New ZealandThe Southern Hemisphere’s best-kept secret.
The alarm went off at 3:00 in the morning, my bus was off at 4:00 a.m., and my flight to New Zealand was scheduled to leave the runway at 10:00 a.m. Five hours on the bus got me to Heathrow one hour before takeoff; everything was looking sweet except that I’d made the fatal mistake of not thoroughly checking any of my flight details. There I was at Heathrow for a 10:00 a.m. flight, when I should have rocked up for the 10:00 p.m. flight. That made only fifteen hours to wait before my 27-hour flight to Auckland, New Zealand. For every negative there’s a positive¿on the bad side I hung out at Slam City like a spare clothing rack, but I got to see the new Etnies UK video, Hating Life. And I was also able to check in nice and early for my plane, which got me a decent seat, enabling me to sleep like a baby all the way to Auckland.
For the record, when I made plans to go to New Zealand I knew almost nothing about it, but a few phone calls to people in the know assured me that New Zealand has a good scene, and that there are good skaters on both the North and South Islands. I was also told that New Zealand is one of the most beautiful places on the planet¿that was enough to convince me that it was worth the trip.
My guide for my two-week stay would be Andrew Morrison (a.k.a. Morri), who was waiting at the airport Thursday to pick me up. It’s a good thing he was, too, because I’d left London two days prior, and when I got off the plane I didn’t know whether to shit or go and have a haircut.
From the off, New Zealand was the greenest place I’d ever seen. Saturday saw my first encounter with some of Auckland’s skaters, namely Gareth Stehr and Kevin Francis. We hung out at a schoolyard, and I shot some stuff with Kevin before we cruised around to some of the spots on the outskirts of the city. Gareth proceeded to impress me with a lengthy backside tailslide on a tiled ledge, and a knee-buckling gap ollie that ended in a broken board and the end of the day.
With schools empty for the weekend, we hit up another on Sunday¿a wooden learning house that looked straight out of the Old West. Another of the locals called Rhys arrived on the scene. We cruised through downtown Auckland most of Monday afternoon and got a dose of the old illness of what spot to hit up next, but Morri (an idea man, if there ever was one) knew what to do, and we ended up under Centerpoint.
Every major city in the world seems to have a massive tower. The reason for this is unknown. Is it so lost drunks can get their bearings? Is it because cities have so much money, they can’t wait to spend it on useless shit? Or is it the fact that you just get sick of eating in McDonald’s and want to find a revolving restaurant so you can see all the world go by. Anyway, Auckland’s Centerpoint is conveniently right in the middle of town, and it was under this sky-high tower of human endeavor that Jeff Saunders knocked out some moves.
The next couple days we spent in and around downtown, hooking up with some locals at an EMB-type area known as Aotea Square. It’s a place where people skate and meet, no hassles from the law, and the spot has a whole lot of different terrain to hit. It’s not like the usual hook-up place, but then again, Auckland, New Zealand isn’t your run-of-the-mill city.
I guess there’re all kinds of skate scenes going on all over the world, and not all of them can be documented. New Zealand’s locals have gone without much coverage for years, but not because they’ve fallen short of the standard. Over the years, New Zealand has produced some fine vert skaters like Morri, Lee Ralph, and Gregor Ranking, but they still have yet to produce a street skater who’s made it in the States.
One who could have is Chey Ataria. Top guy on the island, Chey is held in high regard amongst his peers, but he wasn’t able to find happiness in America. Things didn’t work out in the SStates, so Chey decided to stay on in the islands that play a distant second fiddle to the skateboarding continent it broke off from millions of years ago¿Australia.
A trip south to Wellington had been planned for Thursday, so after being there a week, we set off amidst heavy rain. It wasn’t exactly a road trip I would deem one of the classics; it was short and sweet, and plagued with rain. So much rain fell, it was like driving through a gray blanket for seven hours. The highlight of the trip to Wellington was hitting up some hot springs¿streams and small waterfalls of naturally heated water, pretty amazing stuff. Nature is like a language you can’t read. One dude was lying in the bath-water-warm stream, looking like a German walrus, he had nothing on and was showing a continuous smile for all the world to see. I was going to take a photo but thought he might get the wrong end of the lens.
As we rolled into Wellington Friday morning, my first thought was that the place looked a lot like Vancouver. Bernard Foo was our guide, and with him we spent the weekend hitting up spot after spot, while dodging the rain; we even managed to get some photos taken.
A decision was made to bolt back to Auckland on Sunday, which is what we did. With less rain falling than on our trip down, for the first time I got to see the country in its full glory; never had I seen anything like it before. Peter Jackson is filming Lord Of The Rings here. Hobbits could be seen everywhere, and most of the guys in the car ached for a view of Liv Tyler, but it was not to be.
Most of my remaining days in Auckland were spent shooting with the locals downtown and being impressed with Chey Ataria day after day. On my last day, I actually got stuck in a gap under a high-rise building while trying to shoot photos of Morri. A few more pounds and the fire brigade would’ve had to be called in. Two weeks had flown by, and Morri proved to be a most complete host by driving me to the airport at 6:00 a.m.¿like he hadn’t done enough already. What a ruler. In the car on the way to the airport, I had the feeling that there was so much more to see and do, but I was happy that I’d had the privilege to visit one of the best-kept secrets in skateboarding.