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.
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.