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Surf Turf Wars near Kawhia

August 26, 2018

If the reports of some idiots attempting to keep others away from their favourite surfing beach near the mouth of Kawhia Harbour with a firearm are even half true it is time for the little coastal community to reclaim those beaches.

It seems a group of people who were surfing near Te Maika and Albatross Point were fired on and abused by two people on the land above the beach. It is unlikely that the shots were intended to hit anyone, merely to warn them off. But Kawhia is not the wild west of the fictional movie world. Kawhia is my home town so this is a very personal matter and I am angry that anyone would have the audacity to claim those beaches and the surf as their own. I am also astonished that anyone would be stupid enough to fire a shot at or near anyone in the surf to apparently scare them away from what they assume is their private surfing beach.

It seems the surfers had not crossed private land to get to the surf beach but had come across the harbour by surf ski. Even if they had crossed private land without permission firing at them was unforgivably stupid in the extreme and deserving of a stiff jail term.

The beaches at Te Maika and Albatross Point were where we enjoyed annual summer picnics after a short trip across the Harbour in the late Tom Rewi’s launch or our own family fishing boat the Elsie. This place is steeped in our history and we knew that not far away were the sites of the ancient fighting pa of Te Totara and Te Ara Wi where the right to live in and occupy the area was wrested at great cost from Te Rauparaha and his Ngati Toa people in 1821. We never intruded on those places but the beaches were ours and we played sports there, went fishing there and learned to swim there in the years after World War 11. After more than half a century the call of the Kawhia I remember from far away still haunts my day dreams and there remains a strong sense of belonging but never a sense of exclusive ownership. My father’s umbilical is buried there somewhere and many of my extended family are at rest in the little cemetery.  Our beaches were, and are, for all to enjoy and none are the exclusive preserve of self-opinionated playboy surfers or anyone else.

If a few mindless surf bums don’t like to share these special places with others they are free to go elsewhere and take their arrogance and ignorance with them. Such attitudes have no place at Kawhia or any other New Zealand beach. Unlike most other countries New Zealand does not have private ocean beaches as such. The concept is so intolerably alien to our psyche that when, by an accident of natural coastal dynamics, a beach near Nelson became landlocked by private land about 40,000 New Zealanders in 2016 raised more than $2million to buy the 800 metre stretch of sand and gifted it to the nation. That little beach is now part of the Able Tasman National Park.   

The reaction of the men of my father’s generation, recently returned from war, to such an outrage would have been swift, unambiguous and painfully unforgettable. The firearm would probably have ended up in the sea or wrapped around the nearest post and sitting down would have been a delicate and uncomfortable manoeuvre for some time. Fortunately we live in more gentle times but I know without a doubt that the people of Taharoa and Kawhia of my childhood would be disappointed at such an affront visitors and strangers.

There is probably an opportunity here for the kaumatua of Taharoa and Kawhia to take a leadership role and prevent a possible tragedy. The people who fired those shots will probably be known to several people in both communities and it is essential that they be disarmed and dealt with by authorities as soon as possible. 

There is also a place here for a regular peace flotilla of summer picnickers to again gather on those beaches for summer sports, inclusive companionship and to leave their foot prints in the sand as we are all free to do. I am not a surfer but may well return to Kawhia this summer just to defiantly sit on those beaches again. They belong to all of us.