TopKayaker.Net: Guide To Kayak Surfing

Kayak Surfing New Zealand

by Val Goodfellow

Val Goodfellow

Val at home in his Cobra Strike

Cannibal Bay

Cannibal Bay after the big storm This was an amazing area, also many sealions in the distance. I would like to go back here and explore/play in a whitewater boat. One of my favorite coastal bays.

Doubtful Sound

Captain Cook named the fjord "Doubtful Sound" because it was so steep and sheltered he did not think he could maneuver a sailing vessel to get out of the mouth again.

West Coast Rock Garden

West Coast Rock Garden


Forum member PeteD surfing New Zealand Waves

Cobra Strikes

Val, Ian, Pete Surfing Three Cobra Strikes


Ian & Pete

Above: Ian & Pete - Below: 1st Day surf

New Plymouth

Back Bay

A favorite local spot but small waves-2nd day.

Maori Community House

Pete's Tribal Meeting House, Maori Community Center - used for ceremonies such as funerals, general gatherings and center of the local Maori community with a Maori language school.

I’ve met a lot of great friends surf kayaking, and have traveled to lots of spots to paddle on the ocean and surf on coasts far from home. I’ve had the opportunity to share our local San Diego breaks and my little fleet of kayaks and waveskis with lots of folks from far off places. It’s always been a pleasure and I’ve made many friends.

When I started kayaking, I met several people from the forum on TopKayaker.net: “Calamari Chris”, “SantaCruzmidwife”, “Barracuda”, to name a few, and I have made some long lasting friendships.

This January my oldest son and I completed a trip to New Zealand by doing several hikes on the north island; however, we hoped to be able to do some waveskiing. Fortunately, local paddle surf fanatic, and fellow Cobra Strike fan, forum member Pete Doorbar, gave me contact information to rent a waveski and a Cobra Strike surf kayak in New Plymouth on the Taranaki coast. Pete also offered to show us around a bit.

This truly ended up being the highlight of our three week trip around the south and north island. Pete spent his weekend taking us to his favorite breaks, showing us his family farm, teaching us about Maori history and his Maori culture, showing us important historical and spiritual sites for the Maori and taking us to meet his extended family for a very good barbeque. Definitely the part of the trip we will remember most. Pete and his wife Michelle were amazing hosts and we will always remember their Kiwi hospitality.


In New Zealand there is a chain of kayak stores called Canoe and Kayak that have local franchises in several cities that rent kayaks. Most don’t seem to be involved with paddle surfing though. The New Plymouth Canoe and Kayak store was the most helpful for paddle surfing equipment.

On the south Island, The Paddler Zone kayak shop in Christchurch was also really helpful. They will rent you good whitewater boats that are surfable.

Stewart Island:

I also suggest a trip to Stewart Island, an isolated spot that you can only get to by boat or plane from the south tip of New Zealand. Stewart Island itself was amazing: 40 km long and 65 km wide with 750 km of coastline, much of it very sheltered, and only about 20 km of roads in the small village called Oban or Halfmoon bay. Wilderness areas are within short walks from town. There are 20,000 kiwi birds on the island, and most of the island is national park with a preserve of many species of native birds and cold weather rain forests.

There are two companies on the island that hire decent sea kayaks with all the safety equipment for day tours. Raikura Kayaks at $32 (U.S.) per day, maybe $80 NZ, will do multi-day guided seakayak tours; but I did not sign up for one of these. I was wishing we had more time and we needed much better weather to explore the coast. Stewart Island has many protected bays and we only saw a few of the exposed beaches, but no surf kayaks were handy. I intend to return someday to paddle completely around Stewart Island. (let me know if you are interested in joining!)

Doubtful Sound:

We also noticed it is possible to take overnight kayaking trips in Doubtful Sound. Doubtful Sound was one of the most beautiful spots we visited. The overnight kayak trip got poor online reviews so we did not do it, but after taking a boat to the mouth of the sound I greatly regret not getting to kayak on the amazing fjords there. Because of very bad weather, high winds, and rain, surfing on the whole south coast was out and the ocean was messy, blown out, closed out, even though there were lots of sheltered coves.


New Zealand has amazingly wild and open seacoasts. The ocean looks like much more of an adversary on the south island of New Zealand’s west coast, the color of the water and sky is different - dark brooding sky and grey green water that seems to stack up to mountains of large confused barrier waves on the horizon. I felt like an inexperienced intruder most of the time, until we got to the friendlier surf breaks on the North Island.


On the north island there are some very good surf breaks several kilometers north of New Plymouth, and three or four good breaks within the city limits. South of town is the famous Highway 45, “The Taranaki Surf Highway.” This is a great spot for a safari. Out of respect for locals I don’t think I should name the spots we surfed with Pete, but you can find them easily on maps and Internet surf guides.

The Beach Street Surf shop has a good online guide to Taranaki breaks. The Fitzroy Beach Motel is also a great place to stay if you plan on surfing. I do suggest visiting the Cape Egmont Light House beach for a walk. Good surfing too. There are kiwi birds in the brush in the secluded coast and farmland. Highway 45 circumnavigates the rounded Taranaki peninsula, and has many rural farm areas with a very large number of unmarked and marked roads that lead down to beaches.

Since it’s a peninsula sticking off the west central coast of the North Island it picks up surf from south, west, or north, so apparently there is always some action somewhere.

On Friday some of the storm waves we saw when we first arrived were pretty meaty and there was heavy beach break with river channels and sand bars that made the waves break and cause some “interesting currents”. The spots were very isolated, so I would not suggest it for beginners, or surfing alone. In three days we surfed with about 8 board surfers total, so quite a difference from San Diego.

Pete’s Spot:

Saturday morning, we surfed with Pete. He took us to a local spot within the city limit, and even though the swell was small we ended up finding some fairly good-sized waves that stack up as they break on a point that forms a bay. Here is an underlying reef of volcanic rock and a small river emptying into the bay making sand bars that make smaller inside waves break.

Most of the waves were small (4’ swell) but Pete found us some good waves at his favorite take off spot. The waves at Pete’s spot reminded me a bit of San Onofre, they looked big coming in, but not very steep, and not really powerful as they seemed to back off in deeper water and it was hard to take off. My problem of not being familiar with the spot was made worse by surfing a Strike without a seat. I pretty much mostly surf waveskis lately, but I still have a Cobra Strike that I really like. I’ve set up the seat and foot straps, and added a padded seat pad to help me stay tightly in control of the boat, with my weight well forward.

Every time I went for one of the larger waves on the outside, I would slide backward in this rental kayak and miss the wave. I ended up paddling inside and catching the steeper waves breaking closer to the river mouth. The only problem with this strategy was that there were large rocks everywhere on the inside. The waves were not big enough to make this really dangerous but I was a little uncomfortable, since I was far from home and not familiar with the break. After about an hour and a half, my back was very sore from trying to stay upright without the seat and trying in vain to take off with a heavy paddle. I was pretty much surfing like a “kayak kook”, but having a good time nonetheless.

The kayak shop did us a favor and rented us a waveski that they usually don’t let out. It was really short - maybe 6’8” hollow core, a 1980s waveski that leaked about 2 liters per hour. Ian, who is fairly thin, and an avid surfer on high performance waveskis had trouble keeping upright on the small tippy ski when getting tossed around trying to take off on the bigger sets. It was still fun to try surfing on a different break in the Tasman Sea, something we won’t forget.

Rental Equipment Woes:

I would also recommend taking your own paddles on a kayak trip. Rental paddles can be very bad plastic clubs, and really make a difference when surfing or paddling long distances in the wind. When surfing the Strike, I was having a hard time even taking off on waves and feeling like a beginner with the heavy plastic paddle. With a short light paddle you can rotate the paddle very rapidly to get maximum acceleration. A thin light paddle lets you maneuver on the wave with precise control. I can do cut backs, round houses, and floaters in my own Strike.

I came to realize that a lot of surfing skill is actually dependent on the paddle, and I was feeling pretty lost without my trusty Onno surf paddle. Later on, when Pete found me a backband and a decent whitewater paddle, I was having a lot of fun; small changes that let me surf a lot better. For the last day of surfing Pete borrowed a Strike from his friend Leslie, and we ended up being “Three Strike Boys” when we finally ended up surfing in the afternoon.

A Glimpse at the Maori

At the end of Pete’s street there is a bluff where he can look for miles up and down the Taranaki coast. Sunday morning it was pretty flat. Our bad surf luck, gave Pete an opportunity to show us lots of interesting spots along the coast.

At Tom's
TopKayaker Shop:


Paddle Leash
Use a paddle leash in surf & wind (NOT in whitewater) to maintain control of your kayak. Cobra Fin

Surf Kayak Fins/Skegs
The addition of skegs/fins add performance, increases the ability of the Kaos Finkayak to hold position while trimming along the wave face and aids in tracking.

We carry fins for both the Cobra Revision & W.S. / Dagger KaosSurf Helmet

These water sport helmets can be used for all paddling disciplines that can involve risk, such as white water rafting, river boogie, rock gardens and sea caves.

We enjoyed his family’s farm and also went to visit with his mother, and we learned about important Maori historical sites. I learned from Pete that the Waitara River area where he is from was the site of important battles against the British where the Maori’s first revolted and defeated the British army.

On the flight home I watched a video made in the 1980s about the revolt in Taranaki. Pete showed us some beautiful spots on the Waitara river and his tribal community house and cultural center, as well as showing us the best beaches and overlooks, like Piritutu Rock in New Plymouth Harbor.

The evening before we left, we surfed at a secluded spot, south of Oakura, off the coast of rolling green farmland, in fairly warm water for about 3 hrs with waist to shoulder high waves. The waves were not large but were hard breaking. On one end of the beach there was a rocky reef area that had some interesting currents, but the surf was pretty mellow.

The winds picked up and scared off the boardies, or maybe it was the The Three Cobra Strikes. Late in the afternoon the waves died down. The waves were not epic, but most of the time they were cranking and we got lots of fun rides. It will be a session I’ll remember the rest of my life, sitting outside the break, at a small stream mouth in the Tasman Sea, watching the sun starting to set, with new friends.

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