Sharing the joy of surfing at Waihī Beach
There’s nothing quite like being out on the water, waiting for that perfect wave to come rushing in, says Waihī Beach surfer Aidan Comrie.
The local board rider has run Waihī Beach Surf School since 2012, taking it from a small one-man operation to one of the best regarded in the country. He now employs a team of qualified surf instructors who work alongside him to provide short and long lessons for people of all skill levels.
“SURFING IS MY ZEN. WHEN YOU’RE ON THE WATER YOUR BRAIN IS SO CLICKED ON TO EVERYTHING AROUND YOU THAT YOU’RE NOT THINKING ABOUT ANYTHING ELSE – YOU’RE COMPLETELY FOCUSED AND IT’S JUST YOU OUT THERE AMONGST THE WAVES.”
Aidan has lived at Waihī Beach for most of his life and is practically part of the marine life at the beach’s north end. He learned to surf with the Waihī Beach Surf Lifesaving club as a child, caught waves mornings and afternoons while attending school in Waihī and Katikati, and has been a regular holder of the Waihī Beach Boardriders’ longboard title. What’s more, he’s coached and competed in surfing in New Zealand and overseas for more than 30 years and his wife Alexis has won 11 national shortboard, longboard and stand up paddleboard titles.
Aidan says he started the surf school because he wanted to share his passion for the sport with the next generation. He gets a real kick out of seeing people progress from being absolute beginners through to being able to paddle out the back and catch unbroken waves.
“Waihī Beach is one of the best places in the country to learn to surf. There’s 10km of beautiful beach and you’ll find little breaks the whole way down. It’s easy to paddle out, you don’t have the crowds some other beaches have and the locals here look after people.”
He grins as he recalls some of his past students – it’s clear that he’s taught all sorts over the years. There have been the families who bond over lessons while away on holiday, the children with special needs who have joined him for a day out on the water, and even an amputee from Katikati who took great pleasure in proving the doubters wrong by learning to surf one-legged.
He particular remembers a day teaching children from one of the local primary schools and the wide-eyed looks on their faces as some unexpected wildlife came by.
“A group of orcas came in and they were just 10m away from us, chasing stingrays onto the rocks at the north end of the beach. We often see dolphins and kingfish too – being out there is about more than just the surfing.”
The number of surfers at the beach has grown and many of the locals who have been through Aidan’s lessons are now competing in the New Zealand Surf Series. That list includes Levi Stewart, who topped the national surf series’ rankings in 2019.
Aidan says he’s been proud to see more and more surfboards down at the beach, including at the end of the Government’s recent COVID-19 lockdown when dozens of children rushed back out to enjoy the waves after restrictions on surfing and other outdoor recreation activities were lifted.
As well as lessons – which range from 1.5 hour long private lessons and family packages to three-day courses – Waihī Beach Surf School also hires out gear. The school has dozens of surfboards and wet suits available and they have also branched out to provide stand up paddleboards as well.
Over the coming winter Aidan and his team will keep themselves busy by running community events and lessons for those who are happy to brave the cooler temperatures – with the help of cosy winter wetsuits. They have been supporting the national Surfing for Farmers initiative, which brings farmers together to socialise and connect with others in a new environment, and they support the annual CanSurf Waihī Beach Summer Camp for young people with cancer.
They also provided free surf lessons to people staying at Waihī Beach Top 10 Holiday Resort and Beachaven holiday parks as part of a free giveaway for people who “did it tough” during New Zealand’s recent COVID-19 lockdown.
“I just love going to work. It’s hard to have a bad day when you’re surfing out in front of that Waihī Beach backdrop of pohutukawas and beach, perfect waves and smiles.”