia. Alice says she trains for hours swimming with her arms above her head so she can carry her Canon 5D in its waterproof housing.
"I've smashed it before. I slipped on rocks and it landed on top."
Alice says it's exciting to capture surfers inside a barrel wave.
Custom surfboard shaper Andy Jordan has come from his secret surfing spot near Whakatane.
"I worked yesterday [Sunday] so I could have a day off today, because we knew the swell was coming. I had a really good surf this morning."
Jordan says he's no "big wave charger", having nearly drowned in Mexico after getting caught and held underwater by big waves. Now 53, he leaves the super-sized swells to younger surfers.
"It's changed because of the equipment. Boards are better, wetsuits are better, there's better forecasting, guys can find swells and chase them. Surfers have gotten better."
However, Jordan says surfers of all abilities must know their limits.
"Mother Ocean will give you a backhand otherwise. Look how many people drown already in New Zealand."