Internationally, Kiwis have made their mark on the sporting scene in, on and under the water. Waterfront editor Jody Robb talks to three stars who call the ocean home.

DIVING DEEPER


World-renowned New Zealand freediver William Trubridge quite likely has water running through his veins.

The 15-time world freediving record holder and current freediving world champion with a yet-to-be-eclipsed official record of 101 metres, has an intense relationship with the depths of the ocean.

When Trubridge was two years old, his parents Linda and David sold their home in Northern England, bought a yacht ‘Hornpipe’ and sailed with their two sons via the Caribbean and the Pacific – arriving in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand in 1985. The family later settled in Hawke’s Bay making their home in Havelock North.

Trubridge’s formative years spent living on and in the sea meant he played and learned from this element. Diving off the boat and retrieving shells and handfuls of sand from the sea floor as proof of the depths plunged to, was perhaps the start of his freediving ride.

“I wouldn’t call what I was doing back then free diving, but it definitely instilled a love and affinity with the water that endured and became the passion I have now for going deep”,  says Trubridge.

Speaking to Waterfront magazine from his home base in the Bahamas where he runs a freediving school, Trubridge says he discovered freediving as a sport when he was 22 years old.

“I travelled to Belize and Honduras in Central America to try it out, and was hooked.”

Thanks to intensive breathing training, Trubridge’s lung capacity is now around two litres larger than the average adult’s.  

Last year, while the world collectively held its breath, Trubridge attempted to set a new world record for the deepest unassisted free-dive – on just one gulp of air.

At Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas – 202 metres deep, and the world’s deepest known salt water hole – he successfully plunged to his target 102 metres, but had to pull out just 20 metres from the surface on the return sensing he was about to black out and needing help from his support divers.

William Trubridge

“It definitely instilled a love and affinity with the water that endured and became the passion I have now for going deep”

Current freediving world champion, William Trubridge

William Trubridge

“I am proud to fly the New Zealand flag over Dean’s Blue Hole when I compete and I still identify strongly as a Kiwi,” says Trubridge, adding that he rises at an ungodly hour to cheer the All Blacks on whenever they are playing in the Southern Hemisphere.’

Current freediving world champion, William Trubridge

To say he was disappointed would be an understatement, and Trubridge feels he has a moral obligation to settle with New Zealanders.

“I feel I owe it to my country to try again after the incredible support Kiwis bestowed on me,” he says.

“A follow-up record attempt is being discussed now, and the date for the re-run may be as early as March 2016.

“My condition has improved a lot since that last attempt, so I am gaining in confidence. I will leave no stone unturned in my quest to take this record deeper.”

The freediver’s personal connection with the ocean is vast and has influenced his life in ways that others may not appreciate.

“At one time or another, the ocean has been playground, school, sanctuary, highway, friend, adversary, grocery store, workplace, training ground and teacher to me,” explains Trubridge.

“It is a natural environment for me. But it concerns me to see a huge change during my lifetime in the health of the ocean which is essentially the lifeblood of our planet.

“Perhaps I would not be as affected if I couldn’t remember a time when fish were plentiful and floating plastic was a rare sight.”

Trubridge is an ambassador for the Ocean Recovery Alliance, an organisation working to find solutions to, and heighten awareness of, the waste plastic epidemic globally. He is an advocate for the endangered Maui’s and Hector’s Dolphins which are only found in New Zealand’s coastal waters.

He fervently believes that each and every one of us has a responsibility to preserve the intrinsic diversity and health of our oceans, rivers and lakes.

“I think Kiwis individually show a lot of respect and love for the marine environment,” he says.

However, Trubridge believes our Government has been short-sighted in its marine-related policies. He is vocal and forthright in his beliefs.

“If you travel to Greece I will wager a bet that you won’t see a single fish in the sea bigger than your finger. They’re gone,” points out Trubridge.

“In China, something like 70 percent of the waterways no longer reach the sea, and about the same fraction ‘aren’t fit for human contact’.

“If the people of New Zealand make their care for the waterways and oceans known politically, then we can preserve our sanctuary in the south seas.”

Trubridge considers the widespread adoption of more selective, sustainable fishing methods would benefit both the future of the Maui’s and Hector’s Dolphins, and the long-term economic interests of the New Zealand fishing industry.

Despite his Bahamas home-base, Trubridge says his heart is still firmly in Aotearoa, New Zealand – the reason he is so fiercely passionate about the preservation of our waterways and marine life for future generations.

For Trubridge, freediving represents a return to our aquatic origins. It’s an escape from time, gravity, and stimuli, and requires enormous physical and mental discipline.

“In the words of Natalia Molchanova, the female world champion freediver who was tragically lost at sea in August this year, freediving is ‘a way to get to know ourselves better’.”

William Trubridge

KIWI ONBOARD


Destined to be forever known as New Zealand’s “golden girl”, board sailor/windsurfer Barbara Kendall is also certain to continue having a close affinity and connection with the ocean.

Destined to be forever known as New Zealand’s “golden girl”, board sailor/windsurfer Barbara Kendall is also certain to continue having a close affinity and connection with the ocean.

The three-time Olympic medal-winning sportswoman was raised by sea-loving parents at Auckland’s Bucklands Beach, and became a whizz in a dinghy, winning Auckland titles in the P class and Starlings class.

Boating and the water figured high on the Kendall family agenda.

“Every weekend, my mum and dad would bundle me, my brother Bruce and sister Wendy into our 32-foot boat, Sunlight, and we’d go sailing around the Hauraki and outer gulf,” recalls Kendall.

“I remember spending hours paddling around on a board that my dad made – similar to the stand up paddle boards which are so popular today.

“I have enduring memories of making a fire on the beach and cooking dinner, and spending hours beach-combing for washed up ‘treasure’ like fishing buoys, driftwood and shells.”

It’s an idyllic, simple, free-wheeling childhood that Kendall and her husband Shayne are echoing with their two girls Samantha and Aimee at their home on Whangaparaoa Peninsula just north of Auckland.

“We have a trimaran and spend most of our summer holidays sailing in the gulf. Our favourite spot is Great Barrier Island where the fishing, surfing and beaches are stunning.”

Kendall is a great ambassador for New Zealand waters and having travelled the world extensively – with much of that time spent on or in the ocean – she reckons we’re very lucky here.

Barbara Kendall

“I have enduring memories of making a fire on the beach and cooking dinner, and spending hours beach-combing for washed up ‘treasure’ like fishing buoys, driftwood and shells.”

Three-time Olympic medal winning board sailor, Barbara Kendall

Barbara Kendall

“Sailing is freedom. Blasting across the water, you can feel that freedom and the power of mother nature.'

Three-time Olympic medal winning board sailor, Barbara Kendall

“Our beaches are relatively clean and they’re free. Sailing, and playing in and around the water is such a privilege. It’s not until you travel that you realise just how lucky we are to have such amazing harbours, seas and beaches,” says Kendall.

“Many overseas beaches are so polluted that you can’t swim there, and some beaches you have to pay to go to.

“The challenge for New Zealand in the future is to keep our beaches clean as our population grows.

“The more people in New Zealand that get to experience the beauty of our waters – the better. Then, hopefully, the more passionate they will be about protecting our water assets for future generations.”

Kendall dominated international women’s board sailing for years and has a haul of awards to her name since first competing in a board sailing world championship at the age of 20, which began her domination of the sport for the next two decades.

The Olympic gold medal she convincingly won at Barcelona in 1992 – was memorable on a number of counts. Kendall became the first New Zealand woman to win an Olympic gold medal in 40 years, hers was the only New Zealand gold medal won at those games, and it was the first gold for female board sailing as the women’s event was introduced to the Olympics that year.

Kendall’s tenacity was rewarded again when her gold medal was joined by silver in 1996 in Atlanta and a bronze medal at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

The trio of Olympic honours vies for space in Kendall’s home with a trove of World Championship medals, trophies and other lofty symbols of achievement – including her Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) badge.

The first woman to carry the New Zealand flag into the Olympic stadium at an opening ceremony at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Kendall was also named New Zealand Sports Woman of the Year 1996, 1998, 1999, 2002, has been inducted into International Sailing’s and New Zealand’s Sports Hall of Fame, and received the Sport New Zealand Leadership award in 2014.

Kendall retired from the competition circuit in 2010, and admits she misses the cut and thrust of sport at world-class level.

“I do miss the single-mindedness, the simple way of life based around the water, my like-minded friends who – for 25 years – were my tribe, and the challenge of winning and being on the water every day,” reflects Kendall.

“Sailing is freedom. Blasting across the water, you can feel that freedom and the power of mother nature,” says Kendall. “Even when you race, there is freedom as you can choose which way around the course you will sail.

“Board sailing was the perfect sport for me as it combined coordination, athleticism, tactical chess-like moves, overseas travel, fun and great friendships.”

Kendall retains ties to the Olympic movement today – representing the welfare of athletes on the International Olympic Committee (IOC). She sits on the IOC Athlete’s Commission, where her roles have been in the Women and Sports, and the Environment and Sports commissions, and she takes a special interest in the welfare of Oceania athletes.

In July 2015, exactly 23 years after winning gold in Barcelona, Kendall found herself sitting in Kuala Lumpur helping to guide the future of the Olympic Games at the 128th IOC Session.

The effervescent 48 year old also has many ambassadorial and patron roles with organisations in New Zealand, and is active on the celebrity speaking circuit.

Kendall’s philosophy on life is “to have a great time making the world a better place”. And as long as there’s water involved, she’ll be happy.

WAVE RIDER


Mike Thomson – better known as Mickey T – was born and raised in Raglan on the west coast of New Zealand’s north island, a 45-minute drive west of Hamilton or a two-hour drive south of Auckland.

Raglan is renowned as a surfing mecca with several world-class point breaks. Manu Bay is said to offer the longest, most accessible and consistent left-hand break on the planet and featured in Bruce Brown’s 1964 classic surf film The Endless Summer. Further along the coastline sit the breaks of Whale Bay and Indicators.

When Thomson started surfing in 1971, he rode a six foot, single fin surfboard made by Australian surfer Bob Davie who had moved to Gisborne on the North Island’s east coast to make surf boards.

“Short boards were the ‘in’ thing, back in the 1970s. Then they got longer, back to shorter, then they had multi-fins and now – it’s anything goes”, says Thomson.

“The longboard is where it is at for me, now. As you get older, it becomes harder to ride a short board. The smaller boards are all effort.

“For the more mature rider – and I am definitely one of them – the longboard provides a more stable, more rewarding ride.”

Thomson got into shaping surfboards when he was 19 years old with “salt water dripping out of his nostrils” in Hamilton. He later moved to Australia working at Miami Surf Designs on the Gold Coast, before heading to Hawaii and then California to make a career of board making.

Today, in a shed on the way to the beach in Raglan, Thomson’s Raglan Longboards business is a boutique operation where boards are handcrafted to order by a small and devoted team.

“I’m like a tailor – shaping boards to custom-fit my customers. A good board takes time to craft – a lot of time.

Mike Thomson

“For the more mature rider – and I am definitely one of them – the longboard provides a more stable, more rewarding ride.'

Surf board shaper and surfing title-holder, Mike Thomson

Mike Thomson

“The perfect surfing scenario for me these days is a head high to double overhead performance break at Indicators which, on a good day is like a break at famous Jeffreys Bay in South Africa – that’s adrenalin surfing.’

Surf board shaper and surfing title-holder, Mike Thomson

Mike Thomson

“The only straight line is the centre stringer. Our boards are fully hand-shaped, glassed, sanded, coloured and finished,” says Mickey.

“Each step is slow and deliberate creating a one-off board with personality.”

Thomson says generic surfboards made for the mass market look as though they have been designed by accountants.

“They’re compact, lightweight, and purposely-made to pack into bulk shipping containers for easy transport overseas. There’s no soul in them.

“Call me a dinosaur – but I haven’t moved my manufacturing operation to China just yet – nor do I intend to.
“It is a reflection of just how mass market surfing has become that, when you walk into any retail surf shop, 99 percent of the boards are made in Thailand, China or Australia.”

The competitive surf scene in New Zealand today is a watered down version of days gone by according to Mickey who still regularly takes out titles in the over-50 category at longboard events.

“Surfing has become so mainstream in recent years, and as a result, the competition scene has faded somewhat,” says Thomson.

The surfing stalwart also laments the effect that mobile phone technology has had on the surf scene – from a purely selfish point of view.

“Pre-app technology, surfers instinctively knew how to read weather patterns and sea movements to ensure that they were at the beach on the right day, at the right time,” says Thomson.

“Now, you can get an instant surf report with a star rating on your hand-held device. That takes all the intuitiveness out of it and means the beaches are crowded. The good breaks are becoming like a gladiator pit with everyone fighting to get the wave.”

The Raglan of today still has small town charm, but it is not the laid back country settlement that Thomson grew up in.

“Raglan’s still got black sand and great surf. But now there are tourists and backpackers – and you can get sushi, and coffee at a café just like in a big city.

“It’s quite an urban scene in Raglan – although, thankfully, there’s no McDonalds (fast food chain) in town.” Thomson says he’s particular about the waves he surfs now.

“The challenge for me is finding an inviting surfing situation. The average wave does not really do it for me, to be honest,” says Thomson.

“The perfect surfing scenario for me these days is a head high to double overhead performance break at Indicators which, on a good day is like a break at famous Jeffreys Bay in South Africa – that’s adrenalin surfing.

“On the flip side, give me a nice mellow right hand wave, where I can enjoy the day on my longboard with my wife and a few other fellow longboarders.”

Despite having surfed for more than 40 years, Thomson says his body has held up remarkably well. Over the last 10 years he’s had a stretching regime in place to keep the osteopath treatments at bay, and reckons he’ll keep on surfing for as long as he can stand up on the board.

And Raglan? It has his heart. Thomson can’t quite see himself living anywhere else – although, he’d prefer we did away with mobile technology so that old time surfers like him, could still have the advantage when the surf’s up.

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