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Be decisive with surf

HMNZS Matataua’s divers and hydrographers have an expert relationship with the waves, either under them or mapping what’s beneath them. But surf has its own set of rules.

27 April, 2022

Last month HMNZS Matataua put its diving and hydrographic coxswains through a bouncy instruction in taking a fully-crewed zodiac boat through the surf.

In surf rescue programmes on TV lifeguards make it look easy, but it’s anything but, and indeed two Piha surf lifeguards were on hand to help guide the novices in the techniques.

Petty Officer Diver Te Pumautanga Campbell says all their coxswains have to learn the skills required to take a team – loaded up with weapons and dive sets – through a surf zone. 

20220311 NZDF C1033116 060 Two HMNZS Matataua coxswain in white water of the relentless waves of Piha Beach in Auckland. Two of HMNZS Matataua coxswains train to flip the zodiac the right way up in the waves at Auckland's Piha Beach.

If you want to train in boisterous surf, you can’t get much better than Auckland’s famous Piha Beach.

“For people who have only driven boats on flat water, it’s extremely tricky. There’s a technique to approach a wave safely, without flipping the boat and putting the crew in danger. But there’s a lot of battering and getting knocked around in the learning.”

Going “full tack” at a wave will probably ruin your whole day. “You’ll flip the boat straight over. It’s a common mistake, speed, and people come off second best. What you do is you speed towards the wave, then come off the power. Come over the wave, and then speed down the wave.”

The other common fault is panic. “You’ve got to be quite decisive, when choosing your track. If you dither, you’re too late, you’ll flip.”

The teams also train at righting the zodiac in the water, if their boat ends up upside down.

PODR Campbell says HMNZS Matataua has kept training as compartmentalised as they can, with the divers and hydrographers keeping separate training times and in ‘bubbles’ in case someone gets COVID-19. “Getting COVID would affect our ‘Notice to Move’ time of six hours if we get a call.”