Slushy Surfer.

Slushy Surfer.

Can you briefly introduce yourself and your background in Bodyboarding?

Kia ora, I’m Aran Naismith and I live on the West Coast of the South Island, eNZed, 12 minutes from Blaketown Wedge. However, I grew up in much further north on Great Barrier Island, New Zealand’s fourth largest Island, located about 90km north east of Auckland. I started bodyboarding at the age of 15-16 and shortly thereafter I was a staunch follower of the Bodyboard Surfing New Zealand (BBSNZ) Tour for a few years. My best results back then were a 1st in the Amateur Mens’ and 3rd in the Under 18s’ divisions in the 2008 BBSNZ Tour and 2nd in the under 21’s in the 2010 BBSNZ Tour. More recently I was the back-to-back winner of the Blaketown Challenge in 2019 and 2020, and runner up in 2021.

Blaketown is infamous in the NZ bodyboarding scene (similar to Mandurah Wedge or Port Mac in that it’s one of few, if not the only place in NZ where the local bodyboarders outnumber the local surfers). Blaketown isn’t quite what it used to be, but it’s still an amazing wave for the boog and has produced some of the best riders from NZ; the likes of Ben Smith, Andrew Low, Adam Mclean and Hamish Bruce, to name a few. I’ve called this place home for 11 years and am firmly of the view that it’s the best place to live if you’re a bodyboarder in NZ. 

We understand you had a pretty memorable/ psycho experience at the wave pool in Bristol, can you run us through that?

I timed my short trip to the UK with the coldest December weather they’ve had in about 10 years. On Friday 9th December we rocked up to the carpark and according to the dashboard the air temp was an icey -5 degrees. It was still dark when we started the 15-minute stroll to The Wave and by the time we arrived my fingers were already numb inside my quality NZ merino wool gloves (and felt a bit naive as I booked back-to-back expert barrel sessions on the right and left). I took an old board with an ISS soft-flex stringer from NZ, a pair of fins one size up from my usual and a pair of 4mm thick titanium and zirconium lined fin socks made by Seventhwave Wetsuits. However, my old winter wetsuit wasn’t up for the challenge and I was assured that The Wave would provide me with a “really warm and thick winter wetsuit plus optional gloves, hood and boots…”

It was still dark when i signed in, picked up the back zip “really warm and thick winter wetsuit”, gloves and hood. Dawn when we received our safety briefing (and were told the water was approximately 4 degrees…) and shortly after dawn by the time we paddled out to the magic corner of the right-hand side of the Wavegarden pier. There’s a saying in the NZ bodyboarding scene that Blaketown boys can’t go left, and it couldn’t be more accurate. Luckily (or unluckily) for me I grew up with more variety (quantity rather than quality), but it’s safe to say that 11 years of predominantly booging at Blaketown has neglected my skills on lefts.  

When i hit the water I almost instantly felt a sharp stabbing pain on the tip of my wedding ring finger and upon closer inspection I could see a small hole in the glove at the tip of that finger. At this point I didn’t know that only 5 minutes earlier the surface of the lake had been covered by a layer of ice! It was an uncomfortable feeling, on top of the icey water leakage trickling down my back.

It was beyond cold and the cramp already hit me in both calves while i was waiting for my turn to paddle over to the black diamond and catch my first artificial wave. Luckily the cramp dissipated as I heard the mechanical pump of the wave-making machine and saw the mountain dew green lump of water coming at me from the corner of the concrete lake. It was game on from thereafter.

I found the surf extremely exhausting in the cold and it was probably just the adrenaline and fast pace that kept the cramp at bay for the remainder of the surf. Did I say how cold it was? My body felt incredibly stiff. Most of the surfers were wearing their own gear, including their own hood – some even had one of The Waves ‘noddy cap’ hoods over the top of their own hoods, whereas my face and neck were totally exposed to the icey air. My fully charged GoPro hero 8 black battery only lasted about 7 waves before it was zapped..

About 3/4 through the session there was a mechanical failure just before it was my turn to catch a wave. We waited a couple of minutes but it started to get extremely cold due to the lack of movement, so some of us started paddling around in circles to keep hypothermia at bay. 5 minutes went by like this then we heard a piston pump noise and loud clang come from the wave-making machine, then a small unrideable lump of mountain dew came through and we thought we were back on, but nothing followed so we continued paddling around in little circles. After another 5 minutes the employee, wearing his balaclava and plush looking ski jacket (hot coffee in gloved hand!), let us know that it could be another 10 minutes until we’d have surfable waves and they would also likely provide us all with a voucher for another (warmer) session.

After another 5 minutes or so we heard the mechanical pump again, then the first unrideable lump came through and to our big 14 strong sigh of relief a larger lump followed. I was very fortunate to be in priority for the first wave in over 15 minutes and took off, dead GoPro in mouth, on what is by the far the glassiest and most surreal wave of my life. It almost looked like one of Robbie Crawfords’ creations; the colours were crazy and not a drop of water was out of place. I set my line and got a very long deep barrel and came flying out to a standing ovation from the surfers that were waiting for the next session on the right. I was so cold at this point I decided to head in (and I didn’t want to jeopardise my memory of my final wave on the right), so I exchanged the mandatory rash shirt, dropped off my dead GoPro and told my aunt and uncle that I’d just catch a couple of waves on the left before heading in for a muchneeded hot coffee and warm breakfast.

I caught three waves on the left until there was another mechanical failure. I was warm enough to continue for the rest of the surf but after about 15 minutes of paddling around in frigid water circles we were told to head in for a hot shower as they were worried about our safety and didn’t know when the waves would be back on. I must say that hot coffee might just have been the best coffee of my life!

The Wave remained open for the rest of the day and the mechanical issues appear to had been fixed once the air temp was above zero. However, they decided to close for the next two days and remained closed the following weekend due to a continuation of freezing temperatures and a fresh dump of snow.

You can check out the highlights of the surf here (ice breaking included!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0d07ekM3hlk

How did you come to be in Europe and will you be chasing other ocean based waves while you’re there?

My wife and I got married at the beginning of 2020, just before Covid blew up. Our original plan was to visit her family in Germany for a real Christmas and then head to Portugal for a 10-day honeymoon in the Peniche/Nazare area. Two years later we made it to Europe but our plans had changed for various reasons. I decided to give her some along time with her family and head to the UK to catch up with some old friends, visit my mums side of my family and try my hand at The Wave. Initially I thought I’d be able to surf every day whilst I was in the Bristol area. However, by the time i booked my sessions, The Waves operating days were reduced to three and I would only be in town for half a day whilst they were open.

I flew all this way and just had one surf, but bodyboarding wasn’t the focus. However, I’ll be coming back in 2024 as I’m planning to take a sabbatical and spend the year chasing waves. I’ll definitely head back to The Wave (summer/autumn next time!), Alai Bay in the Swiss Alps and elsewhere to at least Portugal, but potentially Ireland or Scotland too. I’ll also spend time in Indonesia and Australia, as well as enjoy the best of some local NZ waves and hopefully tick off a bucket list wave or two elsewhere.

Being from New Zealand is there a certain comfort level dealing with colder water? 

Most definitely, especially living in the South Island. On a cold winter day, the stiff offshore winds blow straight off the snow capped Southern Alps, but the air temperature at the coast rarely gets down to zero and the water is comparably balmy at about 10-12 degrees at the coldest on the West Coast. I’ve also recently got into cold exposure, starting with fairly regular cold showers and then completing a full 5 minutes submerged to my neck in an ice bath thanks to the author and 2x Leukemia survivor Josh Komen, a fellow West Coaster.

Can you give us an insight into the New Zealand scene from your perspective?

Things are looking really positive for the NZ scene for the first time in over 11 years. There are bodyboarding clubs popping up everywhere at the moment, the most recent being in Auckland, Bay of Plenty and Canterbury. They’re joining the likes of Blaketown Bodyboarders and Ngamotu Bodyboarders who have been the only active clubs for quite some time. Boog meets, group surfs, learn to bodyboard days and club comps are currently being organised in multiple locations. One area that is definitely lacking, in my opinion, is that there aren’t many young guys coming through. On a positive note, a guy called Jason Mckay started a group called BBK Reef Riders in late 2022 and he has already organised successful Tamariki/Rangatahi days for kids to learn the basics of bodyboarding.

On the free-surfing side, there’s a couple of active photographers floating about, led by Jean Pierre Guillotin who’s very active in the North Island. Riders wise, in my view Canarian import Laurent Lopez, Aussies James Nyemer (Nemo) and 1990’s comp legend Jason Spence, and kiwi chargers Steve Fortune and Ahi Newby are currently leading the pack in the North Island, but a few relatively quiet known rippers are still out there making the most of it when they can. Things do seem a bit quieter in the South Island, with many of the well known guys having either moved to greener pastures in Australia or being quite busy with family life. Sam Wells (Wellsy) can still be found at his local haunts or stopping in for some barrels and bonfires on the West Coast, Jolan Kilkelly is still dominating Blaketown on the knee and Andrew Low has recently found his passion for bodyboarding again, which is really great to see and be involved in as it’s going to push the level of riding at Blaketown once again.

We’ve also got our very own bodyboarding focused podcast called Fumanswoo!

NZ riders and bodyboarding clubs currently lack a centralised support infrastructure and in my opinion this is a bit of issue. However, I think things are looking really positive for 2023 and it will be a year to watch. 

Any other information or comments you’d like to include feel free here:

Firstly, we’re currently organising the Blaketown Challenge 2023 over easter weekend with a 4-day waiting period from 6-9 April. We’re making this a big one and encourage riders new and old from across NZ and abroad to attend. If anyone is interesting in sponsoring the event please get in touch with us via facebook or instagram. We’ll be filming the entire event in 4k and putting a highlights clip together to showcase the riders and thank our sponsors.

As indicated above, I’ve just purchased a 4k camera and plan to use it to showcase Blaketown Bodyboarders and New Zealand bodyboarding (the latter if I can be dragged out of the water and away from the trap that is Blaketown). So, a bit of blatant self-promotion is to keep an eye out on my youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/@Natesmiff as well as Inspired Bodyboarding Australia’s: https://www.youtube.com/@kyleinspired

Lastly, a huge thanks to Kyle Drury and my sponsor Inspired Bodyboarding Co for the support. Inspired make top quality bodyboarding threads and are doing great things supporting bodyboarding at the grass roots; creating content, sponsoring competitions and full-length bodyboarding movies such as Coned, and donating $1 of every sale towards a bodyboarding club of your choice. 

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