Surf Highway 45 – Roadside Stories


The coastal road between Hawera and New Plymouth
is known as Surf Highway 45. This is because the highway passes a large number of excellent
surfing beaches, which attract surfers from New Zealand and around the world. World-renowned
surfing spots on Surf Highway 45 include Stent Road, Spot X at Waiwhakaiho, and the Kūmara
Patch at Ōkato. The distinctive curved coastline which Surf
Highway 45 follows is the result of numerous eruptions from Mount Taranaki that have built
up the land around it. The rounded coastline means that no matter which way the wind blows,
there is usually an offshore wind on at least one of south Taranaki’s beaches. This is good
news for surfers, because an offshore breeze tends to hold up waves, prolonging the time
that they can be surfed. Also lying on Surf Highway 45 is Opunake — Taranaki’s
top surf town. Nestled between two headlands, Opunake’s beach is extensive. Just inside
the northern head, one of New Zealand’s first artificial reefs helps to make waves for the
many surfers drawn to the town. Surfing is believed to have originated in
Hawaii, and it seems to have been popular with Māori. In the nineteenth century, Europeans
recently arrived in New Zealand saw Māori surfing using boards, which they called kopapa,
as well as on logs, canoes and even bags of kelp. The pastime declined when Christian
missionaries promoted modest dress and behaviour Modern surfing in New Zealand had its roots
in the surf lifesaving movement. Surf lifesaving rescue equipment included heavy hollow longboards,
nearly 5 metres long, which were paddled through the surf.
During the 1950s enthusiasts began to modify longboards, giving the board a curve, as well
as a fin to increase manoeuvrability. During the 1960s, boards got lighter and shorter.
These new boards revolutionised surfing and could easily be carried on top of a car.
Good surf ‘breaks’ were discovered at places such as Waiwhakaiho near New Plymouth. Unlike
team sports, surfing encouraged freedom and individualism. Going ‘on surfari’ for weeks
at a time became part of the surfing way of life. By 1967 there were around 15,000 surfers
in New Zealand. In 1950 Colin McComb, of New Plymouth’s East
End Surf Life Saving Club, made one of New Zealand’s first true modern surfboards from
plans in a Popular Mechanics magazine. By the late 1950s locals had begun a Taranaki
surfing tradition that has produced many international-level surfers. One of Taranaki’s best known surfer
of recent times is women’s champion Paige Hareb of Ōakura.
Taranaki has also produced some of the country’s best-known surfboard designers, including
Tom Smithers and Jamie Montgomery of Monsta. Because of Taranaki’s tough surf and rocky
coastline, the use of leg ropes was a necessity and they were soon adopted throughout the
country. In the early 1960s Del Surfboards of New Plymouth,
which is still operating today, began to produce boards for the New Zealand market. Del was
established by Nigel Dwyer, an Australian lured to New Zealand by the promise of good
surf and cheap ice cream. The Del is regarded as a classic, and early models are still sought-after.
In 1997, Nigel and Trish Dwyer established the Taranaki Hard Core brand. Hard Core markets
a range of clothing, accessories and surfboards. The Hard Core logo incorporates such Taranaki
features as the mountain, surf, and the Southern Cross, all surrounded by a strand of barbed
wire.

Antonio Breitenberg

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