Hand Ups

It could be said that NZ is made up of a collection of clubs and societies, all run by committee. It’s our default response to addressing any problem or project: need to fundraise for a new playground? Form a committee. Want to arrange a speaker series? Call on the committee. Can’t decide whether to bake cheese scones or banana muffins? In the case of the last example, your best bet is probably to consult the Edmond’s cookbook, but for all other decisions the power of teamwork is central to success.

It’s been AGM season for me this week, with several bouts of electing officers and discussing the chair’s report scheduled into my calendar. That may sound like a drag, but actually it has been a privilege to be involved in groups that are made up of so many passionate and generous individuals who all give up their time to try to make the world we live in a better place.

When I first arrived in Ashburton I headed to the information centre for, well, information. I was after tips on rental listings and job directories, but alongside answers to these run of the mill questions, I was also handed a book of local clubs and societies. This was no centre fold pamphlet, but a spiral bound beauty, full of contacts for an A to Z of interests, including boxing, dog training, writing, traveling, and even vintage machinery.

The list was impressive, but what was even more so was the thought of how many volunteers stood behind each of those brief black-and-white listings to actually keep each club or society ticking over. There are the hours spent poring over the nitty gritty of constitutions during the setting up phase, the evenings spent making cheese rolls to fundraise, and the community events and exhibitions that are so easy to enjoy, but take so long to pull together.

Mid Canterbury consists of a wonderful pool of generous people, many of whom work behind the scenes to make this area such a pleasant place to live. They are your neighbours, your coworkers, the person behind you in the supermarket checkout line with a trolley full of cupcake cases. And they are essentially what make a strong community. So, the next time a call goes out for help, or for nominations to the local branch of your interest group, put your hand up. AGMs only happen once a year, and a little input during the intervening 12 months can really go a long way.

Originally Published in The Ashburton Guardian

History Thawing Quietly

Having been away in Auckland and Christchurch for back-to-back Antarctic conferences these past 2 weeks, you could say that I have ice on the brain. Sure, I’m back home now, but the thaw is slow. The quiet of Methven is helping, because now that I don’t have the roar of background traffic to contend with I can finally core down into the story gems I have collected – the odd local one included.

Christchurch is full of Antarctic paraphernalia and historic sites of ice, including Sir Edmund Hillary’s trusty tractor at the Canterbury museum, and the famous marble statue of Captain Scott, carved by his widow, which is currently undergoing repair work. Lady Scott spent time in the Garden City, as did Sir Douglas Mawson. That’s is not surprising; cities are places of bustle, full of ports and people, so they have more of a chance of attracting famous figures that will later stand out in history.

Ashburton can boast a slice of that history as well, thanks to a farmer named George Buckley and an explorer named Ernest Shackleton. George Buckley donated to Shackleton in the lead up to the explorer’s 1907 Nimrod expedition, the aim of which was to try to reach the geographic South Pole. When Buckley subsequently turned up on the docks to farewell the ship, his impromptu request to join the journey south was approved. The farmer travelled as far as the pack ice, taking charge of several ponies during the journey, before transferring across to the steamer the Koonya – which had towed the Nimrod south – and leaving Shackleton’s team to press on towards the continent alone. The Koonya headed back north, bound for cows and home, and laden with tales of excitement from the edge of the world. So it was that Buckley became one of, if not the, first Antarctic tourists. These days yearly visitor numbers may top 40,000, but the modern day tourists had to follow in the footsteps of someone.

Mid Canterbury may often be overlooked when it comes to the adventure stakes, but this tale from the days when the world was black and white shows that living on the plains is no barrier to developing an intrepid disposition.

Meanwhile, Buckley’s generosity in supporting the Antarctic expedition lives on, with ‘Buckley Island’ named by Shackleton in his honour. Antarctica has strong connections to places throughout Canterbury, and it is not just the big smoke that can narrate traces of our icy past.

Originally Published in The Ashburton Guardian

Antarctica: More than just penguins

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Repres - Antarctic

The South Island may be know around these parts as ‘the mainland’, but the 1000 scientists descending on Auckland last week had their sights set on even higher latitudes: Antarctica. New Zealand hosted the biennial Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) conference from August 25-28, attracting glaciologists, biologists, geologists and astrophysicists from all around the globe. Their talks had titles that mentioned sub-glacial lakes, penguin guano, and ‘alien invasions’, but all had the frozen continent in common.

Often depicted as an icy wasteland, Antarctica is in fact a treasure trove of information about the past of our planet. Uncovering that knowledge via fossil records, ice cores and microbiology can help scientists to understand the world we live in, and to predict what will happen far into the future.

While Antarctica’s very low precipitation rate means it is technically a desert, the kilometres of ice that coat the continent hide a…

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The Munich Surfers

Image: wikimedia

Image: wikimedia

Nestled in the heart of Bavaria, Munich is synonymous with Oktoberfest and Lederhosen. Located over 600km from the nearest beach, most residents have never even seen the sea, let alone surfed in it. Yet in the midst of the city’s English garden a group of wetsuit clad rebels defy all expectations and city swimming regulations. Kitted out with top end boards, they pose atop the crest before clambering up the banks to ride their artificial wave again and again. They do so in full view of the ‘Swimming Is Forbidden’ sign, an irony for Germany where signs are to be obeyed. This is the Eisbach wave.

This river wave has the kind of cult following that just keeps people coming back. Created by a weir as water flows under the bridge, the 1m high wall of water resembles a river rapid. The wave has attracted surfers since the early 1970s, but in 2000 several planks of wood were suspended underwater in order to make the wave more consistent. These days it is surfed day and night, giving riders ample time to perfect their tricks. Surfers as young as 13 strut their stuff, manouevering their boards back and forth across the turbulent surface and posing for the tourist paparazzi.

Wolfrick Fischer has been surfing the Munich wave since the 1970s. He started coming as a 15 year old, mentored by older surfers and now, after a long break, is back to do the same. The river is like a magnet, attracting surfers at all hours throughout the year, and he has succumbed to its pull.

Fischer sees river surfing as more closely related to skateboarding and snowboarding than its more natural partner, ocean surfing. With limited space, surfers must plan with the precision of choreographers, deciding advance what moves they will try out. Often ocean surfers are surprised by the complexity of surfing this wave, a phenomenon professional surfer Yoyo Terhorst knows all too well. A local, Terhorst always wanted to surf and as a child he saved all his pocket money to buy a board. Now, after many hours of practice on the Eisbach wave, he surfs internationally alongside such names as Paul Grey and Kelly Slater. Slater himself has visited the river surfing community and tried out the Germans’ pride and joy.

Terhorst always warns his friends that river surfing is in 3D, while ocean surfing is in 4D: Here on the Eisbach the wave stays still and you move, while in the sea you move but also have the fluid wave to contend with, adding another dimension. The hidden rocks below the surface and shallow water also add a dimension of danger to the river, one that never fails to get Terhorst’s adrenaline pumping. Although no surfers have ever died, several kneecaps and spines have succumbed to the underwater hazards.

While the Eisbach is the most famous surfing spot in the city, there are actually two other rivers in Munich where surfers congregate. The Floßlände wave is much smaller than the Eisbach specimen, making it popular with beginners, while the Wittelsbacherbrücke is only surfable after heavy rain. With over 700 people now involved in the sport in the city, it is not uncommon to see someone boarding the underground wearing a wetsuit, surfboard in tow. Chances are they are not one of the many young Brits in Munich for a stag party, but a serious sportsman off to partake in some fluid meditation. It turns out there really is more to Munich than beer and Lederhosen after all.

Image: wikimedia

Image: wikimedia

The Eisbach wave is near Haus der Kunst in the English Gardens. Take tram 17 to the Nationalmuseum and walk to the bridge.