A surfer's view of sewage in the river

Tiger Woods smiles during a press event for a new golf course designed by Woods, in Hollister, Mo., Tuesday, April 18, 2017. (Guillermo Martinez/The Springfield News-Leader via AP)

I AM still pinching myself.

Did that really happen? Did we really get pumping east swell and light winds on all four days of the long weekend? Did “those banks” really appear?

My still-aching shoulders are a tell-tale sign that yes, it must be true. It was pumping.

Sure, Wainui was hard work. The swell was a little straight, fighting that drift while seeing angelic barrels churning just out of reach was tough, but there were more than enough heaving caves to go around.

Besides, there were plenty of other places to get your wave on if chasing hell pits was not your thing.

However, as incredible as it was, the weekend gave me a stark realisation.

I have been following the freshwater debate in New Zealand closely, reading reports, hearing anecdotes, interviewing experts and officials, but seldom in person.

Just as the swell (and rain) started to fire, courtesy of ex-Cyclone Cook, Gisborne District Council again opened the wastewater valves to allow raw sewage to pour into city rivers.

While it did not affect the Coast beaches, people were advised to stay out of the water at Turanganui-a-Kiwa beaches, which had perfect waves for learners and logging.

This was the third discharge this year.

The first was due to a blockage, the second and third were because the system could not handle the rain.

I am well aware of the complicating factors, of the homes with stormwater systems illegally connected to the city’s sewerage system, of the millions of dollars it will cost to fix, of the council’s Drainwise project to work with landowners to sort it out.

I understand how complex the issue is.

But what the weekend told me is that we have to sort this out . . . as a community, as a country.

Another pumping rivermouth was dark chocolate and, given that the river already falls below healthy swimming standards, I was making sure not to swallow any of the water, thinking of all the animal excrement and excess nutrients flushed off the land.

Gisborne is New Zealand’s surfing capital. It is not good enough that when a pumping swell arrives — as it often does with heavy rain — we have to weigh up the possibility of getting sick enjoying our own backyard.

When I surfed in Canggu, Bali, early last year I got a severe ear infection. But I expected that.

I did not expect that to become the norm back home, in clean green Aotearoa . . . for ear infections, stomach bugs and rashes to be accepted after surfing on our once-pristine coastline.

Something has got to change.

See you out the back (bring your ear plugs).

This weekend looks likely to provide slightly less epic pumpingness than last weekend, but there should still be more than enough waves to get your fill.

Saturday will be the pick of the bunch with light winds and three to four feet of south swell — perfect for the fourth annual Tairawhiti Standup Paddlesurf Championships.

The championships begin at 8am tomorrow.

The venue will be determined on the day but will likely be at Pipe, Midway Beach. Details can be checked on the club’s Facebook page on the day.

Tonight a mihi/welcome with kai will be held at Wainui Surf Lifesaving Club from 5.30pm. Competitors can enter the championships by phoning Gary Smith on 022 397 8493.

The championships couple as Gisborne Boardriders Club’s SUP Series Event 2, offering double points.

GBC’s next competition is the fourth event in the shortboard series on Saturday, May 13.

I AM still pinching myself.

Did that really happen? Did we really get pumping east swell and light winds on all four days of the long weekend? Did “those banks” really appear?

My still-aching shoulders are a tell-tale sign that yes, it must be true. It was pumping.

Sure, Wainui was hard work. The swell was a little straight, fighting that drift while seeing angelic barrels churning just out of reach was tough, but there were more than enough heaving caves to go around.

Besides, there were plenty of other places to get your wave on if chasing hell pits was not your thing.

However, as incredible as it was, the weekend gave me a stark realisation.

I have been following the freshwater debate in New Zealand closely, reading reports, hearing anecdotes, interviewing experts and officials, but seldom in person.

Just as the swell (and rain) started to fire, courtesy of ex-Cyclone Cook, Gisborne District Council again opened the wastewater valves to allow raw sewage to pour into city rivers.

While it did not affect the Coast beaches, people were advised to stay out of the water at Turanganui-a-Kiwa beaches, which had perfect waves for learners and logging.

This was the third discharge this year.

The first was due to a blockage, the second and third were because the system could not handle the rain.

I am well aware of the complicating factors, of the homes with stormwater systems illegally connected to the city’s sewerage system, of the millions of dollars it will cost to fix, of the council’s Drainwise project to work with landowners to sort it out.

I understand how complex the issue is.

But what the weekend told me is that we have to sort this out . . . as a community, as a country.

Another pumping rivermouth was dark chocolate and, given that the river already falls below healthy swimming standards, I was making sure not to swallow any of the water, thinking of all the animal excrement and excess nutrients flushed off the land.

Gisborne is New Zealand’s surfing capital. It is not good enough that when a pumping swell arrives — as it often does with heavy rain — we have to weigh up the possibility of getting sick enjoying our own backyard.

When I surfed in Canggu, Bali, early last year I got a severe ear infection. But I expected that.

I did not expect that to become the norm back home, in clean green Aotearoa . . . for ear infections, stomach bugs and rashes to be accepted after surfing on our once-pristine coastline.

Something has got to change.

See you out the back (bring your ear plugs).

This weekend looks likely to provide slightly less epic pumpingness than last weekend, but there should still be more than enough waves to get your fill.

Saturday will be the pick of the bunch with light winds and three to four feet of south swell — perfect for the fourth annual Tairawhiti Standup Paddlesurf Championships.

The championships begin at 8am tomorrow.

The venue will be determined on the day but will likely be at Pipe, Midway Beach. Details can be checked on the club’s Facebook page on the day.

Tonight a mihi/welcome with kai will be held at Wainui Surf Lifesaving Club from 5.30pm. Competitors can enter the championships by phoning Gary Smith on 022 397 8493.

The championships couple as Gisborne Boardriders Club’s SUP Series Event 2, offering double points.

GBC’s next competition is the fourth event in the shortboard series on Saturday, May 13.

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Dinny Redmond - 6 days ago
That's messed up, why is any sewage getting pumped into any river, stream or creek anywhere in Aotearoa? Kiwis are inventors, figure out a solution to the problem. I've lived in the States for 17 years now and am relocating to the Gisborne area. If that happened here, the media would have a field day over it . . . like when a plant in Seattle malfunctioned a few weeks back and the pumps crapped out because they were too old - a bunch of waste went into the harbour and they got all kinds of fines. There are good systems to maintain sewage. It is inexcusable just to open a gate and piss it down a river into the ocean.

Mathew Bannister - 6 days ago
Community awareness is a great mobiliser and direction setter for local council. I can remember when I moved to Gisborne that the sewerage was an out-of-sight, out-of-mind system with everything going out into the bay with minimal treatment.
Now we have a world-class treatment system which unfortunately while it is sized for sewage flows, it is not sized for stormwater influxes.
The DrainWise project the GDC has under way, as well as a clear commitment to make improvements, will see the issue be solved in time but we all need to do what we can on our own properties to help.
The other stormwater issue which does not get as much air time is the surface flooding and contamination that occurs in parts of the city, which has the risk of contaminating people's sections and homes with untreated sewage.

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