I have created this blog with the hopes that you, my friend, will follow me as I sail around the world (figuratively or literally, not sure yet) with my parents on their Contest 48. Whereas I hope to keep you updated with exciting adventures of exotic ports and epic waves, keep in mind that cruising - that is, traveling by boat in a leisurely fashion - tends to be filled with days of intense boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror. Please keep this in mind as you read these entries, for this platform will be just as much an attempt for me to maintain my sanity (and connection to the California-based world), as entertainment and reassurance for you. And so, follow me as I sail the world.

P.S. All material on this blog, words and photos alike, are copyrighted by me. Copyright 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018. If you decide that this material is worth re-publishing, please give me credit and lots and lots of money.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Surf Trip pt. II

Caution: If you are sick of hearing about epic waves or don't like to read my mediocre ramblings about perfect surf, do not read this.

The first glimpse of waves at Shipwreck Bay

Dude. Duuuude. Duuuuuuuuuuuude. I know, I know, but dude. Mark and I scored Shipwreck Bay so epic for three days straight. As cold and rainy and mediocre surf we got on the first part of our trip was how warm and sunny and epic the second part of our trip was. Let me elaborate.

As you know, Mark and I stopped in Whangarei and spent the night on our boats - we both needed a good night's sleep and a shower. We decided to leave for Shipwreck bay early Sunday morning as it looked like the swell would be filling in all day and peaking on Monday. We had the car loaded and were on the road by 7:00 AM and up at Shipwreck Bay by 9:30.

Shipwreck Bay is located at the very south end of 90 Mile Beach on the west coast of New Zealand. There is a huge point of land that juts out at the end of the beach and when the southwest swell is big enough, it wraps around the point creating long, perfect, peeling lefts (but you know all this). Ah yes, the advantages of being in the southern hemisphere.

When Mark and I came up over the hill to catch our first glimpse of Shippies we were greeted with tiny little lines of swell wrapping around the point, along with big, open, cloudless blue sky. I have told you before how much I love this place... at one point I was out in the water and thinking about what I would change about this place to make it more perfect, and couldn't think of anything.

Upon arrival our first mission was to figure out where we would stay for the night, which was easy. We drove down to the carpark and noticed an open field, which as it turns out is a "campground". Most of the land around Shippies is Maori land, and they have chosen to keep it very undeveloped and rustic. I like this.

So for $20/night we had ourselves a sweet little place right out in front of the waves. Not much else, but we didn't need anything else. Down the beach a ways there was a tent set up and a group was putting on a surf camp for disabled people. The people running it invited us to join them, eat their food, and help out pushing paraplegics into waves. It was pretty amazing to see these severely handicapped people riding waves with HUGE smiles on their faces. Their happiness was infectious.

In fact, it seems that everybody out at Shippies was incredibly happy and friendly the whole time we were there - but how could one not be? Perfect waves and perfect weather, spending the whole day at the beach catching wave after wave. And this wave is suitable for everybody from beginners to experts and everybody in between. That is the beauty of a point break: if you want a bigger wave walk farther around the point and you will get it.

But it is really the friendliness of the place that blows me away, both with the wave and the people. The wave is a "woman's wave" - soft, inviting, and goes on forever. I longboarded most sessions and during one session (out of three that day) I started chatting with a German girl on a shortboard. "Ja, I bought this board but I think it is too small, I can't get any waves, ja." Her board looked sweet as so I offered to trade for a few waves. After catching a few on my board she decided to go in but said I could keep surfing her board. "Awesome, I will come find you on the beach when I am done," I told her. "Oh and, by the way, what is your name?"

Me on a small wave during the morning session.

Kiwis and people traveling in New Zealand tend to have a certain trust and openness toward one another that you would not find so readily in the States. Especially out at Shippies, it seems that even the locals are friendly. To be completely honest, if Shipwreck Bay was my homebreak I would be pretty territorial - or at least heckle the tourists a bit. Nobody gave me a hard time, although I did have to practice restraint and not paddle for all the set waves. Even so, when I caught a particularly nice one I got a high five or a smile when I paddled back out.

Humor me if you will, as I describe a "nice one". The peak at Shippies is a bit steep with a section right at the take off, so after dropping in it is important to make a big bottom turn to make it around the section. After that the wave hits the sandbar and walls up, tapering down the line. On a good wave you can pump down the line through the entire wave, say 50 meters or so, only to do a huge shwack as the wave closes out in the shallows. When the winds are offshore (which they are more often than not) it makes the wave hollow and if you stall you can find yourself tucked into a nice little barrel. It really is a goofy footers paradise.

I only tucked into one barrel and did not come out, but the image of that green wall of water curling up and over my head, completely surrounding me in a green room of water for a split second, was freaking awesome. Of course I got annihilated shortly thereafter but it was so worth it. I want more. And some day I would like it make it out of one.

Taking a break but always keeping an eye on the surf.

Mark and I spent an average of five hours in the water every day for three days, both equally stoked on every wave we got. When our arms felt like they were going to fall off we would go up to our campsite overlooking the beach and watch perfect waves coming through endlessly, strumming a guitar and drinking a cold beer. As awful as it sounds, it was almost like torture to watch perfect, unridden waves come through and not be able to surf them because my arms were absolutely spent. But then again, there is a fine line between pleasure and pain.

Ok, ok. Enough. I am now back at the boat and back to reality ("reality", ha) and the reality of our current situation is that we are getting ready to leave Whangarei and head up to Fiji. I feel like my epic surf trip has given me closure on the four months I have spent in New Zealand - I mean, I got exactly what I wanted. It just took a little while. But hey, if you spend enough time in one spot you are bound to score sooner or later.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Surf Trip pt. I

Although the forecast looked pretty weak both in terms of weather and waves, Mark and I decided to head down to Raglan on Wednesday. Never mind that there were gale force offshore winds, no waves to speak of, and it was predicted to pour rain all week - it was either now or never to go to Raglan, so I chose now.

In the surfing world, Raglan is by far the most famous wave in New Zealand. It is a series of point breaks that peel around the headland to make a perfect left. Some compare the funky town of Raglan to that of Santa Cruz, but in my most humble opinion Raglan does not have shit on Santa Cruz. That being said, Raglan is a pretty cool, low key semi-rural surf town. Lots of surf shops, cafes, backpackers and of course, surfers. I have a natural affinity to all surfers and spent lots of time chatting with the locals about where the best waves would be and when.

Unfortunately the surf gods were not favoring Raglan while we were there, but Mark and I managed to get in one fun session at the beach inside the point of Manu Bay. The waves were punchy, hollow and clean the first afternoon, but conditions fell apart the next day. Really, I knew they conditions were not ideal for Raglan but I would have felt like a total kook if I spent 6 months in New Zealand without making the pilgrimage. And I am glad I did.

Mark and I stayed in a backpackers full of crusty surfers, so we fit right in. Aside from the mosquito infested dorm rooms, it was a nice place tucked back in the rain forest above the bay. We stayed two nights and when we weren't surfing we cruised around town and checked out the surrounding beaches. The west coast of NZ has some pretty rugged and beautiful coastline - much of it reminds me of Big Sur and northern California.

There is a macking swell on its way up the west coast right now, but Mark and I didn't want to hang out at Raglan waiting for it to show up, so we decided to head north. We stopped at Piha for a surf yesterday afternoon even though the waves were big and messy. Hanging out in the parking lot of the beach we met two German guys who told us they camp here for free without being hassled by anybody. That convinced us, and after a surf and a walk on the beach Mark and I set up camp. A few other camper vans pulled in for the night and we ended up having a bit of a party/jam session until late in the evening.

At some point during the night I noticed that the waves were calming down and the wind had shifted off shore. The sky was clear and the stars were bright. I was so excited about the potential morning session I could hardly sleep - well, that and the fact that Mark and I were sleeping in the back of the van on an air mattress.

Alas, when I awoke I was greeted with peeling peaks and off shore winds. I will admit it took me a while to get going, and it is a bit embarrassing that a few JAFAs ( Just Another Fucking Aucklander) beat me to the waves when I woke up in front of them, but.. oh well. We had a nice morning session but by noon the surf was packed with everybody from newbie surfers to the local shredders.

Mark and I decided to head north toward Shipwreck bay where we will catch this epic swell, but first decided to take a night off of our epic surf trip and sleep on our respective boats. We have to drive through Whangarei to get north anyway, so we are taking advantage of showers and a free night's stay. Tomorrow it is up at daybreak to go to my favorite place in New Zealand: Shipwreck Bay!

Stay tuned for part II of the epic surf adventure.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Family Values

Ok, wow. It's been a while. Sorry about that, but in all honesty I have been too busy playing the tourist and have simply not had time to write. But you might ask, why was I playing the tourist? The excuse to do all the things that people do in New Zealand when they only have one week came in the form of my awesome cousin Haley, who flew here for her first spring break from college. Since she came all the way for one week, we had to make it count. Side note: she is the only family member or friend who has made the effort to come visit us in the South Pacific -- big points for her.

Haley arrived on Sunday morning but I was on patrol out at Ocean Beach last weekend so I did not see her until Sunday night. We talked about all our plans for the week - celebrating my birthday (which means going to the beach and then the pub), cultural/historical stuff, outdoor adventures, a snorkeling trip to the Poor Knight Islands, hiking, and a weekend in Auckland.

Yes, we had quite a fun-filled week that started off with my second birthday on this trip, fourth out of the country, and 24th in all. I do not think I have ever scored good waves on my birthday - spring is not the best time of year for surf. But here is it fall and I got perfect chest high, hollow peeling waves. I got closer to getting barreled than I ever have - a great birthday present. After spending most of the day at the beach we headed back to the boat and got ready to go to my favorite Irish pub in Whangarei for my birthday dinner. My buddy Lars showed up as did another yachtie friend and we headed to McMorrissey's for a lamb, mashed potato and gravy dinner accompanied by really, really good beers. We finished off the night with a rockin' jam session.

Tuesday we headed up north to give Haley a grand tour of the Bay of Islands. It was a beautiful day and we trekked around the Waitangi Treaty grounds where the Maori and Europeans signed a treaty (although what that treaty said is a bit unclear) and had a picnic lunch by the water. You know from my complaining how terrible the weather has been this summer in New Zealand, but miraculously the weather was mostly perfect for all of Haley's visit. I think she should come more often.

On Wednesday Haley and I went to the "Adventure Forest" which is a zipline and ropes course through the forest. I thought it might be kind of hokey and lame seeing as how 12 year old kids can do it, but I forgot that these are Kiwi kids and they are gnarly. When we got to the course we were given a lesson on how to clip in and move around the course, signed a waiver, and then were left to our own devices.

These courses were pretty cool and pretty damn hard. We were always clipped in but climbing across ropes 10 meters above the ground is scary! By the end of it Haley and I were both totally beat, so we treated ourselves to a fish n' chips lunch.

The snorkeling tour we took to the Poor Knight Islands on Thursday might be my favorite thing we did. It was a bit of a tourist scheme, but we went out to the islands 10 miles off Tutukaka on a big power cat that got us there fast and comfortably. Jacques Cousteau rated the Poor Knight Islands as one of his top 10 dive destinations in the world, but perhaps more for the unique diversity the sub-tropical climate has to offer. Let's be honest - it does not have much on say, snorkeling in Tonga - but it was really beautiful.

The Poor Knights are a marine reserve and I think the fish know this, so they are not shy about checking snorkelers and divers out. There is also lots of kelp and sea grass which was cool to see... there is no kelp in the tropics. There are also tons of caves and tunnels in the islands and the captain of our boat took us into and through many of them - on the huge power cat. Crazy Kiwis.

On Friday we had a "mellow" day and only went on a 10 kilometer hike up to Whangarei Falls, followed by a night out in Whangarei - Haley is legal to drink here so we had to take advantage (legal, Meg!). We were all feeling a bit stiff when we got up early on Saturday morning to head out to Auckland for the weekend.

Up until this weekend I had spent a total of about two hours in Auckland and was looking forward to seeing the city, plus it was St. Patrick's day on Saturday, plus the Volvo around the world race was stopped in Auckland and they put on quite a show.

Dad booked us a really nice hotel right in the central city and while I would have been content to hang out there all day and watch TV (a novelty!), we ventured out to the Viaduct (waterfront) to check out the Volvo Race Village. These boats are sailing around the world with stops in Abu Dhabi, Brazil, Miami and so on. Yesterday we watched them race around the bay and then head out into very nasty conditions - heading to Chile to round Cape Horn. Good luck to them, I thought as I sipped my beer and took a bite into my cheeseburger.

Auckland is a cool city full of good restaurants and fun bars. On Saturday night we went out to a fun Latin dinner, walked around and hit up a few pubs - all of which were pretty packed. The city was high energy and in a very celebratory spirit. Although Auckland is not the biggest or most sophisticated city in the world, I felt rather out of place as the biggest city I have been in since we left Mexico was Papeete in Tahiti - which is not the most cosmopolitan city. But iPad in one hand and Starbucks coffee in the other I felt very trendy and hip for a day... but I couldn't keep up the front very long.

Yesterday afternoon we said a very sad goodbye to Haley who left us to return to finish up her freshman year at Pomona college. We had a great time with her. Not only was it awesome to visit with family but she gave us the excuse to do a lot of fun things we would not have done otherwise. Perhaps you should come visit us -- wherever we are! Who knows what kind of trouble we could get up to!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Lifeguard ON Duty

It is official!

I made it! I am officially a New Zealand surf lifeguard! After completing a 400 meter pool swim in under 9 minutes, a theory test, CPR and first aid, a run-swim-run, a tube rescue and numerous hours of training, I am qualified to save your life.

Now you might ask: why, if you intend to leave New Zealand within a month or two, did you go through all the trouble of becoming a qualified lifeguard?

I had absolutely no intention of becoming a surf lifeguard when I met the Whangarei Heads crew out at Ocean Beach... I just wanted to surf. But after seeing how the club functions - the sense of community, responsibility and respect that comes along with being a lifeguard here - I was convinced. Also, I really wanted to feel like I have accomplished something after being in New Zealand for 5 months, and not only does having the qualification look good on a resume (resumes - ha!) but there are also opportunities within the program to learn more and progress. Plus, the uniforms are sweet as.

Surf Lifesaving New Zealand (SLSNZ) is a really cool program. All lifeguard patrols in New Zealand are based on volunteer service. Many kids begin training when they are 7 or 8 years old in junior surf, becoming comfortable with the dynamic coastlines of New Zealand. By the time they are 14 they can become legitimate lifeguards and by 16 can become paid guards during the summer season. One can become a step down from a paramedic through entirely free classes with SLSNZ.

It is pretty amazing to see how mature young teenagers can act when given serious responsibilities. We have 16 year olds patrolling the beach, driving the ATV (and well, I might add!), manning the IRB's, performing first aid, and not acting like total nut jobs when they stay over night at the surf clubs. It is almost as if with more freedom they act more like their parents would want them to. Interesting.

As 14 year olds can qualify for their lifeguard award, I took the test with about 35 of them this morning, although the age range was from 14 to about 40. It would have been extremely embarrassing if I had failed while kids 10 years younger than me passed. This does not mean they did not pass me physically - in the run-swim-run I was near the back of the pack, but was so happy to complete it in the required amount of time I did not care. Really, the conditions to complete the exam were perfect, with sunny skies and small surf all day. And Mom and Dad were there with all the rest of the moms and dads cheering us on.

Now I am planning my next move. It looks like the surf might be good on the west coast this coming week so I might take a little trip over there. Speaking of surfing, have you heard of It is a pretty cool website that connects travelers all over the world with locals and one another. Last week we hosted a German guy aboard Rutea who was pretty stoked to spend the night on a boat. In the morning I took him out to Sandy Bay and we got some really fun waves. Then he went on his way. You know, just gotta keep things interesting.

Until the next interesting story... swim between the flags.