Surfer’s grieving girls: ‘He’d want us to have a beautiful life’

Doting mum Courtney intends to fulfill all the dreams the couple had for little Lenni

Top surfer Jamie Civil and his beloved partner Courtney Morgan were always on adventures, but by far the greatest was raising their six-month-old daughter Lenni together.

Devastatingly, their time was cut short when Jamie passed away in a freak accident while surfing at Dunedin’s Aramoana Beach on March 26 this year. Courtney is grappling with losing the love of her life, but is grateful for every moment they shared and determined his memory will live on for their daughter.

“We knew how good our love was and I told him every day how much I loved and appreciated him,” says the 34-year-old. “We did and achieved so much together, but it was too short.”

Courtney recalls the first night they met in August 2020, when one beer turned into staying up all night chatting until 5am. “We both knew when we met, that was it,” she says.

Fatherhood grounded Jamie. “He was always showing her off,” says Courtney.

It was less than a month before Jamie, 35, proclaimed his love for Courtney and while he’d previously decided he didn’t want children, early in their relationship he changed his mind. Courtney gave birth to Lenni on October 3, 2021, with Jamie by her side.

“Everyone was shocked when they saw him with her because he was so smitten. She was his whole world,” says South Island chef Courtney.

The week before he died, Courtney sent Jamie a photo of herself and Lenni at the local saltwater pools. Within minutes he was on the phone, saying he was leaving work and on his way to join them. “He didn’t want to miss anything,” she tells.

The Dunedin family were inseparable, with Courtney and Lenni supporting Jamie while he surfed. Jamie was revered nationally for his unmatched skills surfing big barrel waves. “As soon as he was out of the water, he’d have Lenni in the front pack – always so proud and wanting to show her off.”

Jamie was fearless on the water

On the day he passed away, Courtney and Lenni were sitting on the beach watching him surf in a competition. It’s unclear what happened in the water, but Jamie was pulled from the waves unresponsive and died on site.

“I don’t think we’ll ever really know what happened,” says Courtney. “The wave wasn’t too big for him and at no point was I ever worried, but something went wrong. I would never even say, ‘Be careful’ because he was the best. The surf was pumping and he was in his element.”

Courtney remembers her last moments with Jamie when he came in to shore to check on her and Lenni after his heat.

“It was such a beautiful, sunny day,” she shares. “I was just hanging with Lenni and chatting to people. He came in, gave us a big, wet, salty kiss and cuddle, and said, ‘I’ll go for a few fun ones and we’ll head off.’ He went and didn’t come back.”

Speaking through tears, Courtney is devastated by the loss of her best friend, but is adamant little Lenni will grow up knowing how much Jamie loved her.

“I’m so sad for Jamie,” she says. “He’d be so heartbroken because he would have never wanted to leave us, but I know he wants me to be a really good mum and live a really good life.”

The close-knit couple spent hours daydreaming about Lenni’s future and the life they’d share together. They loved camping in their tiny 1969 Zephyr caravan, were planning a trip to Bali and building a new home together at the end of this year, and Jamie couldn’t wait to teach Lenni to surf.

“He wanted her to have the best life,” says Courtney, who was also learning to surf under Jamie’s guidance. The talented builder was so excited to share his skills, he went out straight away and bought her

a new surfboard. Courtney chose baby blue – the colour of his eyes.

The pair lived life to the full, always encouraging each other’s passions. Even at 40 weeks pregnant, Courtney drove with Jamie to a remote bay in the Catlins, one of Jamie’s favourite spots to

surf and camp.

‘He’d be so heartbroken because he would have never wanted to leave us’

“There was a big swell coming and I never wanted him to miss out,” says Courtney simply. “It was Lenni’s due date. We set up the tent and it was sideways wind, there was no cell reception, but we were

so happy.”

Despite the warnings of how life would change when they became parents, Courtney and Jamie were determined to prove others wrong. They took Lenni with them snowboarding when she was just two weeks old and continued with the camping trips they loved so much.

“She wasn’t our ball and chain, she’s our rocket ship,” she enthuses.

Moving forward, Courtney plans to honour Jamie’s intrepid spirit and keep on surfing – and if Lenni wants to join her one day, she’s all for it.

“Lenni is so loved. I’m not the sort of person who sits on the sidelines. Jamie loved that about me and Lenni is going to have a really beautiful life.”

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