Surfing arrived in New Zealand looking very different to what we see today. A few clubbies were playing with hollow surf skis but not until 1959 did two Americans come to New Zealand and kick alive a revolution and a culture. Steve Dickinson explains further.

Surfing has always been part of Māori culture. The original practice was called whakahekeheke. It was carried out using a variety of craft, including boards, or kopapa, and even bags of kelp, but the Christian missionary ‘killjoys’ put a quick stop to that.

Surfing came back into focus following Hawai’ian surfer Duke Kahanamoku’s tour of New Zealand in 1915. He provided surfing demonstrations for the locals at the Lyall Bay Surf Life Saving Club in Wellington. At that stage, surfing was mainly utilised in the surf lifesaving movement, which used heavy hollow longboards to paddle through the surf and rescue people. Up until this point, surfing consisted of riding the wave in a straight line directly to the beach. In 1958, two American lifeguards, Bing Copeland and Rick Stoner, came to stay at Piha Surf Lifesaving Club and introduced the concept of surfing across the face of the wave on a smaller board (still at least 9-10ft). Copeland and Stoner also helped locals make copies of their boards, introducing modern surfing and surfboards to New Zealand. These new surfing techniques put more emphasis on the surf conditions, causing surfers to go in search of better locations in their hunt for breaking waves that peeled off rather than crashing straight to the beach. Generally speaking, this was the birth of surfing, but it was all still longboarding.

Sure, the shortboard era came and stayed, but in the background, longboarding still managed to tick along. A full resurgence took place in early 1990 as surfers saw the value and appeal of the longboard. The art of longboarding is timeless; it is, after all, an art. They say that longboard surfing is a state of mind; an idealised stage of mindfulness.
There are more longboarders in the world than what you might think. Some of them are not full-time ‘loggers’; they own a respectable ‘quiver’ of boards, and when the surf is smaller and other surfers are sitting on the beach, they enjoy the smaller waves on their longboard just as much as they enjoy the more powerful stuff.

The 1990s kicked off the nostalgia period, and the classic longboard shapers started getting back to the old designs. Shapers like Roger Hall from Surfline in Ruakaka, who had never left his roots in longboarding, began a new era of longboarding in New Zealand and started to innovate. Currently, he is designing a board with a wing keel that does not require a fin!

There is less rip and tear on a longboard than on a shortboard, but there is still a range of moves to be made and refined – nose riding, tip riding, helicopters, cross-stepping, trimming, turning manoeuvres, tube riding and the classic hang ten. The original riders used to say that the essence of longboarding is style.

The simple joy of longboarding is that you will catch far more waves than anyone else on a shortboard no matter the size of the surf, but particularly when it is smaller. You get to enjoy the pure essence of surfing just like Duke Kahanamoku and simply enjoy the glide. You will get more days on the water – you can always find somewhere smaller if it is too big, but you will be having far more fun than anyone else when its small. It is difficult to explain, but when you feel a longboard glide over the water, it is an entirely different feeling – it is ageless and mesmerising.

If you have had an injury or are just getting a few years under your belt, then longboarding is for you – it is more comfortable to paddle, easier to catch waves with, more straightforward to stand up on and everything is at a slightly slower pace. Longboarding is also an excellent tool for the beginner for all the same reasons and now with the new soft top ranges, wiping out has never been less dangerous.

Every surfer knows what it was like when they caught their first wave and stood up, even if only for a few seconds, and longboarding takes you back to that moment. It’s not about hassling for waves or shredding waves; it’s about fun. Think about those images of surfing in the early 60s with six guys on the same wave all having a ball.

But like with all sports, you can cruise or you can push yourself to learn some more extreme manoeuvres, the most thrilling of which is ‘riding the nose’. There is nothing more liberating than having ten toes over the nose of your board – all you can see looking down is water rushing by. If you already surf, get a longboard to enjoy those smaller days. If you don’t surf, get a longboard this summer, go to a beach where the waves are small and simply enjoy the glide!

Article by: Steve Dickinson