Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Letter from the New Zealand surf, by Richard Price

Black pebbly sand crunched under my feet as I looked out across the cold, kelp-ridden sea. I gritted my teeth and plunged in. My skin was numb as I turned to see snow capped mountains on the distant horizon, stark against an overcast sky. This was my first experience of surfing in New Zealand.

We had flown into Christchurch on the south island, hired a car and headed up the east coast to our first destination Kaikoura. Besides the threatening weather and the unknown waters, it turns out we’d found a quality, consistent point break - barely forty-eight hours afters arriving in the country. From Kaikoura we drove to the tip of the south Island to a town called Picton, and then travelled along the west coast until we reached a spot called the Taranaki region. There we scored some amazing waves.

We found a beach along this stretch made up of tiny black rocks that made a squelching sound as you walked along. We’d heard rumours that there was a really good break around this area and decided to explore—hoping to chance upon it, but not really expecting to find anything. Eventually we came to a stream of fresh rainwater from the neighbouring mounting ranges. We decided to jump in taking a free ride down the river towards the ocean.

At the end of the stream we were greeted with a medium sized wave peeling perfectly along a smooth rocky point. The snow-covered, massive Mt Taranaki was the backdrop in the distance. This is what we had came to see, awesome landscapes and uncrowded, perfectly breaking waves. The only other surfers we encountered were two local guys. They were a bit grumpy, but seemed impressed that we had found their secret spot. They mumbled replies to our greetings and vacated the waters soon after we arrived.

From the Taranaki region we travelled to the world-renowned surf break of Raglan, first exposed to the surfing world through Bruce Brown’s movie ‘Endless Summer’ (1966), which highlighted its unbelievably long breaking left point. Raglan was a chilled-out town with a similar vibe to Byron Bay, with a focus around surf culture. We waited three days for a swell, and then decided to try our chances elsewhere.

Our next destination was back on the east coast of the north island, in the prosperous town of Mt Mounganui. The settlement is looked over by the mountain of the same name. The beach there was full, and we had to fight to get a wave. Heading southwest we came to the little town of Gisborne. This was Captain Cook’s first stop in New Zealand in 1769, and is one of the first places in the world to see the New Year’s Day sun. We were lucky enough to observe it, too.

The author: Richard Price is a student in Creative Writing at QUT.