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Monday, November 28, 2011
Yes, Thanksgiving has come and gone and I hope you had a nice celebration with your family and friends. It is, after all, the best holiday ever and quite unfortunate that the Kiwis do not celebrate. (I think the relations between the Maoris and Europeans were even worse than those between the Native Americans and Europeans.) However, we were able to find a restaurant putting on an "American Style" Thanksgiving dinner buffet (conveniently located at the head of the dock) and recruited our cruiser friends to join us for dinner, even though none of them are American.
My high school English teacher always told us, "Friends are the family you choose for yourself." I could not agree more. Whereas I really missed being with my brother and sister, aunts, uncles and cousins, friends and home this holiday, I felt like I was surrounded by people who have become a sort of surrogate family, or at least my best friends and a strong circle of support. We had a nice pre-party on the boat where I drank many Kiwi beers and a few gin and tonics, and then we headed to the restaurant.
Ever since my family started traveling we have had a motto: expect it to be different. And it always is. The restaurant tried, but the food - albeit standard Thanksgiving food - was pretty bad. Not that it really mattered, but it made me appreciate the bomb-ass meals my family puts together for the occasion. Aside from a weird prayer that the owners of the restaurant tried to do in the middle of dinner (which almost made me lose it) it was a nice time.
Generally, things have been pretty damn nice around here. Except for this flat spell - apparently the worst in history (of this year) - things are going well. The day after Thanksgiving a bunch of us - Merkava people, Sarah Jean people, Lars from Twister who came up from Auckland for the occasion, and us all went out to Ocean Beach. Kiwis call Ocean Beach "Ocean's", and look at me funny when I call it OB, but what else is new. I had seen on the internet that there was supposed to be a 3-4 foot swell at Ocean's but when we got there it was flatter than flat. You can imagine my disappointment.
We walked down to the beach only to find a dolphin beached on the sand. Yuka and I jumped in the water and helped the dolphin into deeper water, and then waded around with it to make sure it wouldn't beach itself again. It was amazing to hold a wild animal like that. It was so big and kind of gnarly with big scars all over its body, but smooth and gentle (at least with us). After a while it swam off and I noticed a little shorebreak wave down the beach, peaking and peeling in a perfect tiny barrel. I ran back to the car to get a boogie board and spent the rest of the afternoon tucking into little close-out barrels. Not a bad day.
Saturday was another good day. I was invited to another Thanksgiving celebration buy an American guy who owns a surf shop up the road. We had a nice BBQ lunch and then decided to go looking for pipis - some sort of shell fish that lives in the shallows and sand bars. We didn't find any but had fun playing around in the water. On Sunday I went back out to Ocean's and did some lifeguard training.
To become a New Zealand State Volunteer Lifeguard you have to swim 400 meters in under 9 minutes (no problem), do a 200 meter run -swim-run in eight minutes (maybe a problem), do a mock rescue, complete a CPR and First Aid test as well as a written test. Everybody out at the beach is laid back about everything, but I feel like I am not taking things seriously enough to pass. We will see.
Other than that, everything is pretty chill. Although, with this flat spell I have taken to doing weird things like climbing mountains and running and swimming in a pool. Yuck. I guess it is good practice. I also applied for a working holiday visa so that I can maybe perhaps kinda get a job. Yuckier. Like I said, lack of surfing makes me do weird things. But someday the waves will return and then we will really see what goes down.
Sunday, November 20, 2011
Unlike Bono, who still hasn't found what he is looking for, I have. I found exactly what I have been looking for, and it only took 11 months and thousands of miles of searching the Pacific Ocean... although ironically enough my new favorite place in all of New Zealand is on the notoriously nasty Tasman Sea. But what, you might ask, did I find? I found a perfect left sand point break -- the wave of my dreams -- for the most part, but there is always a catch.
Let's back up a bit. On Friday the 'rents and I drove up to Opua in our newly purchased, super sweet mini van. In Opua (where we and most cruisers make landfall) there is a cruisers rally so we decided to join in and visit friends recently arrived. Of course I brought both my surfboards and an overnight bag just in case an adventure ensued. When we arrived at the marina in Opua we were reunited with our long lost best friends Mark and Yuka on Merkava, who we left with a tearful goodbye in Tonga. It was great to see them. After hearing a talk by Bob McDavitt, the New Zealand weather guru, we began our festivities which included drinking copious amounts of beer and rum and sharing salty sea stories, of which we all have many.
The organizers of the cruisers rally put on a BBQ dinner for all us yachties and as we were enjoying our (free!) hamburgers and beers who showed up but my homies on S/V Architeuthis. They had just arrived and were absolutely ecstatic about making landfall, which made our celebrations all the more sweeter. It was fun to be able to greet them upon their arrival.
After all the festivities I crashed on the boat Sarah Jean because in the morning my friend Bhodie planned to pick me up at the Opua ferry to take me on a surf adventure. A note on Bhodie: he is your somewhat stereotypical SoCal surf bum, but has lived in New Zealand since he was a teenager. He knows all the cool surf spots and is even more stoked on surfing than I am, so he is a good buddy to have.
Bhodie picked me up at 6:00 AM and we headed out to the west coast of the island - to Shipwreck Bay - known fondly to some as "Shippies". A note on Shippies: this is the New Zealand wave that the guys surf in "The Endless Summer" surf flick. Bhodie mentioned something about camping out on the beach if the surf was good, so I brought my sleeping bag just in case, but I was not expecting much in the way of good waves.
When we came around the corner to catch our first glimpse of Shippies we were greeted by perfect knee high peeling lefts. That looked great to me, but Bhodie said, no no, just you wait. We drove down to, and right on to the beach. A note on Bhodie's car: it is an extremely beat up, old 1980's Toyota Corolla station wagon. Normally people only drive on the beach and the rocks with 4WD cars, but Bhodie charged it. We drove over rocks, through the water, and only got caught in the sand three times. Fortunately Kiwis are very kind and towed us out every time.
Bhodie and his surfmobile, waiting for some kind Kiwis to tow us out of the sand for the third time.
The farther our the beach we drove, the bigger and better the waves got. It was not a huge day, the biggest sets were a bit over head, but it was mostly in the chest to head high range. Shippies is also known as a "woman's wave" which means it is a softer and more gentle wave, which I am totally fine with. So were all the people out. Apparently it was also "super crowded" because there were maybe 15 people out at the most crowded peak, but you could easily find your own peak if you wanted.
Bhodie parked the car right on the rocks in front of the waves, we suited up and walked up the beach. We entered the water and surfed our way down the point, surfing different peaks all the way back to the car. It was then that we decided that we would camp there for the night, as the waves were good and it was a beautiful day. We set up a little camp on a nice grassy spot overlooking the waves in front of my favorite little peak. Yes, it is this that I have been dreaming of and searching for for a very long time. But there is a catch: its bloody cold.
Even on the beautiful sunny day it was, the howling offshore wind was freezing and so was the water. Ok, maybe it was not "freezing", but it was cold. In the evening instead of catching one last session before night I decided to climb up the 500 foot sand dune to warm up. A note on the sand dune: it is what makes the wave at Shippies so good. It is a rocky beach but the sand gets blown off the dune to make perfect bars that the waves peel across. After the sun went down I put on ever single piece of clothing I had (which was not much) and huddled by the fire. I managed to survive the night, but only because Bhodie was a gentleman and let me sleep in his car while he slept in his board bag on the grass.
I am glad I survived the night because we awoke to little knee to waist high waves peeling across the peak known as Mukies (my favorite). We surfed it twice all to ourselves before we packed up and headed back to Opua. Yes, this is the side of New Zealand I was hoping to experience. Perfect, friendly waves? Tick (as the Kiwis say). Meeting new, friendly and hospitable people? Tick. Being reunited with old and awesome friends? Tick. Weather warming up as we come into summer? Tick.
Friday, November 11, 2011
It's taken me a while to warm up to New Zealand, perhaps because it has been so bloody cold, or perhaps because it always takes me a bit to figure out a scene. And the scene here is quite different from any I have been in for a while. We are now at a marina in Whangarei (pronounced "Fangaray) and this is home sweet home for the next 6 months or so.
Whangarei is "the largest city in Northland", which isn't saying much with its population of 40,000. It is not a tourist town which I like, because it makes it easy to meet the locals... this and the fact that Kiwis are ridiculously nice and hospitable (as we know from my previous post).
Allow me another anecdote to get my point across: the other night I did something I have never done before - I went to a bar ALONE. You might not think this is a big deal, but really, what kind of loser goes to a bar alone on a Wednesday night? Don't you have any friends?? Well, I don't have too many friends here-- yet. But I am working on it.
Ok, so I walked downtown - a few minutes walk from the boat - and slowly walked past a few bars where I saw big groups of people laughing and talking and enjoying themselves. Feeling a bit intimidated and lonely I walked past, only to finally muster up the courage to enter the most empty bar I could find. There was a table of 3 guys out on the patio so I got myself a beer and walked outside to say hi. They, being gentlemen, asked me to join them and of course I graciously accepted, thankful for the company. We chatted for a while and before long they insisted I join them for oysters at their favorite restaurant. I politely declined but they were rather insistent, so I found myself being taken to dinner by the guys.
It was kind of a funny situation, mostly because these guys were in their late 30's to early 40's, two of whom have kids, but who is counting? At this point I will take whatever I can get. They were very kind and very generous, buying me dinner and drinks all night after meeting me an hour or two before - and even making it clear that they had no ulterior motives. I think one would be hard pressed to find a similar experience in the States.
I don't know what it is about people around here, but they are willing to go out of their way to make others feel welcome. On Thursday night a surf film was being shown at the arts theater so I went to it with the hopes of meeting surfers. I was not in the foyer three minutes before I met two guys who live here in Whangarei who told me they would take me surfing whenever. Bingo. We exchanged numbers but they also said that they work (what's that?) so they can't surf all the time.
That is the main difference making friends here as opposed to making friends with cruisers. In the cruising community everybody is doing pretty much the same thing. Here in NZ everybody has their own lives - their own shit going on. I am attempting to do the same. I found out that there is a volunteer lifesaving club out at Ocean Beach (not OB, SD but close...) so today after my first surf session since American Samoa I went out to Ocean Beach and met the guys who run the show. They were stoked to get me involved and I am going to start training tomorrow.
A note on my surf session - it was one of the most painful sessions of my life! It was ridiculous. I can't surf anymore. My arms are weak and my balance is off. On my first wave I caught I fell. On the second wave I caught I fell. And so on. I was out for maybe 2 hours and I successfully rode 2 waves. Ouch. Regardless of the pain, it felt great to be in the water and on a board, even if it was a chilly 62 degrees. I know that I will get back into it, I just need a few sessions to get back in the groove.
One thing that I hope will help me get back in shape is the badass aquatic center that is right across the street from the marina. Not only does it have multiple indoor pools, but a gym (kooky, I know), saunas, spas, and a huge waterslide running through it. I am considering joining with the hopes of shedding a few of the pounds I gained sitting on the boat for 10 months. Kiwis are pretty active folks and set up their country accordingly - there are tons of places to camp, hike (tramp, as they call it), and all sorts of fun stuff.
I still miss the tropics. I still have dreams of clear blue water and coconut palms. But I must admit, I am warming up to New Zealand as well.
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
I have been palling around with (my new best friend for the time being,) Kyle. He crewed for our friends on Sarah Jean from Tonga here and now he and I have been causing a ruckus. There is not much here in Opua where the boat is, so yesterday we hitched a ride from another yachtie kid who took us into Pahia. Pahia has a bit more to offer than Opua... which wouldn't have to be much but it is actually a cute little touristy summer town.
Unfortunately the weather yesterday was cold and rainy, and with limited options Kyle and I found ourselves drinking pints from 3 in the afternoon until well into the evening. It was kind of weird though. We went to the bars by the backpacking hostels hoping to find other travelers to chat with, but everything was totally dead. It wasn't until our fourth pub (and who knows how many pints later) that we found the pub where all the locals were hanging out. Bingo.
Kyle and I headed to the pool table and challenged two locals to a friendly game of pool. Pania and Karlier (girl and guy) turned out to be super cool people, who after many games of pool and many pints, invited us back to Pania's house for beers. It was getting a bit late by this time and Kyle and I had not figured out how we were going to get back to Opua - its about an 8 km walk. We were not looking to walk back too late so we politely declined, saying we need to get started home.
Pania would not accept no for an answer. After a few more beers she herds all of us in a taxi - including a Namibian guy and German girl we befriended - and off we went. After making a quick stop at the market for a few cases of beer that she paid for, we found ourselves at Pania's apartment partying until some awful hour in the morning. She insisted that Kyle and I sleep in her bed while she slept on the couch, and would not hear anything of our protests. She is a super cool girl - friendly and hospitable - but almost too much so.
We had known Pania for less than 12 hours before she is not only inviting us into her home and feeding us beer, but giving us her bed to sleep in. I do not think I have ever met anybody else like that. And (as far as I know) she had no ulterior motives for the evening. She is just a very kind and outgoing person who wanted to party with us and had no expectations except that we have a good time. We did, although the 8km hike back to the boat this morning was a bit treacherous.
This story might sound a little weird, and it most likely would have been under different circumstances. I probably would not accept an offer like that from somebody at a bar in the States. It just feels a bit different here. I don't know what it is, but people are so friendly and open that I do not have too much apprehension or anxiety about meeting and hanging out with new people. But don't worry - I will use good judgment when picking my friends.
Speaking of friends, tons of people we have met across the Pacific are filling into the marinas around here. It is like seeing long lost friends when they arrive. A few days ago we took a road trip with Bob from the sailboat Braveheart. It was cool to drive around the countryside and get my bearings a bit, but I am also beginning to realize how rural and low key New Zealand. The country has a striking resemblance to the Pacific Northwest - Oregon, Washington or British Columbia. This is cool, but I have developed quite an affinity for the tropics and am already pining for some warm blue water. And no - I have not surfed yet.
Ok, I will try not to complain about missing the tropics - especially since we are going into summer down here. I will also try to continue updating my blog regularly, but will only write if I have something to write about, which... well... let's just hope I come up on some epic surf adventures soon.