Recon: New ZealandRoster: Mike Losness, Asher Nolan, Bron Heussenstamm,Zach Hartley, And Jeremy HeitPhotography: Jack English.comAffirmation: Mike Losness
When stateside surfers wonder about the waves in New Zealand, you really have no clue what to think about them (unless, of course, you’ve been there). I think most U.S. surfers only know about a surf spot called Raglan, the world-famous left-hand point break, possibly one of the best in the world when it’s on. So with Raglan being the only N.Z. spot we knew of, we decided to go there first.
We rented two RVs straight from the airport and started our mission with a nice three-hour drive to Raglan. The RVs were Jack’s idea-this way we could surf all the spots, follow the swell, and not be stuck in one spot the whole time. The drive felt long, consumed with high hopes of good surf and getting to know one another.
Upon our arrival, we were met with a high tide and completely flat, onshore crap. That pretty much sums up how our trip started. We hoped things would get better from there, not knowing what was in store for us.
Because none of us had been there before, we had no clue where to go. The only person on top of things was Zach Hartley. His boss at Moon Doggies surf shop in Pismo Beach, California had been to North Island in New Zealand before, so Zach made it his duty to pick his boss’ brain before the trip about where to surf.
In the empty parking lot at Raglan, Zach broke out his map of the country. It had about twenty different spots marked up and down both east and west coasts of New Zealand. Because no one knew anything and there was no personal preference, we headed west with Zach’s crinkly map of surf spots to guide us.One of the biggest bummers of the trip was that we spent more time driving and looking for surf than we actually did surfing. Out of the two weeks we were there, we only surfed maybe six times, and Jack only shot photos four times. It was really unusual in comparison to most of the photo trips I’ve been on where I’ve usually gotten lucky and surfed most of the time every day.We’d go on the longest drives looking for waves-they’d be okay, but not great, and everyone would be over it. Then we’d drive another two hours thinking it’d be better somewhere else. We’d finally get there and wish we’d stayed at the place before, but it was too late to turn back. We did this a least a few times a day. Everyone would get sick and tired of driving by the afternoon. One of the places, the Mahia Peninsula, didn’t look good so we drove away and it got better the next day.At times it seemed as though the driving would never end and we were going to make a full circle around New Zealand, ending up right where we started. We were done looking for surf on the west coast, so we decided to make an eleven-hour drive across the country. Bron said he didn’t care and would drive all night, so the longest drive of the trip began-we were on our way to New Plymouth.After driving forever, we were all starving. The seventh and eighth hour passed and we saw not one place to eat the whole time. I figured I was going to suffer from starvation that night, until out of the blue we came across a small town-small meaning three buildings: two gas stations and a Burger King. What a town.The lady behind the register loved her job way too much. She would scream our orders to the cook so fast and loud, we thought she was kidding. She must’ve had Burger King Association pride or something. Anyway, we ate until we couldn’t anymore and started driving again.Zach’s surf map took us from the Mahia Peninsula to this road through the New Plymouth area. Even though it was in the middle of nowhere, it was just before the coast. By this time, we all started getting really sleepy. We were on a road that seemed to never end. For two hours, I never saw a single car or truck. I just hoped that we wouldn’t run out of gas. Three-quarters of the way to New Zealand’s west side, the guys inn the other RV were getting too tired to drive, so Jack wanted to pull over and call it a night. We thought he was crazy, we were in the middle of nowhere with not another car or waves in sight. Bron and I decided to take over the driving, so I jumped into the driver’s seat of the other RV and followed Bron the rest of the way. We wanted to get there early in case the waves were good enough for a morning session.We eventually made it to the west side, but when the sun came up, once again there were no waves. With both sides of New Zealand having no surf meant there was nothing to do but chill out and wait. We sat on our asses in New Plymouth for five days. It sucked! I hate waiting around-I think everyone lost it at least once a day.It was like the movie Groundhog Day-every morning we’d visit the same coffee shop, had the same lattes and cappuccinos, and ate the same egg-and-cheese bagels. Each afternoon we’d check the surf for three hours and then go back to the same coffee shop for lunch to eat the same thing. And every evening we’d squeeze in a movie. That’s all we did for five or six days straight. In other words, we became locals in that little town-they all knew us by name by the end of our stay there. Driving an RV was definitely not like driving your regular car back home. Plus, the roads in New Zealand are substantially narrower, leaving no room for error. One time Bron was tired of driving so he let Zach take control of “The Britz”-the name of the house on wheels. This was the first time Zach drove the beast-guess how far he went before he crashed? Oh, about fifteen feet. He backed out of a gas station and right into a little white car. Completely aware it was there, he smashed the car’s front light into little plastic pieces.Instead of dealing with the insurance, Zach decided to pay the owner two-hundred bucks on the spot. We bought insurance and didn’t use it? I don’t get it. I think we were trying to save time or something. We simply wanted to get out of there.Another time, Jack cut this one corner too close while he pulled into a parking space, ran into a pole, and ripped an eight-foot hole down the side of the RV-he definitely used insurance that time. The third crash happened when Bron backed out of a parking space and rammed a parked car twice-he wasn’t even looking behind him at all. It set the car’s alarm off but didn’t do any damage, so we left rather quickly. Okay, so we had a couple crashes. Hey, at least no one got hurt. Besides, it added a few laughs and some excitement to an otherwise lackluster trip.We made it back to Raglan (on the east side of the island facing Australia) safely with no crashes, and it was actually surfable! Like waist-high-nothing good, though. The local kids said it was going to pick up within the next few days. We were out of time with only three days left on the trip, so we ended up hanging out at Raglan, where we got the best surf of the whole trip. The surf was head high, the sun was out, and it blew offshore the whole time. I personally had a lot of fun that last day. Everyone was ripping-surfing exceptionally well.Exhausted from the previous day’s waves, we headed back to Auckland (N.Z.’s capital city and where the airport is). If I ever go back to New Zealand or tell someone to check it out, I’d make sure to be prepared for a lot of driving. Bring a good book to keep you occupied, and make sure you know where you’re going before you get there.