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Before this weekend I was harbouring a fear - a secret and irrational fear that the sea is a brooding menace, lying in wait to swallow me down into Davy Jones’ Locker for all eternity. I also have the grace and poise of a chicken on rollerskates so the thought of embarking on a two day surf tour left me feeling slightly uneasy.
There are four of us, all beginners and we are picked up from central Whangarei on Friday afternoon by Simon Clowes, our guide for the weekend and the owner of Surfaris, a Northland surf school that offer everything from day lessons to bespoke week-long tours.
As we wind up through Northland I forget my reservations and start asking questions. Surfaris operate on the adage ‘The best surfer in the world is the one having the most fun.’ Accredited by Surfing NZ and based on the Tutukaka coast they also pick up from Whangarei and the Bay of Islands.
Such is the rich diversity of surf breaks in Northland they can sniff out suitable surf for all ability ranges on any given day, using years of local knowledge to avoid the overcrowded breaks.
We arrive at Ahipara YHA, set up camp and chill out on the beach with fish and chips, say goodbye to the day with a gorgeous Northland sunset and hit the hay. The next day it’s a fresh and sunny morning, we grab breakfast and head off to 90 mile beach for our first lesson.
On land we learn surf theory before being released into the waves. Where surfing definitely does not seem as easy to put into practice as it is to explain.
I spend a few brief seconds on my feet, more on my hands and knees, though the vast majority of the time I am face planting into the surf like a puppy chasing a stick.
Then it’s time for a drive up the beach to Te Paki Stream for sandboarding and lunch, followed by lesson number two at Rawera, a beautiful and remote white sand beach on the East Coast of the Auopouri Peninsula.
We recap the morning lesson and are helped out with a few hints and tips here and there. Before you know it I am on my feet at last and flying down the wave, wobbling and weaving all over but I’ve done it!
It’s an amazing feeling, and all four of us are buoyed up and buzzing with the feeling of accomplishment as we head back down to Ahipara YHA, stopping off at the Kauri Kingdom on the way.
Over dinner and games I learn more about the history of Surfaris - why start a surf company? Originally from Cornwall in the UK, Simon surfed three continents before deciding on NZ as his favourite country.
With three coasts you are never more than 40km from a beach in Northland; it’s heaven for water babies. After a successful career in sales and marketing he finally gave in to the call of the surf and decided to put his 20 years of experience to use.
All guides hold an International Surf Coach Certificate, and the emphasis of the company is on education, participation and fun. Surfaris commitment to sustainability is heartening, and the guides take steps at all times to ensure we take nothing but experience from the environment.
Day two and we’re back on 90 Mile Beach, all managing to surf and having a great time, there is now a sense of camaraderie within the group, lots of encouragement and laughter.
So much so that I realise I’ve forgotten all about Davy Jones and his locker. After lunch we stop at Mangonui for a well deserved ice-cream before heading out to the wide and stunning expanse of Taupo Bay for lesson two.
Going South we stop off at Ake Ake Vineyard near Keri Keri for a taste of their sumptuous Chambourcin Syrah before returning to Whangarei. It’s unbelievable that the weekend is over already.
Not only have I been reminded once more of the beauty and diversity of Northland I’ve had an amazing time learning to surf with some brilliant people. A truly unforgettable experience that comes highly recommended.