In 1963 the sport was still relatively small: estimates suggest there were about 300 surfers in the entire country. By contrast, in 1967 there were around 15,000 surfers. Between these years the sport became more organised and sophisticated.
In 1963 the first national surfing championships were held at Mt Maunganui, after which the New Zealand Surf Riders’ Association was formed. Local clubs sprang up and a national competition was held every year throughout the 1960s. Visitors from Australia and the USA, where surfing was more established, demonstrated new techniques and brought with them surfing news, equipment and accessories. New Zealanders travelling to Australia and Hawaii began to get experience in international competitive surfing. In 1966 the first New Zealand representative team went to the World Surfing Championships in San Diego.
The Aussie invasion
A Kiwi remembers Australian surfers visiting in the 1960s: ‘[They] would travel from town to town having a 21st birthday at each place and collecting presents; they would sell insured boards and then collect the insurance; and … they would shoplift on a scale and frequency that locals found hard to believe … The positive aspect of the Australian influx was their effect on surfing in New Zealand … Locals suddenly became aware of just what could be done on a surfboard.’ 1
In the 1960s the big revolution in surfing was the advent of short boards. As more surfboard builders such as Bob Davie, Alan Mitchell, Peter Way and Ted Davidson set up business, and technology improved, boards got shorter – from over 10 feet (3 metres) to under 7 feet ( 2.1 metres) by 1969. Tighter arcs and greater speed in executing turns and cutbacks became possible. Surfing got more exciting. The short (and light) boards attracted more women and younger people to the sport. And the introduction of wetsuits in the late sixties made it possible to surf for longer in all conditions.
The formation of the Surf Riders’ Association had brought the sport into more open conflict with the New Zealand Surf Life Saving Association, who refused to allow the new organisation to become affiliated under its banner. Surfers and swimmers sometimes competed for space in the surf. In these conditions, loose boards could injure swimmers. Lifesavers and local councils (who saw themselves as socially responsible in trying to keep beaches safe) clashed with surfers, who were branded anti-establishment hooligans. At some beaches ‘surf lanes’ were introduced. At others, surfing was banned altogether. By 1965 the National Water Safety Council was considering compulsory registration of surfboards. The safety problem was solved in the early 1970s with the use of leg ropes, which attached the board to the rider.