Learning to Surf in New Zealand
Learning to Surf in New Zealand
Learning to Surf in New Zealand
New Zealand is an adventure traveler's paradise, from zorbing to bungee jumping to flying a plane, those with a quest for the radical and unconventional will find what they are looking for in this outdoor wonderland. I had come to New Zealand with a burning desire to learn how to surf. In the past I'd had disappointing surf experiences at popular surf destinations. Costa Rica offered both beauty and warmth, not to mention an incredibly diverse wave selection, but my so called "surf coach" turned out to be nothing more than a scam artist. Hawaii, one of my favorite destinations, had waves that were either too crowded or ones that would swallow a novice, and perhaps not spit them out. Mexico and California provided similar experiences as those mentioned, but I was unwilling to give up on my goal.
New Zealand had not crossed my mind as a popular surf spot, but as my research grew I learned that it possessed a multitude of fantastic, uncrowded waves for both the beginner and the pro. I landed in Christchurch, a rather British inspired city on New Zealand's south island. Most tourists flock to the Anglican cathedral at the city square, or punt along the Avon river while stopping to sip ale at the many pubs. I however, was more interested to discover where I could surf. New Brighton, South Shore, North Beach, Waimairi and Sumner are all surf beaches within easy access from central Christchurch. I discovered a surf school located in Sumner, simply named Learn to Surf, with professional surf coach Aaron Lock.
The water temperature in Sumner was warm, (for New Zealand), a moderate 20 degrees. The waves were approximately 2 feet, dumpy and not very powerful. This made things difficult for a beginner, although at times frustrating it was still great to be in the South Pacific ocean, with the sun shining on a warm autumn day. The break is mellow at Sumner but rips can become severe at times. This is a popular spot that can get crowded. Aaron's teaching style was friendly and informative but geared towards a younger learner. Most of his students are young surf competitors.
I had better luck in the stunning coastal town of Kaikoura, located approximately 2 hours north of Christchurch. Kai in Maori means food and koura means crayfish, which is no surprise, as this particular crustacean is abundant here. Kaikoura is most popular for watching whales and swimming with dolphins. The Dusky, Bottlenose and rare Hector dolphins can be seen here, as well as Orca, Pilot and Sperm whales. The seal colony in Kaikoura makes it easy to spot fur seals basking along the rocky coast or sleeping in the grass beside highway roads. Those who are not here for the wildlife are most certainly here for the waves.
Dave Lyons, owner and operator of Board Silly surf school, is a guaranteed good time. Dave takes his students to a break called Graveyards, which is so named because of the graveyard nearby. Graveyards is known for its powerful right hand reef, while east and south east swells are said to produce a longer peeling wave.The water temperature was much colder than Sumner, at approximately 15 degrees. The view from the water was enchanting, a rare early snowfall a couple of days earlier, had transformed the Seaward Kaikoura mountains into majestic snowcapped wonderments. A truly awe inspiring sight to witness from a surfboard.
You will definitely catch a wave here, even if it is through the aid of someone pushing you into one and telling you when to stand up. Dave offered excellent tips on paddling, sitting on the board, and turning once a wave approaches. It certainly helps to enjoy standing on a board and riding a wave at least once, even if it has been set up. The thrill in itself drives one's passion for needing to achieve the same experience alone. I rode two to three waves with the aid of my coach, Dave Lyons, but failed to catch any solo. I did get lots of practice in the water though and it was significantly more challenging than Sumner. The waves were more powerful, the water was colder, and sharp rocks were unavoidable. Although students are provided with booties the rocky sea floor can still be treacherous. Yet Kaikoura without a doubt is one of the most beautiful places in the world I have ever surfed.
After the workout in Kaikoura I realized I needed to get in better shape. I embarked upon a fitness program which consisted of mountain biking, tramping, snorkelling and swimming. With a strengthened constitution I headed to Gisborne, on New Zealand's North island. The city of Gisborne is New Zealand's most easterly city and the first in the world to greet the dawn of each day. Tairawhiti, the Maori name for Gisborne means, 'the coast upon which the sun shines across the water.' The famous film, Whale Rider, was made not far from here and tours to the filming site are available. Gisborne had a couple of surf schools on offer, but when I saw the ad for Surfing with Frank with its retro cartoon image, I knew I had found someone with both experience and a sense of humour.
My instincts were spot on, Frank was older and hailed from the California surf hey days. A native of San Diego, he and his wife have been living in New Zealand since the 70's. Frank teaches highschool basketball as well coaches surfers. During the colder months he takes off to Mexico on organized surf tours which are open to intermediate and advanced students. Frank likes to teach on real surf boards rather than the foam learner mals that most surf schools use. He believes a beginner should become comfortable with handling a fibreglass board right away, to prevent problems later on. Yet Frank is a stickler for water safety, he will make sure you know the proper way of falling off your board before allowing you to ride any waves.
After scoping out a variety of Gisborne's surf spots, Frank finally decided on Waikanae beach, a few blocks away from the city center. The break was a mellow one, perfect for learners. The water temperature was a moderate 21 degrees. Frank chose a 10 foot long board as my starter stick. Once in the water he is not only a surf coach but a personal trainer as well. I increased my paddling power dramatically after surfing with Frank. Although I caught a few waves with him I had yet to catch any on my own. I decided to spend a week in Gisborne, determined to catch my own waves.
Makorori Point, north of Gisborne off of HWY 35 is one of Frank's favorite spots. The variety of waves here ensures that surfers of all levels will enjoy themselves. The morning had been gray and overcast but the 3-4 foot waves were clean and consistent. It was here where I made the transition from a 10 foot board to a 9 foot one. It was also here where I finally caught and rode my own wave. Victory at last but it was just the beginning, I knew I had a long way to go, I could at least now consider myself a beginner. Within the week I spent surfing with Frank I learned to duck dive, turn my board, paddle correctly and catch a wave. More importantly Frank taught me my trouble spots and set goals for me to improve my surfing. His patience, knowledge and enthusiasm make for an admirable surf coach, and his energy proves that surfing is the secret to staying young.
I highly recommend New Zealand as a surf destination, for surfers at all levels. Both the North and South islands offer a variety of breaks which are usually uncrowded gems. The locals are friendly and respectful as long as you display the same courtesy, and when the waves are not firing there is still so much to do and see here. For the budget traveler there are numerous inexpensive lodgings to choose from, and camp sites near the beach make it easy to stay within close reach to surf breaks. Next time I will buy a van and roam the coast in search of peeling beauties, in New Zealand they will not be hard to find.
Learn to Surf - Sumner - www.surfcoach.co.nz Lessons - $40-$60nz Surfboard and wetsuit hire available
Board Silly - Kaikoura - email@example.com Lessons - $60nz Surfboard and wetsuit hire available
Surfing with Frank - Gisborne - www.surfingwithfrank.com Private lesson - $65nz 2-4 surfer lesson - $45nz 3 lesson concession - $115nz