“I think this is the biggest natural disaster Mozambique has ever faced. Everything is destroyed. Our priority now is to save human lives,” – Mozambique’s environment Minister, Celso Correia.
The spinning vortex that would be named cyclone Idai had shown up abruptly on forecast models a few days before the predicted landfall on Thursday 14 March 2019. Unaware of the level of destruction and disaster this would leave in it’s wake a small, core crew of surfers took a gamble on the unfavourable wind prediction but perfect swell and committed to a 16-hour car drive to Inhambane, Mozambique to join local surfers at this rare sandspit.
All Images – Alan Van Gysen
On the morning of Wednesday 13 March the sea was already tossed up and the waves well overhead. The wind wasn’t perfect, but as the tide turned the powerful waves being sent perpendicular to the bar started to grind down the line in perfect cylindrical fashion. The small crew made the most of the window and traded fast, racing tubes from take-off to kick-out while rain-squalls and dark-clouds overhead were being sucked into the eye of cyclone Idai seven hundred kilometers north near Beira.
That evening the swell peaked and the wind dropped completely, and for about an hour before dark it was as good as sandspits get. The following morning while we sat watching an unruly ocean settle itself for another mixed but ultimately good surf day, Beira in the north was hit by the full force of cyclone Idai, which then extended its destructive run into Zimbabwe and Malawi. Bringing flash floods six meters deep in some areas and ferocious winds of up to 177km an hour (106 miles an hour), it hit the central port city of Beira the hardest destroying 90% of the city according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
Surfer: Brendon Gibbens
Later that day and into Friday it continued wreaking havoc through Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Across three countries whole cities flooded, dams burst, homes and bridges washed away and roads were rendered inaccessible. At the time of publication, Cyclone Idai is feared to have claimed over 1000 lives between Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, and has displaced 850 000 people, who are now in urgent need of shelter, food and clean water. The effects of this natural disaster have even reached South Africa in the shape of phase 4 load-shedding, thanks to our increased reliance on the electricity from the Cahora Bassa hydroelectric power station, in Mozambique, that had two lines taken out by the cyclone.
It’s an uncomfortable truth that surfers often chase waves, play and have fun, on the periphery of natural disasters that cause major damage and upheaval in people’s lives. We are probably the only people on earth who welcome one of our planets greatest destructive forces – albeit just for the aftereffects. We’re not psychotic, and we certainly don’t want anyone to get hurt or lose their homes – but as surfers, we do get excited and do all we can to get as close as possible to spots in affected regions where the best waves might be found.
Sometimes we find ourselves in harms-way too when on the chase, like Dion Agius and company in 2017 during cyclone Dineo to the same wave-rich zone in Mozambique when that tropical storm made landfall and ripped the roof off the house they were in, and flooded the town. Experiencing firsthand the power and terror of these storms you’re left with a deep sense of respect, awe and sympathy for those who have to face these circumstances on a yearly basis. And it also makes you think and focus a lot more on helping out, giving back and serving those affected by disastrous storms like this one.