Surf Tripping Down New Zealand’s East Coast with Raw Paua.

by Owen James Burke

Scuttlefish writer Owen James Burke is currently rambling around New Zealand, living in a house truck with a camera, surfboard and speargun in search of stories, waves and fish. We’re putting together a waterperson’s guide to the island nation, but meanwhile, we’ll be publishing stories and photographs, short updates along the way from the Yankee in Kiwiland. -CD

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Photo: Atila Madrona/Courtesy: Owen James Burke.

A large wintertime swell had just skirted up the coast, leaving long waves and crisp, still mornings behind. Raw Paua and I had been at odds in recent weeks, but managed to forge a meeting of the minds and agreed that it would be in both our best interests to head south, just in time to catch the remnants of the storm.

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

Winding our way south on dizzying switchbacks, we were flanked by crumbling cliffs on one side and desolate, driftwood strewn beaches on the other. Every 15 minutes, I’d pull over, scan an empty beach and its ghostly lineup to try to fathom why it was unblemished by man. I’d still be scratching my head, if I hadn’t seen what was to come.

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

Breaking right against the rocks–but not too close for a more capable surfer–this wave (above) was not for the faint of heart. I spotted it while trucking along and turned back around to have a look, but after not seeing break again for twenty minutes, continued down the road in hopes of reaching a more forgiving spot before the sun sank behind the hills.

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

Next I stopped for a closer look at this wave, and these seals. There turned out to be too many hidden rocks and no channel to paddle out, so once again I continued on down the line.

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Shortly after pulling over to investigate yet another curiously empty break, this guy came rapping at Raw Paua’s window from his bike, with surfboard carriage in tow. Photo: Owen James Burke.

Atila Madrona, who turned out to be a reader of this blog, was on the home stretch of his nine-month 5,500-mile bike trek around New Zealand (which he’s documenting here), and looking for someone to camp nearby him. I agreed, of course, but first things first, we decided. With the sun setting, we slid into our wetsuits and caught a couple of waves before it came time to make camp.

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Photo: Atila Madrona.

Poor Atila was cold by the time we clambered back up the rocks and onto flat ground. He was surfing in a 4/3mm neoprene wetsuit, 2mm ankle-high reef booties and no hood. The water temperature was somewhere between 48 and 50 degrees fahrenheit, and the air in the low 40s.

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

I wasn’t too sure where I was going to make camp, but Atila assured me that he’d already done the scouting, and had the perfect spot in mind. I wasn’t disappointed. Photo: Owen James Burke.

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

We made camp, which for me involved little more than lighting a fire and pouring a glass of Pastis. Atila, or ‘Chino’ as he’s more affectionately known, had this funky little ultralight blow-up tent which requires no poles, and is perfect for long bike treks like his. Photo: Owen James Burke.

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These clean lines reeled in and thundered onto the cobblestone shore all night. Chino and I tried to tempt one another into a late night surf, but neither of us succumbed, fortunately. Photo: Laure Hessin/Courtesy of Owen James Burke.

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You just don’t find enough campsites like this around the world.Photo: Laure Hessin/Courtesy of Owen James Burke.

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Photo: Laure Hessin/Courtesy of Owen James Burke.

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Photo: Laure Hessin/Courtesy of Owen James Burke.

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Above: Laure, a French traveler, tends the fire while Chino and yours truly swap photos and luxuriate aboard Raw Paua. Photo: Laure Hessin.

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

We were up at daybreak, and surfing shortly thereafter, but neither of us had gloves on, so once our hands–and Chino’s brain–were good and frozen, we both made for shore and built up a fire to get warm, and of course, start a pot of espresso.

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

The swell had eased off by the time we got out of the water to snap a few shots, but one local surfer (above) didn’t mind at all. He continued to catch one 100 yard, 2-3 foot wave after the other, alone for over an hour.

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After a lunch of more bread and cheese on the beach, I tidied Raw Paua up and made my way further south in hopes of finding calmer, clearer waters filled with craggy rocks and therein, crayfish (southern spiny lobster). Photo: Owen James Burke.

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

At the end of a peninsula lie these jagged peaks which feed down into a rocky coastline that leads abruptly into the abyss and is the reason the area is brimming with cray, so I’m told.

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Above: Raw Paua stands tall. There’re cray in them rocks. Photo: Owen James Burke.

I climbed–that is, walked up some stone steps–up a hill to get a better look at the visibility in the water below. I decided that it might be too murky to try my luck swimming half a mile out to some rocks, in the middle of a large seal colony–forget the sharks, those momma seals can be vicious.

I made camp, er, parked nearby for the night, and wicked gale blew foul, violent rain all night. Fearing that my abode would turn over, or the tree I’d parked underneath (yes, wise, I know) might come down on me, I didn’t get much sleep that night.

With little left in the way of the swell and churned up waters left in its wake, Raw Paua and I made another unanimous decision to head north; we were running low on fish, and it was time to break the spear out.

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

There were, however, a couple of breaks still collecting the occasional set. Unfortunately, my faithful red-banded companion and I were beginning to encounter more pressing issues. . . . To be continued. –OJB

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

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