THE FRENCH CON­NEC­TION

Un­der the North­land stars by the glow and warmth of a fire we en­ter the life of North­lands Paco Divers

New Zealand Surfing - - News - Words and Pho­tos Cory

I can re­call with great ex­cite­ment the first surf trip I did with Paco, here was this tiny wee grom with hair draped over his eyes, who loaded his boards which were even smaller than him into the back of the car along with one plas­tic shop­ping bag with a few things in it and when ques­tioned as to where his bags were, he replied lift­ing his head while at the same time try­ing to shake and blow his hair away from his im­paired vi­sion to make eye con­tact “That’s all my stuff” he then said good­bye to his mum which didn’t sound like any good­bye I’d heard be­fore and I just as­sumed he was sim­ply mum­bling like all 14 year old groms do to their par­ents, it wasn’t un­til his mum then spoke back that I re­alised he in fact was flu­ent in French and it all pieced to­gether. Prob­ing the poor boy, I was quite taken back by his whole life story, but I was about to be com­pletely blown away over the next few days of this trip and not only by the kids surf­ing per­for­mance. While the rest of the groms begged to stop at McDon­alds when­ever one was passed and co­pi­ous amounts of pie shops along the way, Paco sim­ply passed up the temp­ta­tion. I was still think­ing about that small plas­tic bag in the back of the car and whether he had left his stuff be­hind, it just didn’t make sense! While other groms and also my­self brought enough stuff to last us a month, Paco’s min­i­mal­is­tic ap­proach in­trigued me. We scored some epic surf that first day and while ev­ery other grom was surfed out and asleep in the car mak­ing noises about an­other pie, Paco was still out surf­ing and only came in just be­fore sun­set. I was rather wor­ried, this grom had not eaten all day, but when I of­fered up some of my stash he re­fused, say­ing he was ok, and that he was go­ing to catch some fish. Then out of that very bag he pulled a han­d­line

be­fore run­ning down to the rocks smash­ing open some mus­sels for bait and pad­dling out be­yond the surf, only min­utes later he re­turned with a healthy sized Ka­hawai, grabbed his plas­tic bag and pulled out a roll of tin foil and a lighter be­fore mak­ing him­self a lit­tle fire from

drift­wood, and shortly af­ter was sit­ting there munch­ing back fresh fish. Wow, this kid was dif­fer­ent, he was awe­some! The life that Paco has come to live started many years be­fore he was even thought of, when his kiwi dad Brian at around the age of 22 went to Paris to study theatre, af­ter a few years liv­ing in France and trav­el­ling around tour­ing with a play Brian met Paco’s mum to be Solange in Rome, and the two in­stantly hit it off and trav­elled through­out Europe to­gether for a num­ber of years with Brian work­ing as an ac­tor, be­fore hav­ing a daugh­ter and de­cid­ing to re­turn home to New Zealand. With not a lot of money to spare the young fam­ily set­tled down in the quiet North­land sea­side town of Mat­apouri where they got to­gether with a few friends and pur­chased a 150 acre block of land up a se­cluded val­ley nearby with na­tive bush, streams and farm­land mak­ing up the plot. The property was put in a trust be­tween the in­vested fam­i­lies and their lives back in NZ started afresh in this tran­quil val­ley. In all six houses were built on the land and the res­i­dents be­came their own com­mu­nity, each with their own in­di­vid­ual projects as well as com­mu­nity projects where ev­ery­one worked to­gether for the greater good of the com­mu­nity. This was the en­vi­ron­ment that Paco was born into and grow­ing up here shaped him into who he is to­day. This wasn’t your ev­ery­day child­hood most of our kids grow up know­ing but in essence the val­ues and ex­pe­ri­ences that Paco learnt from the days of his first steps are what most of so­ci­ety like to say and think they’d have in their lives if things were dif­fer­ent. With the res­i­dents of the com­mu­nity be­ing big be­liev­ers in con­ser­va­tion, the farm or what you may rightly de­scribe as a sanc­tu­ary, was named ‘Ma­maki’ de­rived from an an­cient In­dian lan­guage trans­lat­ing to ‘Spirit of fer­tile wa­ter’. There were big steps to­ward the erad­i­ca­tion of pests in the nearby land and bush, which cre­ated the per­fect en­vi­ron­ment for Kiwi to flour­ish, and while most kids have cats and dogs as pets, Paco can re­call hav­ing Kiwi walk into his house. With such a pre­cious iconic bird liv­ing on their doorstep their were no cats or dogs al­lowed, which Paco will ad­mit an­noyed him a lit­tle as a kid “I al­ways wanted a dog to play with but wasn’t al­lowed one, but at the same time it was pretty choice to have Ki­wis on your front lawn”. His par­ents and neigh­bours lived off the land, par­tak­ing in bee-keep­ing, cer­ti­fied or­ganic gar­den­ing, and per­ma­cul­ture, this taught Paco many great skills for life, es­pe­cially re­spect for the land, en­vi­ron­ment and all liv­ing things, which is ev­i­dent in the man to­day. With Paco’s mum be­ing French the fam­ily still trav­elled back to France to keep the con­nec­tion with fam­ily alive, over the years these trips were be­com­ing in­creas­ingly more ex­pen­sive and with more fam­ily to feed, Solange who had a great pas­sion for hik­ing and with many years ex­pe­ri­ence in the French Alps, started up a guid­ing busi­ness which would see her be able to spend more time in her home­land and also take the fam­ily for vis­its to their rel­a­tives and ex­pe­ri­ence the other half of who they were each year. Most of these trips would be for a few months yet when Paco was six the fam­ily moved back for the en­tire year, and Paco had his first taste of a French school which he has less than fond mem­o­ries of “I re­mem­ber it would snow at school and I’d be get­ting dragged around by the ear from the teacher, I didn’t like the strict­ness of the French school­ing sys­tem at all, you def­i­nitely couldn’t just jump on the bus with no shoes on like I was used to back in NZ” Af­ter re­turn­ing back home to NZ and the quiet kiwi life­style of Mat­apouri and the Tu­tukaka Coast, Paco went on with life like any young kiwi kid, play­ing soc­cer and skat­ing. Then on one event­ful day down at Mat­apouri Bay, Paco’s life was about to change and his trans­for­ma­tion into the guy we are fea­tur­ing here be­gan. “I was nine years old and I was down the beach with Zeb Wil­liams and Ol­lie Bone and we had one of those old poly­styrene boards that were about four feet long and real fat, I stood up on that and just got washed up the beach onto the sand and just lay there so stoked and amped” Later that year with the help of his par­ents Paco brought his first board a 5’8” Lo­cal Mo­tion which in­stantly be­gan to gather dust and stayed in the garage for a year, with soc­cer and hang­ing out with mates skat­ing tak­ing up his time. Then at ten years old the surf­ing bug hit and hit hard, Paco and his mate Ol­lie would be at the beach as much as they could, even jump­ing straight off the school bus and hik­ing straight to ei­ther Mat­apouri, Wool­leys or Sandy Bay. There was no shy­ness in these cheeky wee groms and they would hus­tle any­one they could for a ride over to Sandy’s and then had a sys­tem in place where ei­ther Paco or Ol­lie’s mum would pick them up. By the time they were 14 and af­ter learn­ing smartly that mums weren’t into any of that “Just one more wave” carry on. The mum’s taxi ser­vices were traded in for the push bike so they could surf as long as they could. It was around this time that Paco’s older sis­ter Maya started see­ing a boyfriend who surfed and also owned a car. This was the best thing ever in Paco’s eyes and some­how the groms would per­suade the boyfriend to check out surf up and down the coast. With a love for the out­doors run­ning in his blood, Paco like his mum fell in love with the moun­tains and when there wasn’t swell Paco was off to the bush too chase his thrill of hunt­ing, where he would ac­com­pany older mates on pig hunts with dogs up north, and head off with a ri­fle deer hunt­ing down south of Auck­land. Liv­ing on the coast fish­ing and div­ing re­placed his child­hood pas­time of skat­ing and he re­flects fondly of his home turf “It’s a pretty spe­cial place and we are pretty spoilt for choice when it comes to the out­doors, there are plenty of op­tions for ev­ery­thing ex­cept so­cial­is­ing, there ain’t to much of that hap­pen­ing on the coast” Sit­ting around the fire with the fam­ily af­ter Paco had pre­pared a din­ner on a ember heated hot plate it be­came ap­par­ent, he could have used a gas cooker or the oven in­side, but in­stead he went through the whole rit­ual, split­ting wood with an axe and only be­gin­ning to cook once the em­bers were glow­ing, this was not just a money sav­ing ex­er­cise, this was an ex­pe­ri­ence. We talked of that first trip we did to­gether and delved into the whole catch a fish to sur­vive gig he had and still has go­ing on “I just re­ally en­joy it, it’s nice sit­ting around a fire, it gets a bit smokey at times, but all good. I think catch­ing your own feed is pretty choice, it’s a free feed and it’s tasty and at the same time it’s a pretty fun thing to do. It def­i­nitely doesn’t feel as bad as bak­ery food af­ter you eat it! I reckon catch­ing your own fish and hunt­ing your own meat, know­ing where it comes from. Grow­ing your own food as well is pretty choice and is eas­ily done with a bit of ef­fort and then you know you’re get­ting good pro­duce. It’s just

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