Researcher looks into causes of 'surf rage' in New Zealand

Bad surfing etiquette: always give way to the surfer closest to the peak of the wave.
Iain McGregor

Bad surfing etiquette: always give way to the surfer closest to the peak of the wave.

An academic study into surf rage will likely find it's motivated by water safety than bad blood, one of New Zealand's top surfers says. 

Raglan resident and former national champ Daniel Kereopa said fist fights weren't a big problem here and most local surfers were  out to inform rather than fight.

"Seventy per cent of the surfers out there don't really know how to surf that well and they're actually putting themselves in danger. They surf waves beyond their ability or get themselves into bad positions," he said.

Pro surfer and Raglan resident Daniel Kereopa says there aren't many fights in the small surfing town.
Cory Scott/Supplied

Pro surfer and Raglan resident Daniel Kereopa says there aren't many fights in the small surfing town.

"The locals are the ones who surf here most often so they understand the dangers, so what it boils down to in the end is water safety.

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"When the rules break down and there's a heap of people it can turn to chaos very quickly, which is why we have rules."

Jarred Hancox from New Plymouth reckons he's seen only a handful of wave rage fights over the years.

Jarred Hancox from New Plymouth reckons he's seen only a handful of wave rage fights over the years.

Jhan Gavala, a lecturer in psychology at Massey University, has begun a PhD study on surf rage, a psychological phenomenon where surfers competing for waves become frustrated with the behaviour of others in the water and take aggressive and sometimes violent action.

Gavala's surf rage study will focus on prime surfing areas around the country like Taranaki, Mt Maunganui, Raglan and Piha.

He hopes to understand factors that lead to surf rage first hand, by getting out in the water himself. 

The more surfers there are for every wave the higher the tension becomes.

The more surfers there are for every wave the higher the tension becomes.

Taranaki is renowned for having a high number of top quality surf breaks and was the centre of a stoush in 2010 when Surfing Taranaki brought a women's Dream Tour event to the region and coastal surfers hit out about the possibility of it being held at Stent Rd - arguably the area's best wave.

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New Plymouth Surfriders Club deputy president Jarred Hancox, who has been surfing in Taranaki for 20 years, said it was rare to see an altercation get physical and he'd only witnessed a handful of fights in his time. 

"It usually happens when there's not as many waves as there are people," he said.

Jhan Gavala wants to understand the psychological factors behind surf rage.
Massey University

Jhan Gavala wants to understand the psychological factors behind surf rage.

"I've seen a few fights started out of frustration."

However, Hancox said most of the physical fights he'd seen had been between locals. 

"The tourists are normally told off verbally if they're out of line and they back down because it's not their place," he said. 

Massey University

Jhan Gavala's PhD study on surfing rage in New Zealand.

"Locals perhaps feel they have more of a right to the wave because they live here."

Hancox said he's had to "verbally educate" a few people out in the water when they've been surfing a wave that's beyond their ability, or they're breaking the rules.

"It can get pretty intense here, but if you look at somewhere like Raglan they're used to the chaos," he said.

Stent Rd in Taranaki is one of the region's prime surf breaks and is nationally protected.
Mark Dwyer

Stent Rd in Taranaki is one of the region's prime surf breaks and is nationally protected.

"They know how to handle a whole lot of people in the water, we're a bit spoiled for choice in Taranaki."​

Surf rage isn't confined to New Zealand, in fact the Gold Coast City Council in Australia floated the idea of colour-coding surfing zones by ability, similar to graded ski slopes, in order to bring down the number of confrontations. 

Surfing, like every other sport, has rules about who catches what wave and when, however when these rules are broken fights, or other forms of aggression break out, Gavala said. 

A surfer in Manu Bay in Raglan backs off to let the surfer already on the wave have right of way.
Bruce Mercer

A surfer in Manu Bay in Raglan backs off to let the surfer already on the wave have right of way.

"What's possibly more common is mild localism, people won't look at you, they'll cut in on you, or even flat out tell you to leave," he said. 

Gavala said tensions usually ran higher at busier surfing spots. 

"People can get a bit amped up because they're not getting many waves," he said. 

"And the more surfers there are for every wave that comes through the more desperate someone is going to be catch a wave."

Gavala hopes to narrow down what other factors lead to surf rage but he doesn't want to predict anything before his study begins.

"I want to understand the complex interplay in the surf zone and understand how it flows on to behaviours outside the surf."

 - Stuff

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