The lifestyle at Waihi Beach is motivated by a love of the ocean and the coast, so it is only natural that surfing is so popular in the area. Although it is considered an individual sport, surfing at Waihi Beach is far from that. Waihi Beach Boardriders’ Club has a rich history of camaraderie, mentoring, community support and a few shenanigans thrown in for good measure. From these solid friendships and collaborations, new initiatives have developed over the years and surfing at Waihi Beach looks to continue growing from strength to strength.
Back in the ‘70s
Waihi Beach Boardriders was formed in 1976, but (officially established in 1979). However, there was already a keen surfing crowd and movement at Waihi Beach. Many a weekend was spent hanging out at the ‘main’ waiting for the waves to pick up. The local congregation points were the two surf shops at the north end – Bob Davie’s Surfboards and Honesee Surfboards. Both closed in the early to mid ‘70s. Butch Mayor a local surfer says, “You always knew there’d be someone there, a mate waiting for a wave. So it was more than just about surfing, it was a place to meet.”
Most surfers usually skipped the few months over winter but were back in the water by August. Some donned woolen jerseys to keep warm and others were in vests and board shorts or basic wetsuits. In the absence of leg ropes, some surfers would also drill holes in the fins of their board, attaching cords and adding a handkerchief around the ankle for extra comfort.
Even at this early stage, Waihi Beach was producing some competitive surfers with Michelle French, winning the New Zealand Women’s Surf Champs in 1972. Michelle’s sister, Susanne, would ride her push bike from Waihi to Whangamata over the gravel road, to chase a good wave. Such was her determination, the NZ Herald wrote in an article about her ride.
Other strong surfers, Donna French and Colin Mayor, (Waihi Beach locals who later married), were both competing in the annual NZ Surfing Association Nationals. It was around 1976 that the Surfing Association wanted to introduce more competitions, but introduced a requirement that competitors be affiliated with a club. Therefore, Donna, Butch and others called all their friends together to form the Waihi Beach Boardriders.
It was established with Kevin Howell as the first president and Donna as secretary. Upon formation there were approximately 60 members, with enthusiastic surfers from Waihi, Paeroa and Whangamata, also signing up. As there was no official clubroom, meetings were held at the Waihi Beach Hotel and a club surfing competition was held every month. In the local competition, participation was a key component, with a ladder system ensuring if you showed up frequently, no matter how good you were, you’d have a chance at topping the table. The first official Waihi Beach Surf Competition was held in 1976 and had approximately 35 participants.
In addition, many fundraisers were planned to ensure everyone who wanted to, could get to surf comps around the country. A few memorable fundraisers included a local dress-up night out, an RSA hangi evening and community rugby matches. The hangi event at the Waihi Beach RSA (old RSA site on Brighton Rd), eventuated in the food not being cooked properly. So some of the food was put in the RSA oven to finish cooking. The food subsequently caught alight and a fire had to be put out in the kitchen.
The Boardriders held an annual party night out, where people were encouraged to head to the local Op Shop to find a unique outfit. This event was held for many years and was one of their most successful fundraisers.
The club also played a fundraiser rugby game against the Waihi under 21’s, in 1979. This was Graham Purvis’ first Under 21 match (playing on the Waihi team), before he went on to become an acclaimed All Black representative. The rugby fundraiser also became a regular annual event.
Funds raised by community events saw the Boardriders hire buses and head all over the country to surf comps, for example in Taranaki and Maketu. Donna, Butch and Gary Choat even travelled down to Dunedin to compete. Jimmy Lynch, a keen Boardrider member moved to Taranaki in the late ‘70s and established a strong bond between Waihi Beach and New Plymouth. Many a competition was held against each other with each host town billeting out visiting surfers.
Around this time, a surf break called Spot X near Pio Shore, became legendary on the New Zealand surfing circuit. People travelled from all over New Zealand to surf this break. The surf break eventually died down after a few years, much to the disappointment of the locals.
Also legendary were the New Year’s Eve parties that were held in the dunes near Pio and Spot X. The night would start at the old Waihi Beach RSA, where the Boardriders sometimes would stack beer crates so high, blocking the doors and accidentally locking out some of the members. Then the party would move down to the beach near Pio Shores where the Club had gained permission from the council to have the after-hours party in the Sandhill carpark. A generator was even organised, to play music early into New Year’s Day.
Above and beyond everything, the memories that stand out most when talking to this crowd, are ones of community and friendship. Just being able to go to the beach and know you would see someone you could hang out with or talk to. When surfing local, John McGrath lost his life in a house fire in the early ‘80s, the Boardriders’ community was there to support the family and each other. A memorial service for John, was held that year and has been held annually ever since, for all Boardriders and their family members who have passed away. Chris Spiers says, “This is an important part of Boardriders, to remember all those who are gone and who were part of this very cool community.”
In addition, mentoring and guiding younger members of the Boardriders has always come naturally in the club. This is evident with the success of Levi Stewart, a Waihi Beach local, who has earned a spot on the international surfing circuit, in recent years. Levi acknowledged that Chris and others had played a part in his surfing development, not only through their teaching, but also supporting him out of the water.
Surfing grows in the community
Mirroring international growth, surfing became more popular at Waihi Beach with residents and visitors over the next 30 years. In 2010, the Waihi Beach Surf School was established by Trevor Metcalfe and purchased in 2012 by Aidan Comrie, a Waihi Beach born and bred local surfer.
Over this time, the Boardriders’ Club was offered the use of a small bach near the end of The Esplanade, as a club base. After several years, the owner had to hand back the bach to the Council. Realising that having a base right on the beach was a positive asset for the club, members then spoke to the Council to see if they could assist them with finding new premises. This resulted in another small bach, right next to the original clubroom, being leased to the Boardriders for a community rate, under a five-year trial agreement. This helped the Boardriders morale grow and provided an opportunity for kids that didn’t live near the beach, to store boards there and access the water more frequently.
Aidan has worked on programmes with the local school to teach the children how to surf, including ocean and surf safety. He has also supported several local organisations to offer surfing experiences to a variety of people. CanSurf Waihi Beach Summer Camp, is run by a group of Waihi Beach locals for CanTeen, the national peer support network for rangatahi living with cancer. The Waihi Beach Surf School works closely with CanSurf, to provide lessons for their young visitors, most of who have never surfed before. CanSurf Waihi Beach has been running since 2013, and after having to cancel last year’s camp, the team is excited that it will be on again this year.
Surfing for Farmers, a growing national initiative started in Gisborne in 2018, is also supported by Waihi Beach Surf School. This programme offers surfing outings to farmers, as a form of mental health wellbeing and to step away from their farm and experience something different. The Waihi Beach programme has grown over the past two years and the last gathering saw over 25 farmers participate.
Another positive surfing organisation at Waihi Beach is the Christian Surfers Groms group. It is a chapter of an international Christian Surfers’ initiative, formed in the early ‘70s. It was established in 2015 by Waihi Beach locals, Teresa and Steven Osborne. Steven has been an active member of the Waihi Beach Boardriders’ Club since 1987 and now connects local, young surfers. They meet regularly at the Boardriders’ club house and organise surf trips and events with other New Zealand Christian Surfers’ groups. There are currently 25 members in this group.
Waihi Beach Surfers making waves
The strong knit Waihi Beach surfing community celebrates all surfers, but there are some they are particularly proud of. Most recently and notably, is Boardriders’ member, Levi Stewart, who moved to Waihi Beach at age 10 and started competing on the international circuit in 2019. He is currently ranked 17th in the Men’s Qualifying Series for the 2022/23 season. This is a huge achievement, for Levi, after breaking his back in two places in a surfing competition nine years ago.
Levi, supported by his biggest fan, his Mum Joy, competed around the country at surf comps from a young age. He was also taken under the wing of Boardriders’ members and treated as part of the family. This had an impact on his love of surfing and his drive to succeed in a sport he is hooked on.
Levi says, “Support from the Waihi Beach community has been key to my development. From people simply believing in me and backing me up, to local businesses sponsoring me.” LJ Hooker Waihi Beach and Bowentown Beach Holiday Park, recently signed up to sponsor Levi and support his participation in the International Men’s Qualifying Series. This furthers his chances in qualifying for the World Surfing League’s Championship Tour.
LJ Hooker is also a key sponsor of Waihi Beach Boardriders’ Club, supporting the club in both competitions and administration. “From the old sea dogs to the young grommets, the Waihi Beach Boardriders is an outstanding community of people who passionately love and respect the sea. This is why we love supporting initiatives that bring people together to enjoy all that is great about Waihi Beach,” says Gary Alway, owner of LJ Hooker Waihi & Waihi Beach.
Over the past 7 years, Zac Curle and Thomas Carter, current co-presidents of the Boardriders’ Club, have earned finals’ places in various national competitions around New Zealand. Zac most recently placed 3rd in the Open Men’s Final at the Hurley Club Champs this year, with the Waihi Beach Boardriders’ team consisting of 5 members, coming in 8th place overall.
Alexis Poulter has represented New Zealand at the International Surfing Association World Championships seven times. She has also won ten junior shortboard titles, as well as several stand-up paddleboard and longboard national titles. She finished ninth in the World Under-18 Shortboard Competition while competing in her teens.
Many other local surfers have achieved success in New Zealand surfing competitions and there are some promising young surfers making names for themselves.
What’s next for Waihi Beach Boardriders?
Zac Curle and Thomas Carter are the youngest members to hold the position of co-president. After seeing the club take a bit of a slide over the Covid years, Zac and Thomas want to kick start the Boardriders’ energy, reunite the members and grow the club.
Zac says, “The experience of surfing with mates and the older members encouraging us to ‘give it a go’ in the surf competitions was awesome. We want to pass on those memories to the groms and just keep them excited about surfing.” He and Thomas are also hoping to attract back some of the local middle-aged surfers, who have had a break from surfing due to busy times with families and work.
There are some big plans on the horizon for the Waihi Beach Boardriders. Thomas and Zac are looking at introducing some more events to generate funding to update the club gear such, as PA system and general clubroom set-up. A new website is being developed and they are looking at ways to attract a wider audience to grow club membership.
Thomas says, “Friends from out of town say they’d love to see more competitions over summer. So we are looking at some bigger peak-season events and some different competitions, such as a longboard event and possibly bringing back the Orokawa Classic Competitions. There are so many opportunities for the club.”
They are also looking at ways of working with sponsors to get these events off the ground and to market and spread the word about them.
So after 40 odd years, the Boardriders’ Club is still going strong, growing and evolving. And as Donna simply stated when we met with her, “It’s just wonderful to see how the Club has grown with the original people still involved and young ones coming through – we were just doing what we loved, we just loved to surf.”
This feature was proudly sponsored by LJ Hooker Waihi + Waihi Beach.
If you want to be more involved, become a Boardriders’ member. All membership funds go towards club operations. Follow the Waihi Beach Boardriders’ Facebook page for updates.