Kōrero: Sailing and windsurfing

Auckland – the ‘city of sails’ – has more boats per capita than anywhere else in the world. For over 150 years, New Zealanders have raced in sailing craft, from superb kauri keelers to home-made dinghies. In the 1980s Kiwi yachties and leading-edge designers emerged on the international scene. Between 1995 and 2021 they won four of the seven America’s Cup regattas they contested.

He kōrero nā Harold Kidd
Te āhua nui: The classic yacht Tawera heads out into Auckland Harbour

He korero whakarapopoto

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero


New Zealand has plenty of wind and water, and Kiwis love sailing. At harbours and ports they compete in races or just have fun. In 2001 about 30,000 people belonged to yacht clubs.

1870s: regattas

From the late 19th century people began sailing as a sport. Sailboats were used for transport or to carry goods, but people also raced them, especially at regattas (organised boat races). At the Auckland Regatta, Māori and European fishermen and traders would compete. Fast mullet boats, used for fishing, were converted into racing craft.


Unlike sailboats, yachts have decks. They are quite large, and have living space below the deck. The first yachts were built especially for racing at regattas or cruising the Hauraki Gulf. Soon, yacht clubs around the country were promoting the sport.

Boat building

From the 1890s Auckland was the main centre for yacht builders. They used kauri wood, which was very strong. The Logan and Bailey families were famous for building fast racing yachts.

People also built smaller boats called pātiki, and dinghies. These were popular for racing at Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

Growing popularity

More people joined clubs and raced in major competitions. They also enjoyed watching the races. In 1939, 100,000 people watched a race in Waitematā Harbour.

New kinds of yacht

New boat designs were grouped in classes from A to Z. The M-class was a glamorous racing yacht. The P-class was small and safe, and schoolboys could build their own using plywood and glue. In the 1970s, fast boats such as Lasers and catamarans were made of ferro-cement or fibreglass.


In 1933 Johnny Wray, a young sailor with no money, built his own cruiser and sailed it around the Pacific. He became a hero for many Kiwi yachties. Cruising is popular in the Hauraki Gulf, Bay of Islands and Marlborough Sounds.

International success and the America’s Cup

Designer Bruce Farr, skipper Peter Blake and others helped New Zealand succeed internationally. In 1995 Team New Zealand won the premier trophy, the America’s Cup. Kiwi Russell Coutts successfully defended the cup in 2000, then changed teams to win it for Italy in 2003. Team New Zealand regained the America’s Cup in 2017 and successfully defended it in 2021.


Windsurfing is a mixture of sailing, surfing and skiing. The first New Zealand windsurfer was built in 1975. Kiwi men and women, including Bruce and Barbara Kendall, have been international medal-winners.

There are a number windsurfing clubs around the country. One of the main racing events is the slalom nationals, which is hosted by a different centre each summer.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Harold Kidd, 'Sailing and windsurfing', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/sailing-and-windsurfing (accessed 21 May 2024)

He kōrero nā Harold Kidd, i tāngia i te 12 o Hune 2006, updated 1 o Hune 2016