You ever have one of those off days where you just have to laugh as nothing seems to be going smoothely? And then you hit your head on the trunk of your car? Yep. That was my Monday.
New Plymouth is the town north of Mt. Taranaki and marks the beginning of the Surf Highway – Hwy 45 that travels west and south circling the mountain along the Taranaki coast. All along the way are turnoffs that bring you to a myriad of surf breaks. The plan was to check them out.
First stop Oakura. Not far past Back Beach where we had surfed the day before. The first person we saw in the water was an old guy stand-up paddling. Roland had never seen anyone doing that before, so he videotaped him on his digital camera. The waves were fairly small and breaking close to the shore. Surfable, but we were on a mission to find some good waves. Back to the road.
Next stop, Komene Road – one stop past the fabulous sounding Kumera Patch. As we drove down a long gravelly road surrounded by farm fields and cows, Roland said something I missed from the back seat. “What?” “Ad-wenture!” Yes, I agreed. It’s a good thing to be driving down a lonely road to the beach. Hopes for solid uncrowded waves. Not too much going on here, wave-wise, either We walked north on the black sands for a while until we came to a river. I had on jeans, t-shirt and flip-flops. Not really fording clothes. Beyond that was the Kumera Patch, but around a bend so we couldn’t tell if it was breaking well there. We hopped back in the car and drove back to that pull-off. I offered that if there were cars in the lot, then we should check it out. No cars. Probably no good. Back to the road.
Continuing down the highway a little bit, making a last minute turn into Stent Road. We found it. Great waves peeling rightward. We counted 15 people in the water as we drove up. Crowded. Our guidebook, the one we each have a copy of, says this break is for experienced surfers. Hmmmm. On a good day, I might classify myself as intermediate. I didn’t want to paddle out with the crowd anyways. Farther down the beach a bit, on the rocks there seemed to be a good left. Maybe one guy out there bobbing around. On the way over the rocks, we passed a woman who was maybe in her 40s passing us by. She smiled and said “Can’t beat the crowd, huh?” The waves were breaking fairly close to the rocky beach we were standing on. We looked around for the way we would be paddling out. Not entirely clear. I said, referring to the woman who had past us earlier “Well, if she can do it, so can we..” “Are you sure?” “No, not at all,” and I laughed.
The one guy was still out there, and I jumped in first and paddled out without incident. Then a decent wave was coming right at me, so I turned and paddled for it. It was steeper than I expected and the nose of my board went under and I went tumbling over. Powerful, but not too bad. When I got back on my board I saw another large waving about to close-out in front of me. When this one hit me I was surprised to be pounded so hard – these waves were far more powerful than they looked from the shore. I couldn’t hold on to the board and was violently thrown back towards the rocks. When I popped up and turned around there was another wave right on top of me. No time to get on the board I grabbed the leash and tried to duck under. This time I couldn’t even hold onto the leash. When the third one hit me and held me under for a while, I started to get scared. By this time my suit had been torn open at the back and I could tell my legs were bulging out with excess water. I wasn’t sure how close to the rocks I was getting. I jumped on the board, turned my back to the incoming whitewater and was brought mercifully gently to the rocks. I climbed out. Shaking, trying to stand on the rocks with my board under my arm. I stumbled and dropped it. Smack! The rail of the board cracked open. Dammit. As I hobbled up the rocks a bit farther, I turned back and saw Roland in the water looking my way and waving his arm back and forth in a wide arc. I waved back, then sat down to catch my breath. I will steal a line from Tom Waits and say, “the ocean doesn’t want me today.”
I sat for a while on the rocks watching Roland. The other guy paddled out and left and Roland was alone. He caught one short ride that I saw. After some time I felt better and decided to head back to the car. Roland must’ve seen me leaving because he paddled out then too and met me in the field on the way back to the cars. He told me the other guy had said there had been no waves at all for a while and then that big set came through right when I got in – I was in the worst possible spot for it. Roland said he couldn’t see me for a while and was getting worried.
Back at our car, the woman we had passed was sitting right across from us. “I heard the conditions changed right when you got out there!” It was her husband who was in the water with us. He was standing nearby drying off and said he saw me getting worked out there. “Yeah, I got scared and got back out.” “I don’t blame you,” he kindly responded. I proceeded to talk for quite some time with the woman, who was there with her husband and two kids from California. They come out every year. I was still feeling a little shaken up, so it was nice to be distracted with talk of American politics with an American. A little taste of home.
So I fought Stent Road and Stent Road most certainly won. Roland and I took off to look for BEGINNER breaks. I was feeling shot down, and Roland was nice enough to say he just thought I was unlucky. I happened to be in the worst spot at the worst time. Maybe so. But a mellow, sandy breach break was sounding attractive. If I wanted to get back in the water at all that day, that is.
I felt completely drained. Roland drove and I sat in the back (his board takes up the passenger seat). A wave of homesickness hit me, as well as a bleak mini-depression. We were headed to Opunake to check out the beach breaks there. Nothing. I don’t remember the exact rationale, but we continued on to Hawera. There we stopped at the i-Site to find out how to get to Wheatley Farm Stay on Ararata Road. It sounded relaxing, an “affable and friendly” owner named Gary, pigs and cows.
Short story we drove down the wrong road for a while. Passing cows who patiently waited for us to unhook and rehook ropes so we could cross their paths. Then a nice lady in a house at the end of the road explained our mistake.
Finally got there and it was beautiful, quiet and relaxing. Except for that one guest sitting on the bench with headphones loudly blaring some awful technco music. I slept in the tent on the soft soft grass, the absolute best night in the tent so far.