Learning to surf at Te Arai

Item number 15 on my 30 Before 30 list was to learn to surf. It’s a skill I’ve always wished I had and as I’m a bit of a wimp around cold water there is no time to learn like the summer.

Google led me to New Zealand Surf Tours. They operate day trips and longer tours, picking up and dropping off from a number of spots in Auckland central. Booking online cost $120 for four hours of surf lessons (with a break in the middle), transport and board and wetsuit hire.


On Waitangi Day we surfed on the East Coast at Te Arai Point near Mangawhai. There were 10 of us on the trip and two instructors – Brett and Phillippe. Some of the group had surfed before but we were all beginners.
Te Arai Point

When we arrived at Te Arai we learnt there was a Tsumani Alert due to an earthquake in the Solomon Islands. The threat of a 1 metre high wave wasn’t something I was too sure I wanted to deal with on my first day out surfing but in the end it didn’t eventuate to much more than some slightly rougher waves.

The first half hour of our lesson was spent on the beach learning the basic skills – surf safety, parts of the board, positions (‘the sweet spot’ and ‘prone’) and then getting up into kneeling position and finally to stand. We had a quick warm up and then we were in the water.

The instructors gave everyone heaps of individual attention and I found I was having some success (ie. regularly catching waves and springing into the crouched position if not standing in an unbalanced way for a second or two) by the end of the first two hour session.

After a break for food and water we were back. During the second session I had the basic skills but I was so tired from being bashed around by waves and continually putting my body through the motions that my arms were struggling and getting from the prone position into a crouch was a big ask. I still had so much fun though.

New Zealand Surf Tours had a voucher on GrabOne the next day offering the same trip for $60. I purchased a voucher to do it all over again.

I was hoping to surf on the West Coast on my second visit, but New Zealand’s first fatal shark attach in 37 years and larger than ideal waves for learning meant a return to Te Arai.

Surfer Sarah

This time Glenn was Brett’s co-instructor. During our first session the waves didn’t seem quite right for beginners – we were getting hammered by the waves and the threat of actual surfers not much further out meant I missed a lot of opportune waves.

But after our lunch break the tide was heading out and the rides were longer. By the last hour or so I suddenly had it! I was catching broken waves, springing into a standing position and riding the waves in to shore. Such an achievement!

Not owning my own board or wetsuit I will probably continue to head out with New Zealand Surf Tours while I’m still a beginner. They offer an $80 return rate for people who have taken a lesson and return to practice.