There are so many ways to ride the waves. © Dave and Les Jacobs

Of the sea: surfing Aotearoa


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The half light of dawn is a most magical time to be on the coast. Light lifts night’s veil like a parting of the fog, the sky slowly filling with pastels and ochres; the air chilled by the gentlest of offshore breezes.

For only a few moments more, the sea remains an obsidian mystery, the sound of it echoing from the sand dunes with tell-tale hisses and a certain whompfing – creating anticipation, like an electric current through your veins.

When most people imagine their idyllic seaside location, they think of fingers of white sand and clear, sun-dappled water. Surfers have different selection criteria, one focused towards quite specific wind and swell directions, the time of day, as well as a hidden bathymetry of the seafloor.

Author Thomas Farber got it right when he wrote about water being the worthwhile medium for a religion, as did filmmaker Nathan Oldfield revelling in his church of the open sky.

Searching for the perfect wave at dawn is my wondrous, impossible, life-long myth of a dream. And one that, personally, I hope is never quite able to be fully sated.

So often the ocean is a doppelgänger to what I want my life to be about. Its moods dwarf my own feelings in the power of a single, rising swell. Like that, I am lifted. My brain overloads with bottom turns and endless trim across the folding surges of an energetic water.

Riding a wave in Raglan

Ben rides a barreling wave during a surf in Raglan. © Derek Morrison

Hector’s dolphins cruise by in the lulls between waves, their chequered, clown-like suits just beneath the surface matching their playful character. Gannets smack arrow-straight into the deeper water beyond, wolfing at the little fish. The horizon beckons and falls.

Call it a sport. Art. An obsession.

Surfing the heartbeat of the ocean’s surface is to merge with nature in all of her creative spectacular. No two waves can be the same. The very moment you are immersed in can never be recreated.

I offer no apology for waxing lyrical, such has been my life-long love affair with surfing. And New Zealand, with its coastline stretching some 17,000km, is as good a place to nurture this love affair as anywhere else in the world.

Surf and travel go hand in hand. Whether it’s a weekend spent exploring down the coast or a month-long summer holiday on the other island, surfers revel in the idea and the reality of searching for waves. And there are literally thousands worth searching for along New Zealand’s varied coast. In the right conditions, nearly every exposed coastal nook and cranny of our country offers waves for beginners and experts alike.  

Watching the sunset

Sunset and surf. © Derek Morrison

These days, there are so many ways to ride the waves. Shortboard, longboard, bodyboard, fins, hand plane, kayak, stand up paddleboard, kiteboard, windsurfer... each has its own skill set and gear requirements. And each produces a slightly different experience and its own unique perspective of the ocean as well as our lives within it.

For the newcomer, there are numerous surf schools around the country and shops to hire or purchase the right wave-riding equipment and get advice from.

Contemplating a wave at Manu bay, Raglan

Brett Wood contemplates Jump Rock at Manu Bay, Raglan. © Derek Morrison

Surfing is fun, but it requires a prolonged period of learning. To the untrained eye, what looks like mayhem in the line-up is actually a quite complex set of go/don’t go watery requirements, like road rules in the ocean that stop people running into and hurting each other.

If you are new to a particular surf break, and especially if the break is busy, it's a good idea to be patient. And, remember, a shared smile goes a long way... After all, isn’t that why you’ve taken up surfing in the first place? To be happy. To share the stoke.

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