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The Bittersweet Arrival Of A Cyclone Swell

From a dark cloud of calamity emerges a swell like no other. This is the story of Cyclone Gabrielle …

It’s a bittersweet tale for the surf community. While Cyclone Gabrielle tore communities apart throughout the North Island, days later its swell brought communities together.

The ominous sight of Cyclone Gabrielle, and it’s possible paths, did little to ease the pit of gloom in the stomachs of those in the firing line. And every surfer knew the unusually high water temperatures around New Zealand’s coastline were like fuel to the cyclone’s ire.

On Tuesday morning news emerged that a house had fallen off a hillside in Muriwai. We were watching Northland and the Coromandel battle the giant weather system, so it came as a surprise to hear the West Coast of Auckland had been hit so hard, too.

Paul Moretti is one of New Zealand’s best surfers and an absolute champion of a character. I soon learned that his house had also collapsed.

Paul’s home lying at the base of the hill in Muriwai with all his belongings destroyed inside. Photo: Paul Moretti

“Things are pretty surreal up here,” he told me with his voice shaking. “We are okay, we are safe – we managed to get out about half an hour before it happened. Everything is gone. It’s gutting but we are safe and well, which is the main thing.”

Paul Moretti. Photo: Derek Morrison

Weighing heavily on Paul’s mind at the time was his friend, firefighter Craig Stevens, who was lying in a hospital bed in critical condition after being caught in a landslide. Fellow firefighter Dave van Zwanenberg was missing. Muriwai is a small coastal community where everyone knows and helps each other.

Paul, who works at nearby building company, didn’t have contents insurance and has lost all his belongings. He tells me how he had to line up at WINZ to get emergency funds to buy new undies.

“I never thought I’d ever be doing that,” he tells me.

Later news comes in that Craig Stevens’ has passed away, leaving behind his wife, Lucy, and two young sons.

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