Wellington surfer rode out giant tsunami waves

BY CLIO FRANCIS
Last updated 05:00 02/10/2009
Surfer Chris Nel
KENT BLECHYNDEN/The Dominion Post
SURF TSUNAMI: Surfer Chris Nel feared being "smashed".

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A Wellington man, forced to ride out the Samoan tsunami on his surfboard, thought he would be smashed into the jungle by the surging water.

Hospitality student Chris Nel was on a surfing holiday on the south coast of Savai'i island when the 8.3 magnitude quake struck on Wednesday morning.

"I went out early in the morning for a surf, then I felt the tremor – you get them all the time in New Zealand so I didn't really think too much of it – then I went out in the water and caught a few waves."

He had been in the water with four other Kiwi surfers and an Australian when the first signs of the tsunami appeared.

"All of a sudden the water went real weird, it kind of glassed off and got real lumpy, then we started moving real quick, getting sucked out to sea.

"It was pretty scary looking back and seeing the reef completely dried up. It looked like a volcanic riverbed – it was just gone."

Mr Nel then saw a "big-as spurt of water" hit the shore.

"I was thinking, `This is it, we're going to get washed away and smashed into the jungle."'

The surfers tried in vain to reach the shore as trees and debris started floating past them. They lay on the surfboards as more wave surges swept in, riding them out and trying not to get smashed on the shore.

"After about 35 or 45 minutes of floating around we managed to time it between a surge to get to land through the reef channel."

By the time Mr Nel returned to the shore, much of the surf camp he had been staying at had been destroyed.

"A lot of my stuff got washed out to sea and I found one of my surfboards in the jungle."

At first he had stayed at the beach to help salvage a wrecked boat but left when he heard another tsunami warning. "Everyone just got out of there. I managed to grab my passport and boardies."

The surfers headed to a village and waited for about five hours until the threat of a second surge had passed. When Mr Nel returned he discovered many of his possessions had disappeared.

"I climbed into the jungle and tried to look for my stuff, but it was all pretty much gone."

He left Samoa yesterday, flying back to Wellington wearing a pair of jeans he had found in the jungle. "We were really, really lucky."

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