BIG BAY WITH JASON SEARL
Canadian surfer, Joe Craword went to work with Jason Searl in Big Bay. Here’s his thoughts and photos:
I was another lonely traveller making my way south in New Zealand. I had my 1000-dollar runabout, surfboard inside and time was on my side. I met Sol Vallis, a legendary base-jumper, out in the surf at Indicators and he invited me to come and stay with him and his family outside of Opanaki. After a few weeks of working and surfing with Sol I was on my way again. Sol marked a few places and contacts on my map, but along the west coast south of Haast was a giant ink star on Big Bay. He said that I should take any opportunity to get in there with a surfboard. Three months later, I arrived at Wanaka for the first time. I was just getting a feel for the town, when I poked my nose into a shoe repair shop, and the owner eyed me up and asked, “Are you the Hawaiian surfer coming surfing and possum trapping in Big Bay?” The words froze me and my memory of Sol’s advice quickly came to mind. I explained that I was Canadian, but would love to be that person going into Big Bay. After a short discussion and an exchange of details, I was pencilled in for the next trip into Big Bay. Big Bay seemed to be every man's dream; epic swells, crayfish and paua, meters away from shore and situated in a surreal wilderness. I could not help but feel minuscule and blessed to be surfing amongst snow-capped mountains with possums and red deer as the only audience. As I spent more time out in the water and in the bush stalking deer and trapping possums, Big Bay became so much more than a playground. We experienced a six-meter swell while in the bay that ripped out flax bushes in front of our tents. The tidal surges forced the Stabicraft high and dry eight meters from the river’s edge where it was moored up the Awarua River. When our food rations dwindled in the final weeks we were reduced to the abundance of possum legs, rice, water crest, and paua. I never thought I would have my fingers crossed in hopes of trapped possums for a feed. The immersion into the wilderness and proximity to life and death brought my existence to a reduced form. It made me feel alive and closer to the natural world.