GT: End of an era


Twenty years ago I first discovered Dunedin's bounty of waves with a group of locals eager to show me around. One of them was a guy called Greg Townsend – or GT, as he is better known – an effervescent sort of character with an infectious energy. It turned out he'd recently rebranded the national association to Surfing New Zealand, which was restructuring. In the corner of his room, in a damp, draughty house in the elbow of Bedford Street, St Clair, he had a desk surrounded by walls covered with surf pictures, ideas, business cards and plans. Big plans. This was the raw, master plan for surfing's future and the assemblage of ideas and thoughts was clearly condensing into a kernel of direction in the mind of the man sitting at the desk. GT was about to fire into life and take Surfing New Zealand to a whole new place. 

He has a slew of achievements from his 23-year tenure, but top of his list is that he stayed true to surfing.

"I stayed true to my friends and family throughout my time, through enjoyment, respect, passion, commitment and lifestyle," he shares.

He said bringing and developing a number of premier world surfing competitions to our shores meant the country  received the respect that Surfing New Zealand and New Zealand surfing deserved.

"I'm also proud we were able to create the necessary opportunities and stepping stones for our home grown surfers to be competitive on the world stage, including founding and creating The Ultimate Waterman event with some of the biggest names in world surfing."

He has a host of runs on the board in the competitive arena, but stepped outside that in 2006, when he and the late Jonathan McCarthy organised the first National Surfing Environmental Hui in Raglan.

"We formed The Surfbreak Protection society to protect and preserve our surfbreaks around New Zealand," GT smiles.

At the end of this week the 54-year-old steps down from the CEO role to pursue other challenges. GT is the longest running CEO at any sporting organisation in New Zealand and during his total 23 years of service he has been the sport's guiding light. He has an ability to connect the corporate world with the grassroots of surfing and he does it in a way unique to him, endearing to those involved. Along the way he's ruffled a few feathers and refused to back down on what he believes in, but few could deny he, and his team, have progressed the sport through the good times and shown resilience in the tough.

He said it wasn't all plain sailing. He didn't enjoy dealing with the politics in the later years of his tenure.

“Real surfers don’t get involved in petty politics and making personal attacks on good people who have contributed a lot to surfing over the years,” he asserts with a shake of his head. "And I didn't enjoy seeing surfers emerge who think surfing owes them something and want to be so-called ‘legends’."

But by far one of the most difficult moments was when he had to lay off one of his best friends.

"I had to lay off Steve Ria, due to a funding cut from Te Puni Kokiri," he offers. "Luckily, Steve is still a huge part of New Zealand surfing and Surfing New Zealand."

Reflecting on the bright-eyed visionary I found in that cold, damp Dunedin house in 1998, I ask him what the future now holds for surfing in New Zealand.

"The surfing culture is definitely changing for the worse, with a general lack of respect and knowledge of surfing etiquette," he begins. "As for high performance surfing, we are always going to be limited with the number of athletes who can make it on the world stage. The way it is structured now, with the decline in sponsorship dollars for athletes, to compete on the international qualifying series, it comes down to those who can afford it. But I believe one of these days New Zealand will crown a WSL world champion, be that a man or woman – I am sure of it."

GT will continue to operate out of his home base in Raglan, but hints that Hawaii might also be in his future.

Thanks for 23 years of superb energy, GT! Best of luck for your future and thanks for making sure surfing in New Zealand has a promising one.

The second big news was the arrival of that much-hyped swell in Indonesia. It had the surfing world's ears pricked up and pros scrambling for plane seats and boat trips to get into position. The Box of Light Facebook page went nuts with eyeball reports (thanks to everyone who contributed there) and by Thursday the swell had filled in good and proper – along with swarms of nasty jellyfish – just to keep everyone that little bit more on their toes. Here's

what UluwatuImpossibles and Balangan looked like on Thursday. Can't wait to see what One Palm, Kandui and the other big wave spots produced. Plenty of smaller inside spots fired into life as well to make sure this is a memorable week in Indo. So much envy. 

The third big thing is not such a good story, but it does have a happier ending. It's the continued pressure from Kaikoura mayor Winston Grey, Kiwi Rail and NZTA who seem intent on exploiting the emergency legislation designed for hastening earthquake rebuilds to create an all-new cycleway that will impede upon the iconic Mangamaunu pointbreak in Kaikoura. The planned cycleway crosses an urupa and several Wahi Tapu sites and would adversely affect the Mangamaunu pointbreak, which is listed in the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement. The surf communtiy and local iwi had not been consulted at any stage – made possible using the emergency legislation loophole. A protest last Wednesday saw iwi elders, surfers and locals march from Mangamaunu to the Kaikoura District Council to request that the affected parties are brought into the full consultation process. The march was successful and the parties will be heard in coming weeks. Let's hope commonsense prevails there.

See you at the beach ... Derek

PS This week's images come from a few days spent exploring a handful of forgotten corners along our coastline. As you'd expect, we gravitated back to the usual spots, but there's definitely some potential beyond the comfort zone.

Box of Light is spearheaded by a series of stunning images from local photographer Derek Morrison. Each week he climbs out of bed early and photographs the surf and beaches around New Zealand and the people that play in them. This weekly report is then emailed every Tuesday for Box of Light’s growing database to enjoy at their morning smoko break.


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