For every weather phenomenon that arrives these days, it’s possible to adopt an explanation that fits with your scientific understanding and even your political beliefs. A searing blast over a summer week is either a reminder of the summers we recall from our childhoods (when everything was hotter, brighter and somehow more extremely awesome), or a disturbing sign that we’re being roasted alive by the consequences of our misdeeds. When the warm half of autumn persisted deep into May, with gentle temperatures and flat oceans, it was seen as either a worrying indication that the season wouldn’t turn and we’d be dry-docked through winter, or a reassuring sign that talk of a future punctuated by violent extremes of weather is an exaggeration.
Then the last week of June put it all to the test again. Coiled at the foot of the weather chart, an angry spiral advanced on southern Australia, making landfall in southwest WA and roaring across the Bight, gathering strength from the ocean before slamming into western Victoria. Over the following days the system – with another, slightly lesser one close behind it – uprooted trees, disrupted power supplies, un-roofed houses and demolished beaches. The swell that had spun out of the low pressure core deep in the Southern Ocean was simultaneously reaching Indonesia, where waves of rare perfection and power were thundering over the coral.
I had commitments in the city and could only glance at the coast before I left home. The swell was furious and disordered: it exploded over breakwalls, flooded carparks and picked up basalt boulders, throwing them onto the road. Large fronds of kelp turned up at disturbing distances from the beach. The sky was, by turns, a livid purple on the southwest horizon and a sullen grey overhead. But there was an unsettling character to the cloud formations: they weren’t blurred and amorphous but clumped angrily into swirls, clotted with rage. Nine-degree air ripped across the land at a hundred kilometres per hour. The surface of the ocean was shredded white over brown, the contours of familiar reefs unrecognisable.
In Melbourne, the high-tide surge had pushed the Yarra into places it patently didn’t belong. Were these the exploring fi ngers of a new sea level? Or could we take solace in older people saying it’s just what happens now and then, over decades, over lifetimes?
It had been long enough that I’d forgotten the life that emerges from these giant eruptions of energy. As Mick Thomas tuned his guitar at the Mission to Seafarers in Port Melbourne and the mariners anxiously watched the windows rattling, Ed Sloane was swimming under the barrels of Teahupo’o to capture our cover image, a floating human at the mercy of the same low pressure system. Near Byron Bay, Bali bombing survivor Hanabeth Luke shivered in a gust of the very same air as she posed for Hilton Dawe on the beach at dawn.
By the next morning, I was interviewing wave energy scientists about systems they’ve designed to lie flat on the sea floor to evade the sort of violence we’d experienced that week; and by afternoon I was looking through images of Graeme Altmann’s harrowing skies and reading Cova Álvarez’s depiction of life for the percebeiros. Written in English by a Spanish-speaker on the far side of the globe, its evocation of the sea’s violence is visceral. The foam of days and displacements, deep liquid destinies. I’m not sure I could summon such imagery in my first language, let alone a second.
All of these things bore a subtle connection to one spiralling tangle of isobars, one barometric plunge. Storms sustain us somehow. They stir the creative animals inside us and throw unexpected gifts at our feet.
Lastly, and before you wade further in, an introduction. Ben Collier has joined the Great Ocean family (or crew, or pod, or whatever is the collective noun for magazine publishers). He brings a wealth of digital publishing talent to our enterprise, and a new standard of surfing to our editorial meetings. Ben will start making some big changes to our online presence over the second half of this year, so keep an eye on our website to follow his progress. Go Ben!
18 Beach House records
24 Wind Against Tide
32 Los Percebeiros de Laxe
50 The St Davids Peninsula:
a Journey in Time
56 Hanabeth Luke:
After The Storm
62 Ocean Swells or Fracking Wells?
An Alternative Clean Energy Future
80 In Magellan’s Wake
Ted Grambeau and Jock Serong
106 Boats Are Where We Keep Our Memories:
The Art of Graeme Altmann
66 Under The Surface
10 Mislaid Books of The Sea
The Country of the Pointed Firs
72 The Church of The Open Sky
Mick Thomas at the Mission to Seafarers
North from La Coruña
102 Greg Malouf
116 Too High
Touch, Pause, Engage
Smoke on the Water