WEST EAST TO AND BACK AGAIN
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.