Adventuresinparadisenz.com

A history of New Zealand surfing by Northlander Bob Feigel

 

A History of New Zealand Surfing - by Bob Feigel

 

What follows is the final draft of a two part article covering the history of surfing in New Zealand.  I researched and wrote the article over a period of several months for Chris Bystrom and Pacific Longboarder magazine in 1999. Then Chris and I worked out some additional revisions before the article went to print.

In addition to the research I also interviewed over forty people, including many of New Zealand's top surfers, boardmakers, photo-journalists, writers, filmmakers and surfing industry trailblazers.

To all of those people I'd like to say "thank you" for your contributions, particularly the following people: Wayne 'Arch' Archer; Keiry Bennett; Laurie Brett; Rob Comer; Nigel Dwyer; Michael Fitzharris; Andrew Forrester; Alan Godfrey; Barry Hall;Roger Hall; Warren Hawke; Rick Hodgson; Lynden Kenning; Taff Kenning; Andy McAlpine; Logan Murray; Greg Page; Wayne Parkes; Pauline Pullman; Denis Quane; Chris Ransley; Tony Reid; Cory Scott; Greg Townsend; Colin Unkovich; Luke Williamson; and 'Waterman'.

The published version appeared with a number of archival photographs and I will include those when (and if) I get permission from the photographers to used their scanned photos.

 

The rise and
fall and rise
again of Kiwi
longboarding


 

For some, surfing is little more than a wholesome recreation that provides occasional enjoyment. For others, it is an intense, all consuming passion - the central core around which everything else revolves. And, for a select few, it is a profession. 

But for most of us, surfing lies somewhere between pastime and obsession. More of a way to enjoy life, than a 'way of life' in itself. Which may be one of the reasons why longboarding has experienced such a remarkable renaissance in New Zealand - not to mention the rest of the world of surfing.

So what is this thing called longboarding? Is it merely the swan song of a few crusty old dinosaurs who refuse to trade-in their massive Mals for a Lazy Boy Rocker? Is it something to pass the time when the waves aren't good enough for a shortboard and there's nothing worth watching on TV? Or is longboarding a vibrant, living form of contemporary Kiwi surfing that is steadily reclaiming the position it once enjoyed before the shortboard revolution? 

To put it another way, is it a temporary phenomenon or is Kiwi longboarding here to stay? The answer may surprise you. 


Look at a map of the world and New Zealand doesn't look that big compared to its huge Australian cousin. And it isn't. But because the North and South islands are surrounded by Mother Pacific, New Zealand actually has more than twice the coastline of California. Which is a lot of coastal playground for a population of around 3.8 million people.


Go back to the map and you'll see that NZ is also out there in the South Pacific all on its own. Which begs the question of how board surfing was introduced to this rather isolated island nation in the first place.


According to the scholarly and authoritative, 'Surfing - A History of the Ancient Hawaiian Sport' (Ben Finney and James D. Houston, Pomegranate Artbooks, San Fransico, 1996), New Zealand's Maori already practised several forms of traditional Polynesian surfing before the first Europeans even planted a flag. But the "canoe-surfing, bodyboard surfing and body-surfing, known collectively as whakarerere" were well on the way to dying out by the time Duke Kahanamoku introduced modern surfing to New Zealand at Lyall Bay, Wellington in 1915. 

"The Duke paddled out into the middle of the Bay in quite a heavy swell, turned the board around ... caught a wave and rode it until a short distance from the shore. He then ran to the front of the board so it nose dived ... dived off into the wave and bodysurfed the rest of the way in. His ride created a lot of excitement among the lifesavers present and it was not long after that, that they too were trying the sport."

As in Australia, New Zealand's first board surfers came from the surf lifesaving movement, which kept the sport alive until the development of lighter, more manoeuvrable boards over forty years later. But despite their isolation, people like pioneer Christchurch board maker, Denis Quane, had been experimenting with new designs, new materials and new techniques for a number of years - giving credence to the Kiwi country saying, 'Necessity may be the mother of invention, but isolation is the father of innovation'.

"I joined a surf lifesaving club in 1953 and took over a twelve foot surf ski," says Quane. The eleven year old ended up reconditioning the surf ski and used it for several years. "But when I was thirteen, some older guys started fooling around with polystyrene and made a seven foot foam board. I was the only one small enough to ride it, and I just kept riding it through high school until I left for work." 

Quane's interest in surfboards grew and after building a shed in his parent's back yard, he designed and built a series of surf skis, race boards and hollow plywood boards and winning races on them. "The orders started stacking up." Quane left his job with a stock and station company and Quane Surfboards was born.

Around 1958 Quane saw some fibreglassed balsa boards in Australia but found that he couldn't get any balsa back in NZ. Then he borrowed 600 pounds, headed for Sydney and brought back some foam blanks from Gordon Woods and Barry Bennett in Brookvale. From those he built a mould so he could blow his own blanks. But the only material he could get in those days was refrigeration foam which was no good for making custom boards.

After experimenting with making production boards, Quane was finally able to "hammer" NZ's draconian bureaucracy into letting him import the materials he needed. "In the end I went to Wellington with a piece of foam and showed them the difference. I told them I was not leaving their office till they gave me a licence. This was 10am. At 3:30pm they gave me the license and I was on the plane home."

Quane moved from shed to factory, constructed concrete moulds and negotiated a licensing agreement with Barry Bennett that allowed him to blow the high quality blanks required for custom board making. At its peak, Quane Surfboards had eight people making blanks and boards that were sold throughout New Zealand as well as Australia, Peru and the Channel Islands.

While Denis Quane had the South Island covered by the early sixties, other board builders had sprouted up throughout the North Island like mushrooms. And, thanks partly to the influence of Australia and the States, it was here that New Zealand surfing and board design was going through it's most radical and dynamic development.

According to several of the people who were there at the time, there were certain pivotal events that influenced New Zealand surfing and board design more than any others. 

Duke certainly came first and the next occurred in 1958 when Bing Copeland and Rick Stoner visited New Zealand and brought along their modern custom shaped 'Malibu' boards. 

To quote a 1968 edition of Surfing New Zealand"After the Americans visit ... a number of New Zealand surfers present at the Championships returned home to different parts of New Zealand and commenced building their own foam plastic boards. Peter Byers of the Piha Surf Lifesaving Club, an active and knowledgeable surfer, started building boards in 1959, in an old glass-house." 

Along with the development of the smaller, lighter, more manoeuvrable boards - and the changes to surfing performance and styles these developments engendered - the early sixties were also a time of other major changes. 

For one thing, surfing equipment became more accessible. So did American surf mags like Surfer and Surfguide. And who could forget the sheer stoke of the classic surf films from maestros Severson, Browne and Brown. Even blatantly exploitative and superficial Hollywood movies like Gidget, Beach Party, Ride The Wild Surf and the so-called 'surf music' of the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean had their parts to play in the media's promotion of surfing as a slightly less than respectable, but ever so sexy 'way of life'. 

In 1953 there were a few dozen surfers throughout New Zealand. According to author, Luke Williamson, whose upcoming book 'You Should Have Been Here Yesterday - A History of New Zealand Surfing 1950 to 1970' is due for release this December, that number suddenly increased dramatically. "The estimates I've heard puts the surfing population at around 100 in 1961, 200 in 1962 and 300 in 1963. But there was a huge, huge leap in 1964." 

No one knows the numbers for sure, but it would appear that NZ's surfing population jumped from three hundred in 1963 up to around fifteen thousand in 1965, and had risen to twenty thousand-plus by the time the 'Shortboard Revolution' swept through the world in 1968. 

Which brings us to the next major event that influenced NZ surfing: The Aussie invasion.

By 1964, Kiwi and Aussie surfers and shapers were flying back and forth across the Tasman like tennis balls in a Wimbledon final. Ideas were being freely exchanged and despite the grubby reputations earned by some of Australia's more obnoxious cultural ambassador's, the bond between each country's surfing elite had been firmly cemented.

This growing 'Trans-Tasman' link also proved to be an extremely productive relationship in terms of the development of Kiwi surfing and, as we'll see, had a major impact on Australian surfing as well. New Zealand and Australia no longer looked exclusively to America for their inspiration. The times they were a'changin'.

When Australian, John McDermott, accompanied Kiwi surfer, Peter Way, to New Zealand in 1963 the country was poised for what became known as 'the surfing revolution'. So it must have opened some eyes when McDermott went on to win a number of important Kiwi surfing events, including the Senior Open title at the first NZ Surfriders Association championships. Eventually, he made New Zealand his home and continued to make a major contribution to the sport - and especially to its youth - until his death two years ago from cancer. 

That summer two other important Australians arrived and, by 1964, one of them, Bob Davie, had started making surfboards in Gisborne. Later on, his old friend, ex-Cronulla board builder, Nigel Dywer, set up shop in Taranaki and founded Del Surfboards, and they both continue to play a major role in New Zealand board making today.

Not long after he'd established his new business, Davie decided to invite fellow Australian Bob McTavish to work with him in New Zealand. "What a great time to be surfing," remembers local surfer, Chris Ransley"Thanks to those two we were riding some of the world's best boards in Gisborne back then. I also believe that McTavish was doing a lot of his experimenting while he was here and that he left that knowledge with Bob Davie when he returned to Australia. All I know is that things changed pretty quickly after that."

Hold that thought. Because although surfing was still several years away from the excesses of the 'Shortboard Revolution', a number of Kiwi's believe it actually started there in Gisborne in 1965 before McTavish took the ball back to Australia and ran all the way with it a couple of years later.

But 1965 was still part of what has been described as New Zealand surfing's 'Golden Years', and even though an overview such as this could not begin to do justice to the rich history of those days, it can promise to tackle it in more depth in future articles.

Let's just say that being a surfer in New Zealand between 1960 and 1968 was something worth remembering. New spots were still being discovered and the established breaks were not yet crowded. As far as anyone can remember, there was none of the puerile, self-indulgent 'agro' we see from so many of today's surfers, and the main idea of the whole thing was to have fun rather than look cool.

When the 'Shortboard Revolution' started marching through the surfing world in the late sixties, there was still no differentiation made between longboards and shortboards. A surfboard was a surfboard, regardless of size.

But just as the catch phrase associated with the French Revolution was, "Off with their heads," the byword of NZ's Shortboard Revolution was, "Off with their feet."

Faithful longboards were ruthlessly stripped of their glass and sent to the guillotine. Seemingly overnight, new boards became shorter and shorter. "It happened quite quickly in Gisborne," says Chris Ransley"I can remember going through about three Bob Davie boards in six months and each one of them was six inches shorter than the last one." 

Unfortunately, the revolution also spawned a sort of 'them-and-us' snobbery that hadn't existed in surfing up till then."You were made to feel a bit like a kook if you walked down the beach with a longboard under you arm," quips long-time surfer and South Island surfing entrepreneur, Keiry Bennett. "It had to be a wee pointy thing or otherwise you just weren't groovy."

If one of the main the objectives of the Revolution was to wipe out longboards, it succeeded. By the early seventies, "wee pointy things" ruled the beach and legions of young, and not so young, shortboard surfers were earnestly wiggling their butts up and down every New Zealand wave they could paddle into and thrash.

And what about all the thousands of longboards that people had been ridding just a year or two earlier? Well, those that were lucky enough to survive the chop, now lay, largely forgotten and unused, under batches, and in garages and sheds throughout the country. 

It was the Dark Ages as far as longboarding was concerned, and it would be a number of years before the light was to be switched on again.

 

The rise and
fall and rise
again of Kiwi
longboarding

 

It's December 1980, and New Zealand's short lived, tabloid-sized Aquiline surfing magazine runs a big two page 'design forum' on the latest in Kiwi board shapes. The article features top labels like Crystal Dreams, Bluewater, Supersession and Natural Flight, plus a virtual 'Who's Who' of NZ shapers, including Bob Davie, Des Delaney, Wayne Parkes and Brett Munro.

Each man is pictured with the "latest, cutting-edge model" chosen to describe for the article, and all of these boards measure in at around the six foot mark. 

All except for one.

Standing alone in the upper right hand corner of the two page spread is the photo of a 25 year old Northland shaper who has just returned from Hawaii. 

Indifferently dressed in bell bottom jeans, jandals, a T-shirt and cardigan, he is holding a board that stands out - head and shoulders - from the rest. It's the creation of a little known Ruakaka shaper named Roger Hall. And unlike his more cosmic colleagues, his label is Woodenships.

Roger Hall, 1980: "This board could be described as a step back for a leap forward. It combines the principles of old with the light-weight materials of new.

The plan-shape is one of Ben Aipa's I picked up in Hawaii recently. Its length puts it in the long-board class but it's still very manoeuvrable. It paddles quickly and picks up waves early.

Basically it's a nose-rider with the full nose and area forward giving a very stable platform for tip riding. The stability and forward planing gives it thrust and amazing agility through the white-water. 

The board glides through flat spots with minimal loss of speed so you've still got some power there to jam a turn. The heavy roll in the bottom allows for quick rail to rail transfer and combined with the gentle but continuous rocker gives the board a very flowing feel. 

I've incorporated a fin box for fine tuning and the fin I am using is a George Downing, raked back and flexible for holding power."


Statistics: Length 7' 1"; width 21 1/4"; nose 18"; tail 13"; thickness 2 3/4"; weight 13 lbs.


Although Hall's seven-one design would hardly be considered a 'longboard' by today's standards, we're talking about nearly twenty years ago when mainstream boards were somewhere between five-six to a little over six foot. By the standards of the day a board with those proportions would have been considered radically HUGE - if not downright subversive.

Of far more importance than its length, however, was Hall's clear intent to design something that would recoup some of the advantages that were lost as boards became smaller and smaller ... advantages like glide, flow, stability, paddling ease and getting into more waves. 

Looking back on this 1980 article with the benefit of hindsight, it appears that Hall was one of surfing's visionaries. Not that there were many who would have agreed with this view back then. After all, (to paraphrase Matthew 13:57) prophets are rarely honoured in their own countries. 

Instead of being recognised for his innovative ideas, Hall's designs were treated with undisguised derision and Hall himself branded as a 'weirdo', 'loony' and 'fruit loop' by some of his fellow board designers. Undeterred by the criticism, Roger Hall continued developing his longer, more buoyant shapes while the rest of the fraternity continued making shortboards for the masses.

That's not to say that there weren't any longboards being made in the eighties. According to Nigel Dywer, Bob Davie was making one or two a year during that period and there were others who made the occasional longboard from time to time. 

The big difference was that Roger Hall wasn't merely resurrecting old shapes and board making techniques, he was experimenting with new designs and materials that would form the basis for developing the modern longboard. 

"I carried around this idea of making a modern longboard for quite a long time," says Hall"The old ones were so much fun and the idea of recapturing that feeling in a new board just grew and grew. But there weren't any blanks that size. Nothing to make one out of. So even though it was still in my mind to build one, I never got around to actually doing it for several years."

Then Hall went to Hawaii in 1979 "and was pretty much blown away by the mini-tankers and longboards I saw being used over there by some really good surfers. So as soon as I got back I ripped the glass off an old board, widened it out with some old bits of balsawood and made a board I called 'Toes'. And that's how it all started.

"At first we were making very short longboards," recalls Hall. "They were called 'longboards' back then because they were over seven foot and average the length of boards being ridden then was five six or so."


To get around the problem of finding a blank the right size, Hall bought two blanks, cut about six inches out of the centre of one and glued it to the middle of the other blank. " We ended up doing quite a lot of them ... they all had two stringers and were around seven foot long," says Hall"So they were very much a mini-Mal length in today's terms, but in those days they were considered to be longboards. And that in itself got a following ... and it grew from there."

While Hall continued developing his design theories and making boards up North in Ruakaka, the South Island welcomed an American visitor who would play a major part in Kiwi longboarding's revival. 

The year is 1981 and 25 year old San Diego surfer Greg Page arrives from California with the first modern longboard seen in New Zealand (a "super-light Stewart concave named 'McNuke' that rode like a rocket.") In an interview with South Island surfer Rod Rust for New Zealand's modern longboarding video NOSEZONE, "Greg's impact was really significant. People saw how much fun he was having. He introduced me to the modern longboard ... and I was determined to get one after that." * 

Roger Hall agrees, "Greg has had a huge influence on New Zealand longboarding and was instrumental in kicking it off in the South Island. I think that's the reason South Island longboarding was so far ahead of the North Island for so many years. Greg showed a whole generation that hadn't seen longboarding what was possible if you were really good. And he's really good." 

"When I left California in the early eighties it was in the midst of the longboard revival. There were heaps of longboarders and I'd been doing the contests and surfing with guys like Richard Chew, Herbie Fletcher and David Nuuiwa," says Page. "They were ripping and I tried to model my surfing a little bit after those guys."

"Actually, I just happened to arrive in New Zealand at a pivotal time. Roger Hall was not riding really long, long boards when I first came over. But he was the only good surfer taking longer boards seriously," says Page. "And there are so many good places to ride a longboard here in New Zealand."

With these new seeds firmly planted in both islands, NZ's 'Longboard Renaissance' started to grow - albeit slowly. And, as Roger Hall suggests, it enjoyed its earliest success in the South Island where a strong network of longboard clubs were established in Christchurch and Dunedin. Actively promoted by an energetic leadership and enthusiastically supported by a large, diverse membership, those clubs still provide the foundation on which South Island longboarding continues to prosper. 

It took a few years - and clubs played a much smaller part - but the far more heavily populated North Island finally caught up with the South and eventually surpassed their southern cousins. The North also produced the country's top level of longboarding's competition surfers.

"When I first got to the North Island, the standard Malibu was about eight foot long," recalls Greg Page"And the guys weren't riding them traditionally at all ... they were just standing on the tail and whacking them just like they would on a six foot thruster. The exception was Lynden Kenning. That guy can ride anything and has always showed a lot of style. He can do the traditional moves as well as the modern moves. And that's right from the very first time I saw him."

There's no doubt that Kenning and fellow competitor, Michael Fitzharris are the best of NZ's current crop of competitive longboarders and that they have earned their positions. But according to some, including NZ's best known international surfing photojournalist, Logan Murray, that may not be enough to propel them to the top echelons of international longboarding.

"I think the desire is there amongst some of our longboarders," says Murray. "Where they are having problems is with the financial aspect ... and that lack of financial support has made it more difficult for them to travel overseas to get the kind of experience and exposure that's needed for them to compete internationally and succeed."

Ex-national women's champ and formerly New Zealand's highest ranked international woman's surfer, Pauline Pullman, agrees. "You'd have to leave New Zealand and base yourself in Australia or the States to be able to compete effectively on the international circuit. No one has made a career of surfing from New Zealand yet."

Why? "This has always been a mystery," says author Luke Williams"Here's a country with a relatively small population, yet over the years it's produced world champions in just about every sport you can imagine. As a nation, it is also one of the most competitive on the face of the earth, especially when it comes to water and ocean sports. So why hasn't we produced a world champion surfer? Names like Byrnes, Parkes, Hutchings and Pullman keep coming to mind, but they never achieved the kind of results attained by the South Africans or Puerto Ricans, for example."

That, combined with the fact that the country's top two longboarders are now in their early thirties, causes Logan Murray to have serious reservations about NZ's future role in the international competition scene.

"In New Zealand at the moment it's still not fashionable for a grom to be seen by his peers on a longboard, whereas they got over that flock mentality eight years ago overseas," says Murray"And this is sort of counting against us. Because if we could have those young guys on longboards now, they'd be our next generation of Oxbow representatives. At the moment we also don't have the level of performance that's needed. Partly because we don't have the crowd pressure these other places have and the guys who are longboarders now have either come back to it from the sixties, or they're guys who have progressed through the various shortboard eras and gradually moved up in length with age. And those guys just aren't into the kind of progressive and dynamic surfing of the young Hawaiians or Californians like the Joel Tudors of the world. There just isn't that peer pressure or the kind of crowd pressure here to make them that good and that hungry." 


A veteran NZ waterman who doesn't want to be named is far less diplomatic, "It's great to see longboards back in the water. But, with the exception of Kenning and Fitzharris, these new boys still have a lot to learn about riding with style, and even those two could smarten up their acts considerably."

"Take a look at the original Endless Summer or Andy McAlpine's Children of the Sun (NZ's classic 60's surf movie) ... then take a look at NoseZone (NZ's definitive 90's longboarding video) and you'll see what I mean," he continues. "Sure, the modern Kiwi riders can do some impressive tricks and hang five several times during a ride, but they're stumbling or hopping instead of walking smoothly and half the time they're doing it on the bloody shoulder. Think of Dora, Doyle, Midget, Nat, Tudor or Bonga Perkins, to name just a few. These guys have style to their very finger tips, while our the New Zealand guys don't know what to do with their hands and wave their arms around like monkeys ... reckon it's a carry-over from the shortboard 'watchme rip' mindset, but it sure as hell doesn't have a lot to do with trim or style."

Regardless, most observers consider that 32 year old Kenning has what it takes to go all the way to the top rungs of the international ladder. He's already won eight national longboarding titles, was ranked ninth in the world in 1995, has won contests in England and France, and came third at Malibu in the teams contest in 1996. 

Unfortunately, the level of sponsorship required for a major move into the international arena hasn't been forthcoming and Kenning, who has a wife and three-and-a-half year old son, has some very important financial priorities to consider. "Sure, I really enjoy the competitive side and it's been good to me," says Kenning "I'd like to keep competing and I'll probably do the New Zealand longboard circuit again this year. But it's a matter of money. I just can't afford to walk away from my job as a carpenter to surf in a contest."

Which brings us to the question of why there isn't more sponsorship money being made available to NZ surfing in general and longboarding in particular. There's little doubt that NZ's mainstream board making industry is carrying its fair share of the sponsorship load, and then some. But there's only so much an industry of this size can do, especially when its viability is being threatened by a proliferation of 'backyard' builders who sell on the cheap and put nothing back into surfing. 

On the other hand, it appears that the big international companies which use surfing to position their products in the worldwide 'youth' market are putting very little of their millions back into the sport they exploit with such success. It also appears that the elite handful of top surfers these commercial parasites do bother to sponsor are quickly discarded once they reach their marketing 'use-by-date'.

Nor does it seem like there's much financial support from the country's official sports funding agency, the Hillary Commission, even though they rank board surfing as New Zealand's sixth largest sport with an estimated 180,000 participants.

Fortunately, some of this may be about to change, according to Greg Townsend, executive officer of the sport's governing body, Surfing New Zealand Incorporated. Surf NZ, as it's more commonly called, was founded in 1966 and today represents sixty-two affiliated clubs as well as hundreds of individual members throughout the country. In turn, Surf NZ is affiliated to the ISA (International Surfing Association) and the ASP (Association of Surfing Professionals).

"Basically, we want to see excellence in surfing recognised and rewarded like any other sport in New Zealand,"says Townsend"And a large part of that depends on creating some decent funding that our surfers can tap into. This means going after various sources of funding, including the corporate sector and we're currently working with Telecom New Zealand on a major sponsorship deal. But it's hard in today's economic climate."

However, there is an even more significant problem for NZ longboarding as far as sponsorship and competition funding are concerned. And that problem is numbers. 

Unlike the States where longboards represent over 60% of all new board sales and enjoy a huge acceptance amongst younger surfers, longboarders make up a relatively small proportion of NZ's overall surfing population and are generally aged over thirty. Until that changes, NZ longboarding will continue to receive only a small slice of the competition pie.

So is Kiwi longboarding a temporary phenomenon destined to fade away once again, or is it here to stay? According to everyone interviewed for this article it looks pretty permanent. 

"Without a doubt," states veteran Northland surfer, Laurie Brett. "Longboarding is an established medium that's definitely here to stay. And as much as they wouldn't want to admit it yet, every single one of today's dedicated shortboarders, will grow older and eventually their only choice will be to move gracefully into bigger board or give up board surfing altogether."

There also seem to be reasons other than 'natural progression' that contribute to longboarding's increasing popularity ... like the revival of the 'fun aspect' lost during the 'Shorthboard Revolution'; the opportunity for several generations of a family to share in something they all enjoy; and, after many years of being thought of as the 'bad boy' of sport by the wider community - something earlier surfers went out of their way to promote - surfing seems to have become respectable!

According to long-time Whangamata surfer and patriarch of the Kenning surfing dynasty, Taff Kenning"The surfing community in Whangamata is the backbone of the town. The chemist surfs, accountants, solicitors, shop keepers, teachers, you could just about do any sort of business out in the surf instead of on the golf course ... only during lulls, of course."

"You also have a lot of fathers and mothers down at the beach surfing with their sons and daughters, so it's become more of a family thing than ever before," adds Denis Quane. "So surfing has come full cycle from where it started and has come back to the people. It has come of age." 

It's about independence too. "There's nothing else you can do that has that much freedom. No rules, not queues, no tickets," comments one of NZ's all-time top surfers, Wayne Parkes. "It's one of the few things you can do to suit yourself, apart from what nature has to throw at you. Nothing gives you the sense of freedom that surfing does."

Asked what surfing means to him, top NZ longboard rider Michael Fitzharris goes even further, "For me it's being able to go to a beach, going out on my board and having fun. It's about fitness. It's social. It's my sport and I can be competitive. And puts me in touch and let's me interact with my environment, and there aren't a lot of sports that do that for you. It's a way to ground yourself and get away from the mundane. It's cleansing. It's a way to get back in touch with what's real in life."

"It wasn't so much the fun went out of surfing after the shortboard revolution," continues Fitzharris"it was that it was much harder to get that fun. They were harder to ride, harder to paddle ... like the difference between running around the block and taking a walk in the park. The longboard is more user friendly."

"For me, longboarding is about going out for a surf and coming back at the end of a session with that hot glow that tells me that I've had a bloody great time out in the water," says sixties surf photographer, Rob Comer"It's about having a good time."

"Surfing let's you know you're really alive," says Taff Kenning"In life you try to ascertain what really makes you happy and what you like doing the most, then you try to do as much of it as possible. Surfing makes me happy."

"The best thing about riding a longboard is that you come in happy," adds son, Lynden"A lot of my friends who ride shortboards are always moaning about too many people, not getting any waves, they go out for a couple of hours and they're lucky to get five waves whereas I'll get about fifty. There's definitely the paddling advantage, they're more graceful, there's more style. Like surfing's about riding waves, not wiggling madly on the bloody board."

As far as the future is concerned, Pauline Pullman sees the whole sport growing. "I think it's going to grow in all kinds of ways, especially in NZ were there's so much difference ... between the kind of surf we have over here on the east coast compared with what they have on the west coast. Also in the amount and variety of equipment that's around now. People are starting to take surfing more on their own level, surfing for themselves rather than trying to follow some sort of trend. People whose surfing depends on following a trend or fashion just don't last the distance. So if you're talking about surfing to enjoy it and being out in the water, then I see it going everywhere. Bodyboarding, kneeboarding, longboarding, shortboarding, you name it." 

"What I see is NZ surfing becoming more of a family thing like it is in California," agrees Greg Page"As surfers get older they'll take their families to the beach and bring along shortboards, longboards, bodyboards and so on."

"Surfing's not changing, it's evolving," adds Michael Fitzharris"I think you'll see more hybrids. The mixing of longboards and shortboards and people just riding whatever they want to ride. You're still going to have those divisions in competitions, but I think you see more of a flow and less of a division between people who ride longboards and those who ride shortboards, more of a crossover."

Fitzharris has summed it up nicely. Longboarding didn't become extinct, it evolved. And, as surfing continues to evolve, the self-imposed lines that now separate its various expressions become increasingly blurred. 

Indeed, the idea of exclusivity - of solely being a 'shortboarder' or 'longboarder' or 'bodyboarder' or 'kneeboarder' or 'windsurfer' or 'kitesurfer' or 'bodysurfer'- is looking more and more meaningless.

Surfing will always will be evolving. There will always be someone pushing the envelope and challenging the status quo. Don't forget, it was the shapers and surfers of the fifties and sixties who actually developed shortboards and kicked off the shortboard revolution in the first place. And, in many cases, it was these same people who made the long transition through the various shortboard stages that led to the development of the modern longboard.

But the clock ticks on. As many of today's dedicated shortboard riders grow older and their priorities change, they too will gravitate towards longer boards, and, perhaps, other forms of surfing as well.

Ultimately, however, the only thing that matters in surfing is that magic interface out in the water. It's what happens between an individual and the wave that surfing's all about. Everything else - the clothes, the sunglasses, the car, the hairstyles, the colour of the wetsuit stripes, the brand of wax, the size of a surfer's board or the size of his 'Willie' - means absolutely nada.

Long live surfing. 

* (From 'NOSEZONE' - courtesy of Surfvision, PO Box 11044 Papamoa Domain Post Office, Papamoa, New Zealand)

A History of New Zealand Surfing (parts one & two) © Robert R. Feigel 1999, 2009 - All Rights Reserved

 

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