New Zealand: Surfing’s Incorruptible Eden

Images by Dan Scott

New Zealand’s been on surf maps since Bruce Brown and the boys went there in the early 60s.

But strangely (see: thankfully) it remains one of the few relatively under-exploited wave-rich regions; 50 years later it’s still “easy as” to score quality waves with no one around. But why? Having lived in NZ ten years ago and visited regularly since, why it hasn’t been overrun has continually puzzled me. Many surfers suffer from doomsday anxiety, myself included, but I think it’s finally time to breathe deep and put NZ in the ‘not to worry’ pile. NZ’s not blowing out anytime soon. Here’s why. Maybe.

Moody shot, moody place.

The Weather

It’s UK terrible, with the added bonus of having a super thin spot in the ozone layer overhead, so when the sun does shine you get burnt as hell. Clearly when you’re surfing, it doesn’t really matter if it’s raining, in fact it’s kind of nice. Also, wetsuits are getting so good now that cold water temps, even in the South Island, aren’t insufferable. However, whose non-surfing partner, male or female, wants to spend two of their four weeks a year in a soggy tent/campervan/weird little town in the middle of nowhere? Bali it is.

It’s not empty, but it’s not Snapper either.

The Road

Compared to the behemoth island across the ditch, NZ is tiny, but there’s a ton of coastline to cover and an obscene amount of spots, so you’re going to need to be mobile. Campervans are best. The most people I’ve heard of cramming into a single camper’s four—when the geniuses who made the back half of this clip drove ‘round the South Island and spent the majority of the time with their feet in each other’s faces arguing. Meaning? Crews are small, and the chances of every set of two mates in a camper arriving at the same spot at the same time in an island covered in them, is small.


NZ’s awesome PM Jacinda Arden’s on the march to stop foreigners from buying property in NZ. Which is awesome for everyone already there, and shithouse for those of us who harbour dreams of posting up in some wind-blown shack and sheltering from the fast-approaching nuclear fallout. What it does mean though, is that it’s never going to turn into central America or Indo, because it’s going to be difficult for cashed-up foreigners to open surf/yoga/organic hydroponic growing camps. Neat.

Osc groovin.

But we’re not here to ruminate on the apocalypse. We’re here because Chippa Wilson, Robbie Rickard and Oscar Langburne just came back from our sister(?) country, and well, they kinda scored.

“We posted up on the North Island in the south-west corner,” Chippa tells me. “We surfed a bunch of spots—beachies, left and right points, a healthy mix. The storm that we were chasing moved a little closer than forecasted though so we copped lots of wind and rain.”

If you pay attention to this sort of thing then you may have noticed that Chippa’s branched out in his choice of craft of late. Footage of some of the things that he’s been doing on vessels that are more naturally suited to highlines and cutbacks have been discombobulating, to say the least. The variety of waves in New Zealand is vast, and in light of his recent experimentation, I asked Chippa what he slides into the boardbag for this kind of outing.

Not the move traditionally expected of chunky vessels with two large fins. Chippa torches the rule book. Again.

“I took a 6’2 Tyler Warren single fin, 5’5 Neal purchase twin plus one, 5’6 Matt Hurworth hi-fi thrusters, and 5’0 Troy Elmore rabbits tail finless,” says Chip. Note to self: when the world’s foremost technical aerialist is travelling with a quiver as eclectic as that, seeing average Joes slapping around on finely-tuned thrusters, is frankly embarrassing.

I pressed Chippa on the matter that baffles me every time I set foot in the ocean, ie., why below average surfers insist on inappropriate equipment. He said that for him, it’s all about fun and balance. “It feels like a nice mix,” he explains of his own quiver. “I normally ride NPJ boards if it’s a longer clean wave, as it allows me to draw out some longer lines due to the fun set up, then I switch to MH boards when the ocean turns mean and windy because they’re good for airs and fast tight lines.”

Arty Osc.

Now I’ve been on these sorts of trips, and if you’re not careful the fun/surf equilibrium can get out of whack. In New Zealand especially—due to the number of spots and the fact that you can drive from one side of the island to the other in a couple of hours—your surf trip can easily turn into the Dakar Rally. On the other hand, a few bad (see: good) eggs thrown into the mix can lead to everyone having too good of a time, and the trip turning into a, “our drinking team has a surfing problem” kind of affair. Chippa says that on this occasion, they got it just right. “We had an epic crew and everyone was in good spirits even when the wave hunting got tough,” he says before adding, “As long as everyone jumped in the ocean and had a beer in their hand by three it was all good.”

Seeing as this was primarily a wetsuit research and development outing, I couldn’t resist asking whether he thought Adelio churned out better rubber than, say, Torquay’s finest, Rip Curl. Thankfully, Chippa jovially took the bait and obliged. “Come on man, of course. They should chop up those Rippy suits and make ’em into stubbie coolers.”

Dunno about you, but I could look at shots of Chippa spinnin’ all day.

Y’heard it here first, fashion your flash bomb into approx 24 koozies and jump into something fresh this winter.

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