Remembering the Santa swell

The late Geoff Potter shot this beautiful pic of the glory of the Fina swell.

Apropos of nothing, a friend asked me the other day if I remembered the Christmas Day swell of 2011. Well, how could you forget it!

At the time I was doing a dawn report of the Noosa points for Swellnet and my early check revealed something that I wish we’d seen more of over the past couple of seasons. Of course we knew that swell was coming but nothing had quite prepared me for the corduroy lines to the horizon I saw as I drove up Park Road.

I walked out to the Boiling Pot lookout and saw Tea Tree at double overhead with only a few out, and the lines holding their power to the Pot and lining out perfectly through Nationals. The swell, the winds and the sand seemed to be perfectly aligned, with First Point immaculate at overhead plus on the sets, peeling close off the point and lining up for a racetrack section through the middle that ended in front of the surf club.

I made haste home, quickly filed my report and hit it back to First Point in time to find my friend Ray Smith, recently arrived from Los Angeles to make a home in Noosa, staring in disbelief as the tidal surge splashed the wall in front of Sails, then ran out across the sand and into the bay. Casing the quickest paddle route, we waited for the next surge, then ran down the beach as it receded and paddled straight into the break with our hair dry.

This was going to be a day to remember.

Because the 10th anniversary of the TC Fina swell is coming up, and because, despite the conflicting predictions from the meteorologists and swell gurus, I have a good feeling about this summer’s swell potential, and because I couldn’t find any of my lineup shots from that morning, I decided to do a bit of homework on Fina.

On 18 December, the Tropical Cyclone Warning Centre in Brisbane reported that a tropical low had developed within the South Pacific convergence zone, to the southeast of Port Moresby, in Papua New Guinea. Over the next few days the low moved towards the south-southwest under the influence of a weak upper ridge of high pressure in an area of weak vertical wind shear. On 20 December, the US Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Centre in Hawaii issued a Tropical Cyclone Formation Alert on the system.

During the next day TCWC Brisbane reported the low had become a category one tropical cyclone and named it Fina during the next day. However, as soon as Fina was named, it started weakening as an upper-level trough of low pressure moving through eastern Australia. Late on 22 December, the JTWC cancelled its alert while TCWC Brisbane reported Fina had degenerated into an extratropical cyclone, and predicted that “over the next few days Cyclone Fina will develop storm force winds and produce dangerous surfing conditions in southeast Queensland over the Christmas holiday”.

These are the phrases that surfers love to hear, but the drums were beating loud that Santa was bringing waves to the points, and that probably meant huge crowds, savage rips and sweeps and strong winds. And yet, on Christmas morning what did we see? The points as close to perfect as you’ll ever see in a cyclone-generated swell.

I’m not saying Fina was the classic Noosa swell. It was short-lived for a start, and I remember driving all night from Canberra in early 1972 for one that gifted us five or six glorious days, think it was TC Daisy. And who could forget TC Roger in ’93!

What I am suggesting is that I have rarely seen the planets align so perfectly as they did that Christmas morning a decade ago. I was old even then, but I can still remember some seemingly endless drops and long beautiful walls to weave across. Being younger, the friend who got me onto this track the other day can recall deep barrels on the outer bays. Ah, memories.

If we get blessed this summer you won’t be able to park and you won’t get a wave to yourself. But bugger it, I’m going to putt putt across the river in the rubber duckie, park it on the Lions Park shore and paddle out. So if you see an old bloke with white hair in the lineup, be nice.

FOOTNOTE: As I write, the Challenger Series at Haleiwa has finalised the qualifiers for the 2022 WSL Men’s World Tour, with the women to be finalised just after press time for this edition. There are some exciting Australian rookies and comeback kids in the pack, so a full report next week.