In Australia, surfing was a priority and waves shaped my life. Each day was determined by what the ocean had to offer. It was an amazing experience to just see what came with each sunrise and then go with the flow from there. The conditions started to deteriorate and I had a desire for something new, but there was only one problem: I was addicted to surfing. I needed something to take my mind off of waves or else the addiction would surely win. That’s when the idea of paragliding in New Zealand started to sound amazing.
I hopped on a short flight over the Tasman Sea to Auckland. Unfortunately, the unpredictable weather of New Zealand extended my paragliding course longer than I had hoped. One month into my NZ adventure, I still hadn’t surfed. So long without waves made me feel disconnected from the ocean. Suddenly depriving myself from the ocean was a shock to what I had come to know as a way of life.
I mostly flew over a beautiful black sand beach, which at least kept me in proximity to the ocean. While flying above the beach, I could hear waves crashing and often found myself staring out into an endless blue sea while gliding through the air. Even though it wasn’t surf-able, just seeing the ocean was enough to keep me out of the water without complaint. It was a bit more challenging when I wasn’t paragliding because my time was spent in Auckland, a pretty boring city if you don’t have copious amounts of money.
Once I finished my course, I joined my mother, Lori, on a road trip around New Zealand. Without paragliding over the beach to take my mind off the waves, I started to feel truly wave deprived. I realized that surfing wasn’t going to be a priority, but a luxury. You can’t have it all I suppose.
One of our first stops was at a little surf town in the north. It was as flat as a lake, but I could still feel good surf vibes. Painted on the side of one building was what the wave out front looked like. A long perfect left point break. Oh, how I just wanted to surf that wave! If I was by myself, I would have stayed there until a good swell came. Knowing my luck, it would probably not break even if I would have stayed. We spent one night and headed south.
I had heard of Raglan before coming to New Zealand and was determined to check it out. Raglan is New Zealand’s most renown wave, that with the right swell, is said to be one of the longest lefts in the world. It is also known as a kite boarding destination and to make it even better, there was good paragliding. It sounded like it had it all, so we put it on our “must stop” destinations. Unfortunately, we had a ferry to catch to the South Island in 12 days, which gave us a time limit. With many places to visit, there simply wasn’t enough time to spend more than a day or two at a spot. As we got close to Raglan, I realized that there was only a small chance that there would be surfing. With the spring winds, storms and infrequent swells, I could only hope for a wave.
It was getting late as we finally pulled into Raglan. Lori and I were both hungry and tired from several consecutive days on the road. We needed to find a place to sleep and make dinner before it got too late. But I had a different agenda, surf check. As we worked our way to the main break, 10–15 minutes out of town, I kept a keen eye out for any signs that would help me determine what the conditions might be like. The winds looked light, but I couldn’t quite see any swell. It could go either way, but I kept my hopes up.
As we turned a corner, I got my first glimpse of the break. I could see a group of black dots floating just offshore with little lines of white water. Surfers!
It was barely a second, but it was enough for me to start getting a feel for what lay ahead. There were waves and it was surf-able. I felt a growing sense of anticipation with the realization that I might be in luck. Although I didn’t want to get too excited because it did look small. But would it be too small for my short boards?
Pulling into the car park, I finally got a view of something that I had been craving, more than I had realized until that very moment. A pealing left point break. The conditions were clean, but as I feared before, it was small. I wanted to evaluate the conditions like I do at every new break. Look for hidden dangers such as rips, currents and rocks. See how the lineup work, where the waves were breaking and who the locals were. 2 minutes into my evaluation a perfect 4 ft waves, chest-high set came through. I could “evaluate” the waves in the water. I quickly struggled into my wetsuit and waxed my board. Not taking the extra time to find out where the best place to paddle out was, I decided to just power through. So I just went straight out from the car, worked my way down slippery rocks to the water’s edge and hopped into the water, quickly working my way past the whitewater.
Oh, how good it felt to be back in the water. Duck diving the first time sent a refreshing chill down my spine. Surprisingly, it wasn’t nearly as cold as I had anticipated. Never having surfed this break before, I decided to stick to the outside of the lineup to start. With over 20 people in the water, I didn’t want to risk pissing off a local during the first session. It’s all about respecting the locals while getting what you can, which turned out to be just fine for me.
The waves looked slow and difficult to get into unless you were in the right position, which was where all the other surfers were grouped. I started to notice occasional waves that broke outside of everyone else, so I decided to try my luck on one of these. After not too long, I saw the wave that I was looking for. Turning back toward shore, I started paddling while keeping an eye on the other surfers to see if anyone else would catch the wave before me. Surprisingly, it was all mine. Not knowing how my board would do, I paddled hard. Feeling the push from the wave, I popped up. It was definitely slow but I managed it while awkwardly finding my balance on a surfboard again. After a turn I was able to get a feel for the wave. With a long open wave in front of me, there was plenty of time to play. Once I had surfed the wave all the way to the rocky shoreline, I fell back into the water with a big smile. What a perfect first New Zealand wave!
I was so stoked to be in the water that I could have stayed out until dark. My hunger and tiredness had been washed away. Looking back toward shore, I saw Lori waving me in, we needed to find a campground before everything filled up. The session wasn’t as long as I would have liked, but I was stoked with the waves that I had caught and quickly paddled in, calling it a night.
Waking up the next day, I hoped for more surf. But as soon as I opened my eyes, I realized that I might not be so lucky. It sounded like a strong wind had developed overnight. From the wrong direction. Either way, I had to check it out before leaving. Driving out to the break, we stopped at the first view over the ocean. It looked like a whole lot of nothing. Even the car park was empty. Oh well, at least I got some fun waves the day before. It was a great reminder about one of the best life mottos, “Get it when the getting is good.” There is no reason to wait for “next time” if it’s good right now. You never know what tomorrow will hold, so take advantage of anything that is good as soon as you can!
Have you ever tried paragliding in New Zealand? And what about surfing in Raglan?