A SURFING WAY OF LIFE:
An exploration of the surf culture that defines the beaches of Wainui and Makorori
We live in a surfer’s mecca. That’s no exaggerated, tourism industry claim. The twin beaches of Makorori and Wainui are world famous for the consistency and quality of surf. A huge proportion of people who live in our community would define themselves as “surfers”. The activity of surfing, and the culture that parallels the sport, continues to have a huge influence on the social and political dynamic of our community. So many of our residents came here primarily to be close to the breaking surf and there has evolved a sense of an “extended surfing family”. This almost tribal sense of belonging has become more entrenched as a second and even a third generation of “locals” grows up to populate our surf breaks. In this article we look at the history of surfing at our beaches and philosophize on the effects the surfing way of life has on how we view ourselves.
Story by Gray Clapham
In researching the history of surfing in Gisborne all roads lead to one name – Kevin Pritchard. A local high school boy and a Midway surf clubby, he and a group of contemporaries can claim to be the first Gisborne surfers of the modern era – and the first to surf the waves at Wainui and Makorori beaches.
Folklore dictates that Pritchard was the first person ever to paddle out and catch a wave at Makorori Point and also Tuamotu Island.
Now 68, living at Papamoa, Kevin can’t remember the exact date. It was probably 1961: “I was out there with a few others, but I know I was the first to paddle out and ride a wave that day. The others then joined me. I think I was with Dave Swann, Darryl Heighway, Peter Goodwin, John Logan.
“We were looking for new places to surf. We would go out to Sponge Bay and Wainui looking for decent shaped waves. That’s how we first got to Makorori. We used to surf Wainui a bit, but if Makorori was rideable it was better because we could get longer rides.”
It was only a year or so earlier in 1959 that Gisborne was introduced to surfing waves on stand up boards – as opposed to riding them on paddle skis – when a group of Piha clubbies brought what they called “zip boards” to a life saving carnival at Waikanae Beach.
Early surfer John Logan who was there at the time and now lives overlooking Wainui Beach in Wairere Road says: “Some guys from Piha brought these fibreglass boards down here, we called them “zip boards”. We had only ever ridden waves on surf skis but these guys were standing up on boards and riding sideways, across the waves.”
The “zip boards” were probably the very early surfboards made by pioneer Piha boardmaker Peter Byers, who had been inspired by watching visiting Americans Bing Copeland and Rick Stoner surf Piha in the late ‘50s.
Logan says the sport in Gisborne developed slowly from there and it was probably a year later that a tight group sat warily watching the waves at Makorori before Kevin Pritchard plucked up the courage to be first to venture out over the rocks to the Point.
Peter “Goody” Goodwin, who was there that day, was the junior member of the gang. He says Pritchard was the big guy, the leader of the pack. He would surf any size wave. On big days he would jump off the Gisborne breakwater, paddle across to Midway Beach and catch huge waves out by the “one mile buoy”.
Kevin Pritchard says: “Once we discovered Makorori we would always try to get out there. We used to spend all day, summer and winter, hanging out at Makorori. We didn’t have wet suits, maybe football jerseys in winter, and you would come out of the water blue with cold. We kept a fire going most of the time.”
John Logan says: “My little Ford Anglia worked pretty hard in those days transporting five or so guys out to Makorori stacked high with 10 foot long boards.”
THE PIONEERS: John Logan, Peter Goodwin, Darryl Heighway, David Swann and Kevin Pritchard with the boards stacked on John’s Ford Anglia in 1962. Reunited in 2009.
David Swann and Kevin Pritchard December 2008.
One of the earliest surfers, Terry Byrne, remembers: “We used to place great store on getting up before dawn, roaring out to Makorori in Dave Burn’s old car with Denzil Owen, Glen Sutton. We’d drive over Makorori Hill at sunrise and see these perfect lines coming through and there’d be mass hysteria to get out amongst them. Surfing became a total way of life for us.
“We’d stay there all day, even in winter, standing around the fire, passing round the odd bottle of wine. We’d always be cold and shivering but always keen to go out again.”
In isolation this embryonic group of watermen were laying the foundations of a way of life and a code of behaviour that was to later become a unique lifestyle with a global following, it was the beginning of “surf culture” as it is known today.
An event that subtly changed the direction of surfing locally was the arrival in town in 1961 of the Bruce Brown surf movie “Surfing Hollow Days”. For the first time the locals saw the state of surfing as it was in California and a certain Malibu-cool style crept into the local scene. It also shifted surfing a step away from the hitherto surf life saving culture it had evolved from.
Peter Goodwin was possibly the first local surfer to interpret the messages filtering in from California and Australia. John Logan says: “Goody was the first of us to start moving his board around the wave, perfecting what was then called ‘hot-dogging’.”
HOT DOGGER: Peter Goodwin surfing Pines was the young stylemaster of the ‘60s.
The arrival of a wave of Australians with their flamboyant surfing styles and equally flamboyant social behaviour continued to fracture the early symbiosis between surf life saving and surfing. “Wild behaviour” became de rigueur, along with the radical new concept of “dropping out” to totally devote ones life to surfing. The Australians also introduced new moves and new surfboard shapes. All of the above was eagerly soaked up by the Gisborne locals.
One of the most influential early Aussies in the Gisborne scene was surfboard maker Bob Davie who arrived from Sydney via Auckland around 1964 with side-kick Bob “Arab” Steel. They liked the Gisborne lifestyle and the consistently good waves “up the coast”, and here Davie established the now legendary Bob Davie Surfboards. The man they later called the inventor of the shortboard, Bob McTavish, visited around this time and spent a few months shaping boards at the Stanley Road factory.
In the book “Gone Surfing: The Golden Days of Surfing in New Zealand” former New Zealand champion surfer, Alan Byrne says: “Bob was really important for surfing in New Zealand. He attracted a steady flow of top board builders and surfers to Gisborne such as Russell Hughes, Bob McTavish and Keith Paull.”
Bob McTavish told BeachLife: “I shaped for Bob Davie for three months in 1966. We surfed everywhere. The best were Pipeline, The Island, Makas, Mahia. My memories of that time are the pubs with the Maoris, huge flagons of beer, local wines and wonderful happy people. Surf, surf, surf and surf – and a new surfbreak around every corner. Unbeatable.”
Bob Davie departed from here to set up shop at Mount Maunganui in 1966, but he and the young shapers he attracted left behind a legacy of board making know-how and established Gisborne as a mecca for surfers from around the world.
Around this time another Australian, Nigel Dwyer, turned up in town. He and his car load Cronulla mates showed the locals how to surf and how to party Aussie style. He also did some glassing for Bob Davie before leaving to establish Del Surfboards in New Plymouth after the 1965 nationals. Davie says Dwyer was responsible for surfing being taken more seriously around Gisborne.
AUSSIE INVASION: Alan Doorman, Arab Steele at Makarori Point 1964.
In April of 1968 two Australians turned up at the Makorori who were to have a huge impact on the evolution of local surfing.
Ben Hutchings and Bob Rasby – who had met in Byron Bay in ‘66 and had learned to make boards at Ken Adler’s San Juan surf shop – had earlier tossed a coin on the south side of the Bombay Hills to decide whether to go east to Gisborne or west to New Plymouth.
“Within a day of that fateful toss we were sitting under Makorori hill at end of the old dirt track with a light north-west wind and 6-foot plus north swell,” says Hutchings. “Centre, Red Bus and the Point were all going off. It was mid week, only two surfers out, Glen Sutton and Geoff Logan.
“I thought: Where are we? What is this place? Does anybody else surf here? Just a magic feeling. That little stretch of coastline from Stock Route to North Makorori — for atmosphere and vibe, matches anywhere in the world on its given day.
“I paddled over to the Inside Island with Russell Jones one day. There was a massive south swell, a light north-east wind, lines to the horizon. I looked at Russ and said this place will do me!”
Both Benny and Bob, in different stages, ended up staying in Gisborne for decades. Ben started a surfboard factory, they married local girls, had families here, saw in the era of the shortboard and stamped their marks permanently on the local surf culture. Bob Rasby’s story is told in more detail on page 38.
In this way the world discovered Gisborne, and the ever-breaking waves at Wainui and Makorori beaches. And Gisborne discovered surfing at the same time. This was “Surf City”. For a time the town embraced the concept. Radio 2ZG became “Surf City Radio”, even the local car boys named themselves the “Surf City Hot Rod Club”.
As Hutchings and Jim Croskery and then Bob Rasby started shaping and glassing the first of thousands of locally-made surfboards, out of the city’s high schools emerged a new echelon of local surfers who were hell-bent on following the surfing way of life.
Local surfers pose at Mount Maunganui after winning the 1967 Quane Trophy. From left – John Robinson, Greg Warren, Chris Ransley, Denzil Owen, Mark Jones, Glen Sutton, Billy Goodwin, Terry Burns, Peter Goodwin and Des Atkins.
The House of Surfboards Gisborne.
They were a hungry market for the designs of the shortboard revolution – at the same time absorbing a new lifestyle message filtering in from California. Local surfers, as did their contemporaries around the world, grew their hair long and warped the surfing lifestyle into a blend of California cool and Haight Ashbury mind expansion. This was most-often a pseudo-cosmic charade which advocated smoking marijuana and taking other psych-altering drugs, along with excessive alcohol consumption.
Most of the fathers, and many grand-fathers, of today’s grommets would have to admit to some degree of subscription to this psychedelic club. At one time during this period a tribe of local and foreign surfers set up a feral camp in the trees hidden from Highway 35 at Makorori Point and lived a semi-communal lifestyle close to the waves. The effect the large amounts of marijuana, first grown around Gisborne and later imported from Asia, had on the local surfing community is a story worthy of a separate feature. But not today.
To be fair, not all surfers indulged in this psychedelic binge beyond peer-pressure experimentation. While many “dropped out” and others were inspired to travel to exotic locations where the drugs were more accessible, there was a hard-core who continued to view surfing as an athletic sport and saw the need to hone their waterskills and train for physical fitness.
Gathering at Redmond Street flat of Greg Robertson and Doug Stewart mid '70s.
Several like Chris Ransley, Ron Amann, Glen Sutton, Bob Rasby, Benny Hutchings, Owen Williams, Brett Papworth were highly successful at both surfing and surf life saving. Hutchings, from a proud Bondi Beach surf life saving family, was mainly responsible for the blending of surfing and surf life saving in this region. Today and a generation on, family names like Sutton and Hutchings are still synonymous with achievement in the dual arenas.
In this era, most of the surf crowd were “townies”. Young men from Gisborne suburban families. There weren’t many young families living at Wainui and Makorori. Most of the beach homes were operated as holiday baches by farming families from the Gisborne hill country, or were the residential choice of newly retired couples, most-often farmers or vaguely bohemian town-folk attracted to a beachcomber existence by the coast.
However there was a handful of young families living here and many of the local Wainui kids first gravitated to the Wainui surf life saving club and then on to surfing. Brett Papworth, Owen, Darryl and Billy Williams, the Dudson boys, Gerald Monk, the Gibsons, the Stevensons, Vance Gillgren and Dave McCullough at Makorori and others were the truly indigenous local surfers.
The surfer population of Wainui today is largely the result of a melting pot of these original locals mixed with Gisborne surfers who moved out to the beach and a large handful of New Zealand and overseas surfers who came from far and wide to surf here and never left. Many of today’s Wainui and Makorori families are the results of inter-marriages between these groups.
A number of Australian surf visitors married local girls and produced talented surfing offspring. Kim Gunness was enticed here from Woolongong in the mid ‘70s after running into travelling Gisborne surfer Wayne Fairlie at the beach there one day. He turned up in Gisborne in 1976, boarded with a local couple and went surfing until his savings ran out. His first job was picking kumaras. Today he is a successful businessman, cunning golfer and the father and grandfather to two generations of Wainui born children. Both Damon and Ainsley have lined their parents’ mantelpieces with surfing trophies. Bob Rasby’s son Brent has done much the same.
Another Australian to make his mark in Gisborne, who is now a long time Makorori resident, is Greg “Red” Robertson, formerly of Manly Beach, who arrived in town after a rugby league trip to Auckland with $5 in his pocket in March of 1970. A day seagulling on the Gisborne wharf with Ivan Paterson, Mark “Crunch” Salisbury and Doug Stewart was all the introduction he needed to the local scene. Greg later went to work at Surfboards Gisborne as a sander and glasser. 38 years, a marriage, two kids and a few careers later, Greg still surfs, works in real estate, plays golf and owns a house overlooking Makorori Beach.
Greg "Red " Robertson.
While the Aussies were finding a life to their liking here so too were New Zealand surfers from all over the country. Through the ‘70s and early ‘80s came nomad surfers like Dave Timbs, Sam Tanner, Bob Hansen, Trevor Herk, Spring Thompson and Gary McCormick – to name a few – who found Wainui Beach, parked up their house trucks, Kombi vans and Holden station wagons and found it impossible to leave.
Dave Timbs came to Gisborne after graduating from Wellington teachers’ college in 1971 and out to the beach in 1972: “I rented a house in Lysnar Street, had long hair, a 1946 Austin 10, tie-dyed wall hangings, a vegetarian diet, 10 percent body fat and few inhibitions. I remember one of my first images here was going to the movies and there was this girl dressed in a wrap-around sarong and bikini top. I thought any city where people dress like that in the main street has to be my type of town.
“All of this combined with a surfing culture made up of diverse characters living beyond their vocational, racial and gender roles who, the most of the time, loved sharing a surf session together. And now my children return home with total appreciation for this Wainui lifestyle – they get it also.”
Ivan Paterson pulled in from Palmerston North in the late ‘60s with his side kick Allan “Gabby” Gabbott and quickly merged in with the local surf culture. Forty years later “Big Ivan” is yet to go home. He now commands a sea view in Wairere Road and, at a recent 60-years-old, is a prominent Wainui and Gisborne identity, still getting himself out into the line-up on the good days.
The title of first-ever-pension-aged-surfer must go to 65-year-old Ray “Salty Dog” Hawthorne, who also blew in from Palmerston North in 1970 to check the surf. Ray came up in his Hillman Minx, looked up Ivan, moved in with Doug, Chocka and Red for a few days, bought a Bob Rasby shape from the fledgling Surfboards Gisborne, and also refused to go home. Apart from a few stints in Aussie, Ray has lived and surfed in Gisborne for nearly 40 years, ten of them in his flat along Moana Road, which he now shares with Anne his new bride of six months. Ray is quite proud of his status as the oldest-Wainui-surfer-still-surfing, but defers to Eddy Rare as probably the oldest Gisborne surfer.
Another import is Noel Craft, teacher and beekeeper out of Auckland, who was drawn back to Gisborne by the surf after a trip down here in the mid ‘70s. He flatted for a while with another immigrant, Richard Gordon. Met partner Ness, bought an old beach house in Pare Street and, 30-plus years and three children later, is still here and is very much a respected local veteran.
Graham Breckell, presently Tourism Eastland’s chief executive, now a long-time Wainui resident, first came here surfing from Auckland as a teenager in the 1960s. He returned for good in 1984 by manipulating a transfer within Radio New Zealand to take on a job as sales manager at Gisborne’s station 2ZG. He is one of Wainui’s most enthusiastic over-50 surfers.
Doug Stewart first came to Gisborne in 1967 to surf. He left Auckland permanently to live here in 1970. In 1974 he did a bit of shaping and general factory work for Benny and Bob at Surfboards Gisborne, shaped a while for Ray Dalton at Gisborne Surfing Co, and then in 1981 went into partnership with Ralph Blake at New Wave Surfboards. Along the way he married Pam and had children Sonya and Blair. They moved to Murphy Road in 1992. Son Blair took out the open New Zealand surfing title in 2003 and had success competing internationally. Doug and Ralph sold New Wave to Larry in 1987 and he now has a business using his board making skills creating innovative parts for the aviation industry.
Doug Stewart and Ralph Blake, New Wave Surfboards.
Another import who has left his mark is Ray Dalton who came up from Invercargill via Kaikoura 40 years ago in 1968. Ray met Gail (at the DB Gisborne Hotel) and together the Dalton’s have created their own legacy within the Wainui surf culture. Ray honed his boardmaking skills at Surfboards Gisborne, eventually buying Des Delaney’s Natural Flight business which he renamed Gisborne Surfing Co. A house in Wairere Road, a period at Mahia, a couple of years in Australia, a couple of children, a house in Pare Street, the Hot Buttered Surfboard agency, another trip to Australia, the tin shed in Grey Street, and then 18 years ago, the shift out to Wainui again and the origins of The Boardroom. Over the years Ray has established a reputation as one of New Zealand’s leading custom board makers, a job he has now passed on to son Tommy.
Ray Dalton and surfboard design from the late ‘70s.
During this era many Gisborne-born surfers were also deciding Wainui Beach was the place to live. This writer included. First we found houses to rent and later were able to buy. Many is the story of the old beach house bought in 1980 for $30,000 which was recently priced at well over half a million – from surf bum to millionaire property owner is a familiar story.
Such is the saga of Brent “Simmo” Simpson of Douglas Street, now a successful business man, still a grey-haired denizen of the waves, but once a long-haired poster-boy for the ‘70s pot-fueled, drop-out-and-go-surfing cult.
One of Gisborne’s late ‘60s schoolboy surf pack who left for Aussie in the early ‘70s, he returned from a Gold Coast-northern New South Wales lifestyle when son Dane was born in a caravan park near Angourie in 1979. He and wife Jill bought a section in Douglas Street with money saved in Australia. Brent became a meat inspector at the freezing works, was made redundant when it closed and today they own Charcoal Chicken and have invested in property. Brent epitomises the modern middle-aged surfer with a brand new 10’ 2” Donald Takayama longboard hanging in the garage and a head crammed full of knowledge on all things to do with surfing. Son Dane carries on the surfing tradition.
Brent Simpson and Dane, Ray Dalton and Tommy, 1980.
Also in the category of long-time Gisborne locals with similar credentials, who are now Wainui residents, can be included Paul Conole, Chris Ransley, Bill Brown, Cliff Marriott, Ron Amann, Wayne Spence, Pete Stewart, Bernie Martin, Dick Calcott, Ian Francis, Pete Anderson, Dave Drummond, Scott Dobbie, Bob Quirk, Grant Goldsmith. Not to forget John Logan and my brother Mark Clapham, who were part of that crew from the very early ‘60s.
Brett Papworth, Bernie Martin, Steve Gibbs and Dick Calcott on a ‘70s road trip.
Ron Amann says: “I first came out surfing here when I was still at school, cadging a ride with older guys. I lived on the beach in Salisbury Road at the time but the “coast”, as we called it, had a huge attraction. I surfed with Billy Goodwin, Roger Brown, Chris Ransley, Nigel Mountford – we were always amping to get out to Makorori. It was more consistent, the waves seemed bigger, all that open coastline.”
Ron made it to the beach permanently in 1990, buying a house right on the beach in Pare Street: “Even though I could have stayed on at Roberts Road, for me it was the search for clean water. That’s the thing about Wainui Beach; the clean, clear water.”
Another echelon of Wainui immigrants arrived in the early ‘80s. This wave included young men like Brian Campbell of Moana Road, artist, who came up from Invercargill, discovered Wainui Beach and never left. And Phil Dreifuss, lawyer, ex-Whakatane, who came here in 1986 after trying New Plymouth for five years, partnered up with local girl Storm, had kids and is now a respected local barrister and a long-time resident of Wairere Road.
Others who have similar stories are Mike Neil, “Crunch” Salisbury, Richard Gordon, Steve Hathaway, Mike Beach, Craig “Bondy” Morton, Ray Morgan, Neil Walker, Brett Houghton, Darryl Ufton, Simon Parkin, John “Scooter” Scott, Luke Porter, Ian Cook, Grant “Piney” Wales. Most of these “imports” came here on surf trips, either never went home or returned later for good, and many married local girls and now have children that are first generation “locals”. The point is, if it wasn’t for the surf, they wouldn’t be here – and our community would not be populated with so many interesting and colourful characters.
While most surfing beach residents today are imports, there are also the “true locals”. Kids who grew up at the beach like Jody, Dion and Daniel Williams, Phil and David Collier, dad Kevin and Jared Ferris, Carl Ferris, Darryl Moleta, Peter Ritchie, Phil Allan, the Lewin brothers, Jake Stevens, the Atsalis brothers, the Quirks, the Drummonds, Dane Simpson, Jae and Sam Mills, Jay Papworth, Ben Cowper, Damon and Brendon Meade, Bobby Hansen, Ben and Drew Galbraith, Hamish Simpson, Jimmy Walker, Dion Brown, James Tanner, Josh Colbert, Choppy O’Leary, Shannon Dowsing, Luke Morrell, the Quinns, Damon and Ainsley Gunness, Brent Rasby, Owen McMillan, Tommy and Honey Dalton, Jaimée Clapham, Amber Dunn – the first and second generations of local grommets. And of course, “Teddy” Colbert, who may not have been born at Wainui but has lived here for nearly 20 years. Add into the mix a middle generation who themselves are now parents at the beach like Kelly and Caroline Ryan, Scott and Craig Willson, Mike Ferguson, Brent Rasby, Damon Gunness, Rees Morley, Cody Keepa, Andy McCulloch, Salvatore Zame, Scott Pitkethley and others.
Then we could fill a page with the new generation of today’s school-aged grommets who are surfing’s bright future.
Teddy Colbert, Stockroute, '80s.
There is also at Wainui Beach an underlayer of transplanted American’s who have quietly slipped into the Wainui lifestyle. Laurie Lauttman bought a house in Murphy Road in 1980 after hitching her way across the Pacific to New Zealand from California. Long time friend and fellow Californian Frank Russell came to stay in 1991. Laurie was a founding member of Women On Waves and Frank runs a successful surf coaching business.
Another, enigmatic, California-Wainui commuter is Rick Hodgson, who owns a beach house here and has been coming to Wainui most summers since the early ‘70s. He may be partly responsible for the dramatic escalation in property prices here post September 11, 2001 as he was persuasive in bringing a number of prospective, fellow Californian surfer family, property buyers to our shores fleeing the fear of the jihad and Bush-era foreign policy.
Californian surf nomad Mike Holmquist found himself down at Mahia in late 1972, making the odd trip up to Gisborne to surf: “I thought it was the Promised Land!”
Mike bought his first Wainui Beach property in 1979, a little bach across from the surf in Moana Road for $21,000, now owned by Chrisse Robertson. He later met his partner Fiona Cummings and they bought the old Gibson family’s Wairere Road beachfront property in 1981. “Old Lex Gibson said he knew we were the buyers the moment we walked up from the beach, turned around and admired the view of the surf. Hardly checked the house out at all!”
Now 58-years-old Mike has been a teacher at St Mary’s primary school for the last 15 years. Like the all the others he has been able to design a life around his obsession with the surf, venturing out everyday and passing on the passion to his 17-year-old son Mats.
In recent years there has been a steady arrival at Wainui of surfers from other parts of the world. Brazilians are finding the beaches and the lifestyle here to their liking. Several surfers have moved over from the UK, have bought houses and are having families.
If there is one family that epitomises the way surfing has evolved into a way of life in this community, it has to be the Quinns. The two Quinn boys, Jae and Maz, are both full-time surfing professionals earning an enviable living purely from the surf industry.
Dad Garry Quinn was one of those Wellingtonians that came north in the early ‘70s looking for warmer water and better waves. He returned to stay for good in 1977 with wife Phillipa and their eight month old baby boy, Maz. They worked and saved hard and were able to buy a house in Murphy Road in 1990.
A decade later the entire family was totally involved in surfing and had amassed an unprecedented array of surfing titles and triumphs. While Garry served as president and later executive office for Surf New Zealand, Maz became this country’s biggest-ever celebrity surfer with four New Zealand open titles and a place on the World Championship Tour. Second son Jae had been the World Junior surfing champion and is the current New Zealand open as well as longboard title holder. Daughter Holly had been the New Zealand women’s champion (2002) and second in the world juniors.
Maz now works as a world travelling surf ambassador for Quiksilver, Jae has a similar role with Volcom and up until recently Holly was head designer for Volcom.
Dad Garry still maintains a surfing lifestyle, currently owner of the Okitu Store: “Surfing pervades everything everyone does here. Our lives are designed around the waves. Up and down the beach there are people from all walks of life – doctors, lawyers, business owners, tradesmen, unemployed – all organising their lives around the need to go surfing.”
Garry also agrees with the extended family concept where the kids from surfing families have all grown up together, look out for each other, share mainly the same philosophies and often marry each other.
With the kids growing up there was change in the wind at Wainui Beach. From the early ‘70s right through to the mid-’80s surfing was generally considered an “alternative” sport and the lifestyle surrounding it was most-often viewed by those who weren’t involved in it as rebellious, underground, unproductive – the pursuit of society’s drop outs. As Noel Craft says: “One day I was at the beach with a certain high school principal who said, ‘look at all those useless surfers out there waiting or their next free ride’.”
However, a sea-change was coming. In the late ‘80s and into ‘90s there came to surfing a move away from the anarcho-cosmic attitude that had been running strong for a very long time. A neo-conservatism, based on family values, crept in with the renaissance of surfing “clubs” and competitions. This new competitive era was embraced by many surfing families living at Wainui Beach with young children keen to go surfing and surf competitively.
In the new millennium it became obvious that most surfer kids were inheriting their parents’ waterskills and then some. Many kids were surfing almost as soon as they could stand up. Surfing became a children’s sports option. The Gisborne Boardriders Club was reenergized and very quickly warped from seedy, late night booze cult into a family barbeque revival.
Surfing quickly become an acceptable, and sought after, way of life – and a viable business. Many people at Wainui are today involved in the surf industry in some way or other. Brother and sister Blair and Sonya Stewart own Sequence Surf Shop; the O’Leary’s own New Wave Surfboards; district councillor Andy Cranston makes surfboards; Tommy Dalton makes surfboards; Teddy Colbert and Craig “Bondy” Morton have a fledgling surf business; Logan Murray is a world renown surfing photographer. Several locals give surfing lessons or hire out boards.
Photographer Logan Murray came to Wainui Beach in 1997 and built a house across from the surf in Wairere Road. In his book “The Surf Photography of Logan Murray” he says: “Wainui is a sandy beach with a wide swell window, clean water and great lighting. As good a location as any in New Zealand for a surf photographer. Wainui exudes a relaxed nuance of Kiwi surf culture which I enjoy and feel comfortable in.”
That kind of sums where we are at, history-wise. Surfing is now a benign blend of everything good about being at the beach. The kids are surfing, the grand-dads are surfing, the mums are surfing, everyone’s surfing. As McTavish said earlier– surf, surf, surf and surf.
The revival of the longboard has allowed surfers to continue surfing past their body’s former use-by dates. As we speak stand-up and paddle surfboards are making their appearance. It’s very colourful and very healthy. And it’s still free. No one has yet come up with a concept to charge people for the use of the waves. The beaches and the waves belong to all of us. So why are these two particular beaches – of all the beaches, coves and bays on the coastline of New Zealand – so “surf special”? Why have so many people been drawn here from all points of the compass and never been able to leave?
The answer lies in the regularity of storm generated ocean swells and the prevailing wind direction in Gisborne. We have two surfing arenas side-by-side, each providing rideable waves in a variety of geophysical, weather and swell direction scenarios. Makorori is primarily a series of reef breaks. Makorori Point is a permanent reef structure, affected by the build up of sand along its edge. Surf quality depends on the direction of the swell, but it is a fairly predictable and constant option. Swells break on the point of the reef then slide along its shallow edge creating a surfable, breaking shoulder. It is the longest and often most gentle wave in the area. It can also be the most perfect when all factors are aligned. The rest of the popular breaks at Makorori are also created by permanent rock and reef structures, all dependent on random sand movement, but are generally consistent and permanent breaks.
Wainui Beach is a different scenario. Along its four kilometre sandy length are several named surf breaks, but the conditions that create them are random. Just off the beach in the wave breaking zone the sand is constantly moving, constantly shifting and shaping transient sandbanks. The sandbanks are shaped by the direction of offshore currents cutting channels in the sand. The currents are determined by the prevailing wind and swell directions.
The currents, channels and sandbanks determine, randomly, where rideable surfing waves break. However, the shape of the bay, and undersea rock outcrops, makes certain places more likely to form good sand banks than others. Over the years places like the Stock Route, the beach access near the school, the Pines car park, the Chalet car park and the area by the whales grave have proved the most consistent and have been given colloquial place names that first became the jargon of the surfing crowd, but are now recognised as local place names generally.
The demanding nature of the beach breaks at Wainui – most often providing short, steep, cylindrical waves – has made it a nursery for many of New Zealand’s top competitive surfers who have diced with these fast breaking peaks from childhoodd.
The other two important factors, in creating Wainui Beach as a internationally renown surfing location, are it’s orientation and the prevailing wind. Wainui’s geographic position facing due east means that the bay is like a huge radar dish, attracting swell from due north right around the compass to due south. A 180° wave window!
Swells generated by Antarctic storms arrive here, so too do waves created by tropical cyclones near Fiji. The cream on the cake is the local prevailing wind direction – the offshore north-westerly. The same wind that brings cold Tasman rain and rough conditions from Auckland down to Wellington, blows itself dry over the Raukumara Ranges, absorbs the warmth of the Poverty Bay flats, fans out over Wainui and Makorori Beaches, brushing the incoming ocean swells smooth and glassy, clean and steep.
The only bugbear in this perfect surfing scenario is the equal prevalence of summer sea breezes turning the wind around each morning as the land heats up, sucking the cool ocean air back inland. This is why surfers place so much importance on getting up early and surfing the optimum conditions before the arrival of the mid morning sea breeze.
The up and down of the surf is the pulse of life here at the beach.What is really interesting, and allows for anthropological theorising, is that most surfers understand how all these influences work and are constantly in tune with them on a daily, if not hourly, basis. The surf community has an acute sensitivity to wind and sea change, constantly assessing visual weather clues and observing swell patterns and directions. This intuitive understanding of geography, hydrography and weather patterns is an inbuilt skill being handed down through the generations. A shift in the wind, the hint of a new swell or a degree drop in temperature are all mentally noted the length of the beach.
The concept of surfing communities developing as modern “tribes” is well documented. So it can he postulated that Wainui and Makorori surfers have evolved as a distinct “coastal tribe” – with many unique customs and legends, as well as a certain local dialect and a library of local knowledge.
Part of that local knowledge is the understanding of a fundamental code of ethics that surfers obey intuitively. This subconscious adherence to an unwritten “law” is common at popular surfing beaches world-wide and – coupled with an imported Californian-Hawaiian-Gold Coast cultural and historic viewpoint – has a large control over social behaviour and interpersonal customs at Wainui and Makorori.
Behaviours that come into play include a surfer’s sense of “territorial occupation” which determines how he views other “locals” compared to visiting surfers from outside his territory.
There is also an understood order of social dominance (pecking order) which is based on historic and current displays of wave riding skill, dedication to surfing and the ability to master big surf conditions.
Having just completed a Bachelor of Social Science degree at Waikato University, local second-generation surfer, Robson Timbs, has recently prepared an interesting assignment entitled: “The Construction of Surfing Space: Case Study on Wainui Beach, Gisborne, New Zealand”. In this thesis he explores the “social geography” of the local surf culture.
He says informal “laws and rules of surfing” are very much part of the “geographic space” of Wainui Beach. Out in the water Wainui surfers can distinguish insiders (locals) from outsiders (visitors). Visitors are easily spotted but they are generally made to feel included here. But this welcome is, however, dependent on their behaviour. As long as visitors adhere to the known “laws” of behaviour they will be included. However, anyone who comes in with a “bad attitude” will certainly get a “bad vibe” in return.
“The good thing is that most of the local surfers know that these people are not going to be here for good, they are only here for that day, or that swell, then they are moving on again. As long as the unwritten rules of behaviour are acknowledged, outsiders are welcome at Wainui Beach,” Robson’s report quotes.
He also notes that, while at many other surf locations social barriers and notions of exclusion and inclusion may be apparent between riders of different surf craft and surfers from various locations on the beach, most people he interviewed were not aware of hostility based on choice of surf craft or favoured location.
An interviewee was quoted: “I am amazed at the lack of hostility amongst the short boarders, long boarders, knee boarders, body boarders. I rarely have experienced any animosity amongst these surfing groups at all.”
Robson also says the presence of “surfing gangs” at Wainui Beach has not lead to conflict, unlike similar situations at Australian beaches. Groupings such as the Okitu Assassins and the Stock Route Mafia (SRM) and Town Syndicate are more social groupings, minor sub-tribes of the whole surfing community and the concept of “local gangs” is most-often tongue-in-cheek and more a send-up of the Aussie culture they derive from.
Summing up the social vibe of the surf culture at Wainui-Makorori Robson’s assignment says that despite the presence of surfers of a variety of skills and ages, Wainui Beach surfers seem to promote commonality over difference.
“There are the young guys, the older crowd, the established professional surfers, a couple of knee boarders, a small body boarding crowd, low-key local surfers who surf as good as the pros; but everyone has minimal egos, mostly are friendly, forthcoming folk.”
So, that’s BeachLife’s take on the local “surf culture”. It has been an interesting research journey and, while I knew the culture ran deep, I am amazed at just how entrenched surfing now is in our community.
This was one of the concerns some of us had when “reticulation” threatened to hike up our rates and make it difficult for ordinary, original locals and young families to continue living here.
Noel Craft said someone jokingly once told him: “If you want to know where the best real estate is in a town these days, just follow the surfers home.”
The real estate boom we went through until just recently did rattle us all up a bit. While it was great to know your old beach shack was suddenly worth “millions”, it was disconcerting to know your kids might never afford to live here.
But looking around – and as our Beach Babes pages are evidence of – there are a good number of Wainui kids who have grown up, had their own kids and now have their own homes at the beach, raising families and continuing the surfing way of life. Long may it run!
NATIONALS HONOURS BOARD: Wainui Beach surfers have held the New Zealand open surfing championship title for seven of the last twelve years. Maz Quinn (1996, 2000, 2004, 2006); Damon Gunness (2002); Blair Stewart (2003) and Jae Quinn (2008). Jae Quinn is the current longboard champion (2008), U18 champion (1999), U16 champion (1999), U14 champion (1996, 1997); Brent Rasby was longboard champion (1999); Jared Ferris was bodyboard champion (2007), Luke Porter is the current kneeboard champion (2008); Damon Gunness is the current senior champion (2008), U16 champion (1993, 1994), U18 champion (1994); Holly Quinn was the women’s champion (2002) and junior champion (2000); originally from Wainui Beach Lisa Hurunui was women’s champion (2000, 2001) and junior champion (1998); Bobby Hansen was U18 champion (2001), U16 champion (2000), U14 champion (1998, 1999); Maz Quinn U16 champion (1992); Chris Ransley was junior champion (1969). Ben Hutchings won the open championship at Wainui Beach in 1975.