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Saltwater Lives

“I really don’t know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think it is because in addition to the fact that the sea changes and the light changes , and ships change, it is because we all came from the sea. And it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have, in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch it we are going back from whence we came.”
(Jack Kennedy, 35th President of the United Sates, Dinner speech to the American and Australian crews competing for the America’s Cup on 14th September 1962, Newport, R.I.).

We lost our surfboards in early ’78 when they were stolen from under the tree at the back of my folks bach across the road from Otahu Beach, Whangamata. Both my surfing buddy Jack and I had become surfers on those boards, having spent the previous summer surfing Gisborne and then the Coromandel Coast, as well as time at The Point at Raglan. When in Whangamata we often surfed the Otahu Bar at the south end of Whangamata, and only when it was flat did we start to hunt elsewhere. We mostly had Otahu to ourselves, because it never looked as hot as did the Main Beach or the Whangamata Bar, but it was right outside our front door and it was often the best right hander around Whangamata.  Besides, you know how it is; a surf break with only you and your buddies out is always worth forgoing a foot or two in wave size. 

Looking back, the loss of those boards marked the end of both our youth and surfing apprenticeship. A few days later, we both replaced our stolen boards with Saltwater boards from the Saltwater shop; mine a 6’ light green pintail; Jack’s also a pintail of about the same size but in tan with a blue and white deck. The boards were second-hand as new boards were outside our meagre budgets.

‘78 was our final year of high school. As summer cooled towards winter, we knew had to make some serious plans for our lives. What did we want to do with our lives and what did we have to do to get there? Nice car, a quiver of boards and a house with a perfect break out front, were the typical dreams of a couple of seventeen year old surfers, I doubt if that has changed much in 30 years.  Neither of us were brilliant scholars, but we were smart enough to know that some carefully targeted hard work would bring us closer to realising our dreams. We knew the only way these dreams were going happen was if we put some effort into ourselves and really prepare for our end of year exams. Surfing would have to take a back seat for a few critical months in the interest of yielding more surfing opportunities later on.

One afternoon, as Jack paddled back out after a nice long smooth backhand ride on a 3-4’ wave on the Otahu Bar in late autumn, he announced he was going to apply for Medical School. Both of us knew how tough that would be to for him to get in. Jack would have to really study hard, then if he got in, it would be at least 5-6 years of more study. I asked him about his backup plan if he failed, “Dentistry or pharmacy. And you” he asked?

“Law, I think. You know the hassle I have with maths and chemistry, and it looks a hell of alot more interesting” I laughed. We missed a couple of sets as we sat on those Saltwater boards and talked about what we had to do to get into our courses, where we would have to study, as well as where would surfing would fit in to all of this.

We both studied hard in our last year of school, but Jack missed out on direct entry into Auckland Medical School by a few marks, but he had a chance to try for Otago Medical School the following year by taking a science based intermediate year course. We both ended up at Waikato University for our preliminary intermediate years, and continued to surf Whangamata during holidays, often joined by others on a similar career tracks.

Jack made it into Otago Medical School and is now a medical specialist in Tauranga. I managed to make it into Law School and eventually became a partner in a large commercial law firm for a dozen years. I now work for an international sports team in other sea related adventures, but still take the time to paddle out whenever the swell comes in on the Coromandel East Coast.  I have my beach house with selection of boards in the garage with a nice right hander out front. Jack has his weekend house.

Three decades later, after marriage, raising families and moving around a little, we both still have those Saltwater boards of ‘78, although the next generation are now beginning to use them as our sons begin to discover their own special relationship with the sea.   The boards we both ride now have grown in length since then, but our relationship with the sea continues. Jack and I still go “back from whence we came” as the other Jack said, and sit out the back between sets and make new plans.




505 Port Road, Whangamata, New Zealand
Phone / Fax +64 7 865 8666
Email pfm@saltwater.co.nz