Nearly ten months on from Auckland’s wettest day, New Zealand’s largest gymnastics club is still recovering from the raging flood that swept through its premises.
Christmas 2023 will be a busy one for the NHG Gymnastics Club. All going to plan, the club will use its two-week shutdown to reinstall the sprung flooring at its massive 1,500 sqm gymnasium, marking one of the final steps of a recovery from the January 27 floods that submerged businesses, homes, and community facilities across the city.
On the North Shore, the normally sedate and unremarkable Wairau Creek turned into a raging torrent, surging across the carpark and into Eventfinda Stadium and the large building attached to it that housed the North Shore Gymnastics Club.
“Most of the Wairau Valley was underwater,” recalls the club’s chair Janet Grant.
“Cars were being washed away. At the Pak n Save, food was being washed off the shelves. [The club] was inundated with water. It was shin to knee deep.”
As the water poured in, staff managed to get some equipment to higher ground. But not much. The gym floor, offices, birthday room, and changing rooms were quickly inundated. The club’s treasured foam pit turned into what it had always resembled – a massive swimming pool – with the foam soaking up floodwater contaminated by sewerage and runoff from the nearby industrial area.
Once the floodwaters receded, club members quickly swung into action in an attempt to clean up and return to some level of operation.
A volunteer group comprised of board members, staff, coaches, team members, and parents all pitched in.
“We literally had parents down there with crowbars lifting up floors and filling skips. There was no glamour in it. People were working really hard for days and days.”
And then – more bad news.
On the Friday of Waitangi weekend, council officials inspected the building and yellow-stickered it, closing the facility indefinitely.
With classes for 2023 having been due to start the week after the flood, the extended closure was a major blow.
“That was fairly disastrous,” says Grant. “There’s no nice way of saying it. It was an absolute disaster.”
From that low point, the club has slowly, painstakingly rebounded.
“The priority, to begin with, was to keep the kids as undisturbed as possible and offer them meaningful programmes as much as we could with our main facility basically closed,” says Grant.
And to save the employment of around 100 staff, many of whom relied on the club as their main source of income.
“The last thing you want to do is make a whole lot of people redundant.”
As news of the disaster spread, the nation’s gymnastics community stepped up to help. Fellow Auckland clubs Icon Trampoline, Tri Star, and Counties Manukau made their facilities available for North Shore’s gymnasts, while clubs as far away as the South Island ran fundraisers and donated proceeds to the club.
“There were some heartwarming stories from the depths of despair,” says Grant.
“There was quite a lot of support from local clubs, which was fantastic.”
With the cost of equipment having skyrocketed, the biggest lesson from the flood is for clubs to ensure they are adequately insured, says Grant.
And not to assume that, because gymnastics is an indoor sport, it will be immune to the impacts of climate change.
Having been subject to some of the most severe restrictions during covid lockdowns – particularly in Auckland – gymnastics had in fact been worse off than most outdoor sports in recent times, Grant points out.
“It has been a hell of a ride. We were hit very hard by lockdowns then managed to get almost a year under our belt of things being normal. Then January 27 hit. It has been character-forming times.”
By the time January 27, 2024 rolls around, the North Shore Club will have almost completed its recovery.
It’s expecting a shipment of new equipment to arrive soon, and has nearly finalised plans for a refurbished foam pit.
While Grant fully accepts flooding can – and probably will – happen again, the club’s future remains bright.
“I feel incredibly optimistic. We’ve had so many people who have stepped up and been so fantastic. The staff have been incredible. Our parents have been amazing. They’ve been incredibly supportive of the club knowing we are going through difficult times and they have really stood by us. It always comes back to the people – and our people have been incredible. I have been quite humbled by how fantastic people have actually been.”