New Zealand Surfing - - West to East - Word and Pho­tos: Cory

Be­ing a stu­dent is pretty tough these days, you get to work on things like your fit­ness, your well­be­ing, and to fo­cus on the sports you are pas­sion­ate about and get scored to­ward your years pass marks.

It’s such a tough life that 10 or so years ago we felt sorry for these stu­dent types and got in be­hind the Raglan Surf­ing Academy to throw a bit of sup­port and to dan­gle a car­rot in front of their noses, that once the year is over and only if they have reached their tar­gets for the year, then those that qual­ify get to join us on an ex­cel­lent ad­ven­ture NZ Surf Mag Roady style. The catch though! If the grades aren’t up to scratch, then you don’t get on the bus.

Learn­ing wasn’t about to go on hold for the year and the first thing that the stu­dents were ed­u­cated in was that swell and the much sought af­ter clean con­di­tions wait on no one! If the best win­dow of op­por­tu­nity is first light then what­ever it takes you need to be there first light, not pull up mid-morn­ing af­ter a three-course break­fast and latte. So, there were some rather shocked stu­dents and even more shocked par­ents when it was an­nounced the bus would be leav­ing Raglan at 3AM.

The course of the trip was set by two rare events, firstly the West Coast was dead flat, as in not even knee high at the mag­nets, a very rare oc­cur­rence, and af­ter sev­eral months of next to no surf the East Coast had swell pour­ing in. It’s not of­ten you have the is­sue with too much swell on the East Coast but af­ter ne­go­ti­at­ing the low-ly­ing fog of the Waikato and travers­ing the Kaimai’s in the trusty school bus the Class of 2017 pulled up at Main Beach Mount Maun­ganui to be greeted by a cou­ple of hun­dred oth­ers with the same idea bob­bing around. The zone they call ‘The Coast’, which stretches from Main Beach down to Arataki, was bomb­ing out of con­trol. Yet a lit­tle fur­ther down the coast sit­ting in the lee of Motiti Is­land shel­tered a lit­tle from the swell, we ar­rived to find ‘The Pap Pony Club’ in all­time form. The word was out and the who’s who of Mt Maun­ganui surf­ing was also there, rub­bing their hands to­gether and lay­ing claims of “Best ever!” It was hard to ar­gue, on this coast­line Pap plays sec­ond fid­dle to other more fa­mous name breaks but, on this day, Pap was the place to be.

With a high tide at 6am and strong sea breezes pre­dicted, ar­riv­ing to time the first light ses­sion was the rea­son for leav­ing so early and it paid off big time. Two banks, one an A-frame and the other a long bowly right, pumped for sev­eral hours and the posse of Academy stu­dent/surfers were dead on their feet af­ter an early start and hours in wa­ter. But there was no time for rest and re­lax­ation, a quick feed and it was back out there as the wind had held off, and af­ter weeks of in­ten­sive end of the year ex­ams and be­fore many of these stu­dents parted ways and re­turned home for school hol­i­days this could be one of the last epic swells they may score so it was milk it to the end. Four ses­sions went down that day with the fi­nal at the Main Beach Blow­hole break, shared with the rest of the Bay of Plenty surf pop­u­la­tion, but it was hard to pass up with long peel­ing rights com­ing off the out­side of Leisure Is­land all the way to the shore. By the time the last of the clan came in it was near­ing sun­set and kids be­ing kids they were all chomp­ing for a feed of fast food.

Academy teach­ers Larry Fisher and Dean His­hon broke the news of our next plan, which due to a fore­cast lift in swell and an east­erly flow kick­ing in, that meant the East Coast would be on­shore and we were all about max­imis­ing our best win­dows of op­por­tu­nity so were headed back to the West side right then and there.

It wasn’t un­til around 1:30AM that the Academy bus, af­ter wind­ing its way through a myr­iad of thou­sands of twist­ing bends and hills, fi­nally shifted into top gear on the last straight be­fore pulling into our des­ti­na­tion, a tiny sea­side vil­lage nes­tled on the banks of a river that flowed straight out into the Tas­man Sea. The news of a po­ten­tial river mouth break had the stu­dents froth­ing for what first light and the new swell would of­fer. But first we had to at­tempt to move the zom­bie like bod­ies spread out of the floor of the bus and re­lo­cate them to the camp ground cab­ins, eas­ier said than done, it was near­ing 24 hours since we had left the West Coast, trav­elled six hours in the bus and surfed at least an­other 10 hours, and now we were back here again.

First up was no sur­prise, the el­dest of our group, teacher Dean. It’s amaz­ing how you learn to ap­pre­ci­ate time and op­por­tu­ni­ties the older you get, he’d al­ready done a surf check and was pac­ing back and forth, ready to hit the wa­ter. But as the chap­er­one and guardian of the group, first things first, make sure every­one was awake and fed and then break the news that no there is no Wi-fi, McDon­alds just down the val­ley, or even any cell cov­er­age to check in with their BNBF’s. This was as iso­lated an area as you get on the coast­line of NZ and we were here for one thing, to ride waves.

A group of scouts headed out first and by the time the oth­ers played catch up, they had run up and down the nearby coast find­ing the best bank, which just so hap­pened to be smack bang in the mid­dle of the river mouth, of­fer­ing fast drain­ing left han­ders along a shal­low black sand bar.

For some­where so iso­lated and be­ing what you would term, ‘the mid­dle of nowhere,’ it sure was some­where to the many lo­cals that made their way out to the en­trance to the river on their quads, and big long sur­f­cast­ers. Ob­vi­ously well versed in the tim­ing of the lo­cal fish­ery af­ter a cou­ple of fruit­less casts they were hook­ing up King Ka­hawai ev­ery sin­gle cast, catch­ing their re­quired limit and head­ing off back home to the smoker. One of the lo­cals leant the stu­dents his rods, which at first was a to­tal com­edy show as some who had never fished this style be­fore at­tempted to flick out a heavy sil­ver spin­ner. Af­ter a cou­ple of hours of ro­tat­ing be­tween catch­ing waves and at­tempt­ing to catch fish, the pre­tenders stayed in the lineup while the con­tenders be­gan to haul fish!

With an in­com­ing tide the left sand bar filled in fast, yet just a few hun­dred me­tres fur­ther south a su­per fun right han­der be­gan to form. Sea breezes can be wicked at this time of year, and once they hit, surf con­di­tions de­te­ri­o­rate rapidly and are ba­si­cally un-ride­able for the rest of the day, some­times clean­ing up right on dark. So, al­though many of the crew had done a good four hour ses­sion and were al­ready phys­i­cally drained from day one, it was make hay while the sun shined, we would more than likely be laz­ing around for the rest of the day.

With a few fish be­tween the stu­dents, the fil­let­ing skills were put on dis­play, which ap­peared more like scenes from that movie ‘SAW’ and it was per­fect tim­ing when the lo­cal leg­end pulled up, laugh­ing at the butchered fish, and of­fered to take them up home and smoke them for us, to­tal leg­endary kiwi hos­pi­tal­ity in small town NZ.

Two hours later he pulled in again and un­loaded eight per­fectly smoked Ka­hawai frames to feast on. The clos­est thing these groms would be get­ting to a filet-o-fish.

The day turned into a stinker, one of the first real days of sum­mer and every­one was feel­ing drained from the heat, but we got a heads up of a wa­ter­fall nearby that would im­press. Our first sight of that wa­ter­fall, blew our minds! Yet we had come for a swim and what we weren’t told was that we’d have to crawl and slide down a hill through knee deep mud to get un­der the falls! With every­one hit­ting the river look­ing like they’d just been caught in one of those Ro­torua mud ther­apy ses­sions, it was an ab­so­lute epic arvo spent be­ing soaked by the mist and bomb­ing into the hole di­rectly un­der the ma­jes­tic falls. The only down­side of the ex­pe­ri­ence was traips­ing all that mud back up into the bus.

It was a quiet evening that night and most of the crew snuck off to the sack early, they’d earned the z’s and with more off­shore winds the next day it would be an­other early one.

Day 3 of our West to East and back again roady snuck up faster than ex­pected and un­for­tu­nately, our small bump in swell had all but blown away dur­ing the night. Waves were barely knee high, so it was de­cided to go and search some ru­moured mag­net spots fur­ther down the coast. Spot af­ter spot we pulled up, every­one piled out of the bus and we were greeted with the same scene, dead flat lake like con­di­tions, but if we were to take a mo­ment and turn our backs on the ocean, the scenery that sur­rounded us was sim­ply breath-tak­ing. While it felt like we were so far from civil­i­sa­tion and it had taken so long to get to this mag­i­cal piece of NZ, the re­al­ity was we were two hours from one of the largest cities in the North Is­land and found our­selves here in a place that not many ven­ture or have even heard of. We spent the rest of the day ex­plor­ing beaches, caves and climb­ing head­lands just to see what lay on the other side. Sure, we could have gone home and jumped on google earth to sim­u­late the same thing, but there’s noth­ing bet­ter than hit­ting the road, go­ing out of your com­fort zone and get­ting to score some waves, and ex­pe­ri­ence the type of things we did in those three epic days.

Un­til we meet the class of 2018, it’s been a plea­sure 2017!

Jay Piper-Healion blow­ing fins at the Main Beach Blow­hole.

The Pony Club in all its glory

A stu­dent's ad­ven­ture

West Coast ad­ven­tures about to de­liver the goods.

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