Why New Zealand? This is a question I often get when people visit this site or I tell them about my trip and aside from my general fondness for sheep and hobbits, the answer — like so many things — has its roots back in the days when I was still surfing.
When it made its early appearances in Surfer or Surfing magazine back in the 70’s, New Zealand had this otherworldly allure — a lush, green place with perfect, hollow waves kissed by offshore winds and empty lineups. Invariably the shots were of a break called Raglan and I’m guessing it gets epic like the photos we were drooling over maybe four or five times a year. Whether this is true or not is hardly important as it represented an idea and a point of reference by which we could compare those rare classic days at El Morro, the River Jetties, and Big Corona. Days when all the elements came together — swell, tide, wind and crowd.
Describing such days to those who weren’t there was almost as important as being there. More often than not superlatives — even surf lingo superlatives — wouldn’t do such a session justice. For us, those mysto breaks of New Zealand had caught our imaginations and if you wanted to really sell your story say it looked like one of those breaks.
“Talking Story”, as the Hawaiians call it, is an art form and because surfing seems especially vulnerable to the “Rashomon effect” (more so for those surfing inconsistent or mediocre breaks), most story talkers rely on comparisons rather than superlatives to describe what went down. Compare your session to Pipeline, Burleigh Heads or Raglan and everybody knew exactly what you were talking about. No ambiguity, no room for subjective interpretation — the pictures were in the mags.
But New Zealand also represented adventure and for us — more specifically — the surf adventure. It was on the other side of the world and we didn’t know anybody who had been there yet. The waves we imagined — aside from a few locals — were probably pretty empty (or at least that’s how the mags made it seem) and if you surfed in a Newport lineup every day that was enough to get you dreaming of airplane flights.
Keep in mind also this is before surf travel as we know it today. There were no chartered boats to the Maldives or the Mentawais and the idea of surf resorts in the South Pacific or El Salvador would’ve seemed preposterous and maybe even a little wrong. In the mid 70’s places like Uluwatu and Nias, for all intents and purposes, had only a few years earlier been discovered and ridden. The world in terms of surf travel discoveries was pretty much wide open and we, with our grom imaginations, wanted to be part of this new frontier.
So we began by fantasizing how it would go down and then by loosely planning our route. It would be a year long trip between graduating from high school and starting college. We’d start in NZ, head over to Oz and then finish things off in Bali and the North Shore of Oahu. We were 16 at the time and so anything could happen (ultimately it did), but for me it was pretty much a done deal. I began putting the money I made from life guarding into a savings account and started plastering my walls with pictures of Raglan, G-land, and Pipe.
Life, however, in its miraculous unfolding, isn’t concerned with plans. Things change. Breaking my neck when I did is a perfect example. The trip, at least for me, was off, and while my friends could’ve gone on without me, for whatever reason, they never did. That said, the trip has never left my heart.
In the hospital, it was a motivating force that helped me move through a physically painful and difficult rehabilitation. Friends and strangers alike, who knew of the trip, in a show of support surrounded me with pictures and artifacts from the places we were going to go. My hospital room started looking like the U.S. wing of the Australian and New Zealand tourist bureaus. If you needed info on either of these places, I was your man.
So that’s why NZ; it’s beautiful, on the other side of the world and in a weird way, a part of who I am.