Kōrero: Lifesaving and surfing

Whārangi 7. Surfing: 1970s to today

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero

Growth and its consequences

The three decades after 1970 saw the number of surfers increase from around 20,000 in 1970 to an estimate of 185,000 in 1998. In the 2000s, older surfers who started riding waves in the 1950s and 1960s were joined by their children and grandchildren.

New young surfers (known as grommets or gremmies) often gain entry to the sport through surf schools. Many popular surfing beaches have become crowded, and there is no longer such a sense of camaraderie between surfers. For instance, local surfers have been observed to band together to dissuade outsiders or non-surfers such as boogie boarders from using ‘their’ beach – by force if necessary.


The increased popularity has brought many benefits. An expanded repertoire of surfing manoeuvres, coupled with ever more sophisticated board manufacture, has contributed to a rise in skill levels. Surfboards are now made in all shapes and sizes according to the surfer’s weight, surf preferences and proficiency. The three-finned short board known as the thruster makes faster turns possible, and has allowed a new generation of surfers to develop a more aggressive style of surfing. On the other hand, longer Malibu boards have made a comeback and are used for certain wave conditions and more restrained surfing styles.

Making waves

By studying surfing locations such as Raglan, scientists have identified the conditions required to create good surfing waves. ASR Ltd, a New Zealand company, designs artificial reefs to control the type of surf at various beaches, and has an international clientele. It has done feasibility studies for reefs at various locations around New Zealand, notably Lyall Bay in Wellington.

A respectable sport

Surfing is now a mainstream sport. The national organisation, known as Surfing New Zealand, represents 64 clubs and co-ordinates a range of competitions that attract major sponsors. It also governs the diverse range of board sports that have developed alongside surfing, such as longboarding, bodyboarding, kneeboarding and skimboarding.

Top surfers

New Zealand surfers are up with the best in the world. Alan Byrne achieved an outstanding international championship result in 1981 when he came second in the Pipemasters, held at Hawaii’s famous Banzai Pipeline.

Professional surfing now gives the best surfers such as Maz Quinn, Jay Quinn, and Blair Stewart the opportunity to make a good living from their sport. Their successes in professional surfing series are an incentive for a new generation of young surfers, and have raised the profile of the sport in New Zealand. Maz Quinn in particular became a local hero after he made it to the élite World Championship Tour, which includes the top 44 male and 16 female surfers in the world.

Māori and surfing

Some of the best surfers are Māori, including professionals Lisa Hurunui and Daniel Kereopa, and national champions Morehu Roberts and Airini Mason. There are a number of tribal clubs and competitions specifically for Māori surfers. The national Auahi Kore Māori Surfing Team has had notable success at the Oceania Surfing Cup competition since the late 1990s. Customised surfboards and clothing labels such as Ngaru Toa feature Māori designs.

The lure of the surf

There are still plenty of surfers who reject clubs and competitive surfing. Being at one with the ocean and learning to read its moods in search of the perfect wave is enough for them. Surfing is an activity that engages both the body and the mind. In the words of a surfer: ‘The zen of surfing is to give yourself totally to the experience, becoming one with the wave. Defying gravity, and exerting control, aware of your surroundings yet poised in space with all your proprioceptors firing, never are you more aware of yourself.’ 1

Kupu tāpiri
  1. Bob Harvey, Rolling thunder: the spirit of Karekare. Auckland: Exisle, 2001, p. 129. › Back
Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Lifesaving and surfing - Surfing: 1970s to today', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/lifesaving-and-surfing/page-7 (accessed 14 June 2024)

He kōrero nā Nancy Swarbrick, i tāngia i te 12 Jun 2006