New Zealand offers world class conditions for surfing, yet it is not as busy and recognised as places like Hawaii, California, Indonesia or Australia. The main reasons are its isolation along with pretty cold temperatures, especially down south. Because of that New Zealand kept a bit of a secret over the years and you will share amazing waves with only your friends and a few dolphins easily – not kidding :)
But for everyone who is not a competent surfer it can be very complicated – a lot more challenging than it might seem at first glance. You need to find out about where to buy or hire equipment and when which surf spot will be on which really depends on a lot of variables.
During this winter we have Fabian working for us who never misses out when there is a wave around, who had experience as a surf instructor and lifeguard before and who likes to share some knowledge to make sure you can get in the water:
First of all, if you want to surf in New Zealand, it depends on where you are and when.
Summer is generally the most famous season because of its relatively comfy water temperatures and nice weather. If you are on the North Island you won’t even need a wetsuit in areas like the Coromandel, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne etc. The further south you go the colder it gets and the bottom of the South Island around the Catlins, Dunedin and West coast generally stays pretty cold – surfing only in good wetsuits.
The good thing about it is that you will find surf schools all over New Zealand and also Hostels where you can rent a surfboard and wetsuit.
I have to say that I learned it all on myself, but taking a few surf lessons is definitely not too bad as you will meet people who you can share the joy with and especially gain some knowledge about safety in the water and how to read the Ocean. It will cost a bit of money but you should get decent beginners equipment (learn as long as possible on a bigger board, it is worth it!). The wildlife factor is always around, you might see albatrosses, dolphins, seals and even some whales on the horizon.
If you get hooked and want to keep surfing you will find lots of surf shops that sell 2nd hand equipment (new boards cost around 1000NZ$, wetsuits around 300$).
If you are on your own and surf for yourself, always remember that New Zealand has open Oceans and there can be currents, submerged rocks etc. Always talk to the locals or other surfers you meet – sharing the time in the water is more fun anyways ;)
If you already know how to surf you might be more interested in where to go and when.
Basically summer is usually the calmest time with the smallest size of surf – but there will be ups and downs all year long. The west coasts on the North Island like Raglan and Taranaki normally don’t run out of swell while not getting too windy during summer and all parts of New Zealand can get really good all over the year. But the prime season for surfing in New Zealand would still be autumn, winter.
Where to go?
This all depends on what you like and how cold resistant you are.
If you arrive in Christchurch you will normally find very user friendly city beaches which are not too dangerous and normally don’t get too big (check the photograph below for an exception from Cyclone Pam) New Brighton and Sumner are good choices as you can hire equipment on both these beaches and in Sumner is a surf school on the esplanade pretty much everyday where you can learn to surf. From Auckland you can decide whether you want to go to the west coast or the east coast.
Actually if I wanted to learn surfing in New Zealand I would go to the beaches around Coromandel and Bay of Plenty on the North Islands east coasts. They offer warm water, lots of sunny weather and very organised and clean surfing conditions and do not too often get big.
Sooner or later you will hear about the village of Raglan which hosts a world class and endless left breaking wave and a very relaxed town vibe. While this is no beginners’ wave and gets really busy it is still worth going, just because the village is having such a peaceful and likeable atmosphere.
Gisborne on the East Cape is amazing as well and offers all year long good conditions. Around Taranaki you will find amazing waves, but most spots are very rocky.
The South Island is pretty raw and tends to get a bit heavier, wherever you go on the West Coast you can find spectacular, raw power in the ocean – careful when traveling alone.
One of the most famous places and truly awesome is Kaikoura. If you search you will find world class conditions and in summer there are surf schools bringing people to safe beaches. Most places, especially in autumn and winter, are not really suitable for beginners, though.
South of Christchurch you will get into the coldest areas of New Zealand around Otago and the Catlins where you can find an epic range of very user-friendly to completely insane breaks. Bring a good wetsuit even in summer, explore the amazing coastline and score amazing surf in between. And always keep an eye up for wildlife, you shall see dolphins, penguins etc. The South Island is colder and the weather can change drastically, but I think it is worth is because there is always a wave around and if surfing gets boring for you there are so many opportunities for the active traveler.
There is so much to learn and explore about surfing in New Zealand that it is hard to sum it up on a quick article but if there are any questions before your arrival just let us know, maybe we can give you some good advice.