Aotearoa- A Blowin’s Perspective.
By Jason Spence.
All 📷 by @blaircorbett.
About this time last year, I was living on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.
The surf had been flat for a month, it seemed that the whole country was on fire, and I was looking straight down the barrel at the standard three months of waveless living hell that typifies a Queensland summer. So when the opportunity to take off “across the ditch” presented itself, I didn’t hesitate. I bought a one-way ticket & made a beeline for the airport without looking back.
I figured on being away for anything between two weeks and six months.
Then the world got real weird, real quick, and international travel came to a screeching halt. I decided to stay put, and with most borders still closed & things a little strange globally I’ll likely be here a while yet.
There’s much worse places in which to find oneself stranded.
Being somewhat of a freewheeling idiot with too much time on his hands, I’ve had the opportunity to wander around a bit and make a few observations, some of which are presented below. As this is a bodyboarding website I’ll try to keep the non-boogie bits brief, but the bodyboarding scene here is inextricably woven into the land, the sea, the people, and the culture, as it is everywhere. You and me, us happy little boogieboarders, are all just tiny little players in a much bigger picture, and I personally think it’s super frickin’ cool.
It’s young. It’s forged in fire, so much so that it’s still got steam rising from it. It’s largely hilly. The distances aren’t vast like home but the roads are twisty. Pay attention driving or you’ll die in a gorge. It’s spectacularly beautiful. Every second turn brings you to a panorama that makes you pull over and stare in wonder. It’s like living in a postcard. The geographical isolation over geological time has left some places looking as they did in the late Cretaceous. Bring your camera and keep an eye out for dinosaurs. I do.
Being so young, there doesn’t seem to be the abundance of flat, platform-style reefs that abound on the largely sedimentary-based east coast of Australia. There are a couple flat shallow slabs, but they’re few & far-between.
Instead there are an abundance of stupidly-long left-hand points (you know the names of the known spots, but rest assured there are a HEAP of other places reeling off right now, under the radar), a bunch of rivermouth sandbar and/or shinglebank setups that get crazy-good and can rival anything you’ve seen in Indonesia, one or two hidden wedges, and beachbreaks that can range from complete dogshit to mind-melting perfection, often on the same day.
The west & east coasts are relatively close, so you’re never more than a couple hours drive from offshore conditions. With no large landmass to stabilise things, weather patterns are infuriatingly complex & changeable.
If you want to score, ya gotta be prepared to drive, and petrol’s expensive. Lots of coastal area is in private ownership with restricted access, which can be heartbreaking when you’re chasing a river to the sea only to be stopped by a locked gate and a “Keep Out” sign. Local knowledge counts for a lot. And it gets cold! Bring rubber. Bring more rubber.
The People & Culture.
To my eyes, there are a lot of similarities to Hawaii. Not so much the waves, but more the people, the culture, the place-names, the general underlying vibe. I put it down to the thread of Polynesian commonality that pervades the entire Pacific. There is a shared similarity of language, tradition, & culture that spread across most of the islands in this whole ocean, with each area having it’s own unique flavours.
The Polynesian seafarers were undoubtably among the finest navigators the world has ever known. I read somewhere that the more experienced Polynesian explorers on open-ocean voyages would dip their testicles into the sea and then be able to calculate swell size & direction, prevailing current, tidal pull, where they were and where they were going, which I find frankly amazing!
The Maori, as well as all Polynesians, seem to me to have an affinity for and a connection with the ocean and the waves that runs pretty deep. Like Hawaii, if you show up to places with a low-key and respectful attitude, you’ll generally be welcome. Show up with five of your loudest mates, speeding down farmland roads kicking up dust, pull up in the carpark with a handbrake-slide then paddle out in a rabid pack and you may be politely yet firmly asked to leave, especially in the more rural areas.
Some of the better waves are out in the country, so mind your manners, like you would anywhere away from home. In general, don’t act like a dick and you won’t be treated like one. I’ve met plenty of happy rippers in my travels and never had any hassles.
Aloha is to Hawaii, what Aroha is to Aotearoa.
Living a relatively isolated country with replacement parts for things being sometimes difficult to access, the Kiwis developed something called the “Number 8 Wire” mentality. Basically, they can fix anything, I mean ANYTHING, with a deft application of fencing wire. This trait of inventive resourcefulness is something I greatly admire.
The Bodyboarding Scene.
Like most bodyboarding hotspots, the boogie scene here has had several cycles of boom & bust since the heady days of the early ‘90s, when us gut-grovellers were seemingly everywhere, in our billions, and is now at the stage where it is staffed by a small & dedicated crew of experts, who surf for little more than the joy & stoke that the humble bodyboard can bring. It sounds cliched but it’s true.
I’m yet to meet a Kiwi bodyboarder I didn’t immediately like. I love surfing alone but I also really dig surfing with other bodyboarders, something I seem to be doing more and more lately. Shortly after I arrived here I started receiving a couple messages here & there from local legends (many of whom I’d not personally yet met) dropping quiet hints on the best places & conditions to score good waves, generally with the words “happy to help out Bro, we don’t get many boogers visiting here, hope ya score” or something similar.
You know it and I know it, bodyboarding is currently at a stage where it’s largely kinda underground, none of us do it for the money or the accolades, or to be cool. It’s like a secret society of legends & legendesses, scattered thinly across the globe, with slightly higher concentrations of us at the spots with better waves.
It’s a similar thing here, with small enclaves of rippers centered around the areas with waves more conducive to performance bodyboarding. There is a small yet thriving contest scene with no shortage of talent on the Opens, Masters & Dropknee divisions, but one thing I’ve noticed (and discussed with a few local crew) there is definitely a shortage of grommets bodyboarding. Possibly it’s a side-effect of the current popularity of softboards, maybe the kids are too busy playing x-box, maybe it’s something else entirely.
Hopefully the pendulum will swing back again and bodyboarding will again have one of it’s little boom-times. I have faith that it will, it’s too much fun not to.
I’d like to offer a sincere and heartfelt thankyou to every bodyboarder in this epic little country that I have met, surfed with, competed against, been offered surf-tips or boat-rides, or just shared a laugh with. You’re all a bunch of complete legends, thanks for the hospitality, I owe you all a huge debt of gratitude, and I look forward to sharing some barrels with ya soon!