After 10 days of storms, the waves are peaking at Mount Maunganui.
Michael Rose is walking the beach with a 20-year-old custom-made surfboard, looking for the best place to drop into the surf.
He commissioned the board from legendary Mount surfboard-maker Mike Murden and says such is its strength, it once survived getting run over by a Hilux SUV.
The colourful board suits Rose, who calls himself a "quasi local", having divided his time between the Mount and the United States since the 1970s.
A real estate agent in North Carolina, he is also a passionate surfer who began riding the waves in Ocean City, Maryland, as a teenager.
"I think surfing is something I'll do my whole life. I'm 56 now. I'm planning on surfing when I'm 80," he says with a smile.
THE THRILL OF SURFING
Rose first surfed at the Mount in 1978 and says he is still awed by its "incredible beauty".
An uncle of hockey star - and the new Mrs Richie McCaw - Gemma Flynn, he is back in the Bay before the marriage in Melbourne of his daughter Jessica Rose, who became an internet sensation in 2006 with her fictional YouTube character lonelygirl15.
Despite the wedding being only days away, Rose is focused on the waves.
Surfing is the ultimate water sport, he says.
"You have to create your own power to get into a wave. And when you're in the wave, it's just you and the wave. That's it. There's no sail. There's no kite. There's nothing else."
Brenden Nobili, 26, of Canada and his Italian surfing buddy Andrea Ferritto, 25, are equally enthusiastic about surfing.
The pair have just driven from Raglan and 48 Hours catches them as they run into the ocean.
"It's the best thing in the world," yells Ferritto as he makes a dash for the waves.
Both young men began surfing just three years ago and for Nobili, it offers a chance to bond with nature.
"The ocean is unpredictable and powerful at the same time. There's not many sports you get to interact with the ocean this way."
Tauranga firefighter Steve Wright is another relative newbie, taking up surfing at age 46.
"It's a great thrill when you get on the face of a wave, and you're riding the wave and not the white water," the now 51-year-old says with a laugh.
Wright is standing on a picnic table at the edge of the dunes with fellow firefighter Tim Pearce.
It is Monday morning and only a few wisps of cloud remain in the sky, the sun shining bright above Mauao.
The beach is littered with seaweed at the high-tide mark but other than that, there is scant reminder of the rain that pummelled the North Island the preceding week.
Wright and Pearce are surveying the waves but unlike others who admit they should be at work, these two insist they are not wagging.
"No, no," says Pearce.
Says Wright: "We're legitimately off today."
LEARNING TO SURF
Wright learned the surfing ropes - "some the hard way" - from Pearce and other colleagues who surf and says the sport is a test of endurance and core strength.
The Greerton-based firefighter encourages anyone to give it a go, but warns beginners not to get discouraged in the first three to six months.
He says the hardest aspects when he started were learning to duck dive and getting out to the back of the waves.
"[It was] figuring out how they behave and how to get into the right spot. I still have trouble," he says, laughing again. "I'm still learning."
"Everyone's still learning," chimes in Pearce, who has been surfing since he was 7.
A devotee for 35 years, he quotes a line from 1990s cult movie Point Break: "Surfing's the source."
Pearce freely admits he chose to become a firefighter because it complements his passion.
"Oh yeah," he says. "[I wanted] a career that would keep me fit enough for surfing."
The shift work also allows him plenty of time in the water and when asked how often he surfs, he replies: "Every day there's waves. If there's waves, I'm here."
The 42-year-old is planning a trip to Piha on Auckland's west coast the following day and he also surfs Raglan and the Bay's Matakana Island, where the barrels offer the kind of challenge he loves.
"Surfing is never a level playing field," Pearce says. "You are fighting against the conditions . . . the wind, the tide and the swells."
JOURNEY NO OBSTACLE
Like many surfers, Pearce is happy to travel to the waves.
He lives in Oropi, a half-hour drive from the Mount, while elsewhere in the Bay, other surfers think nothing of driving an hour or two to get to the coast.
Distance is no obstacle to Rotorua surfers, says Anneka Voss, manager of the city's branch of surf shop Backdoor.
"There's a lot of people that tend to go out of town in the afternoon and head over to Raglan," she says. "[Rotorua] is quite central to a lot of popular beaches."
While Backdoor Rotorua does not sell surfboards, it stocks surf wax, leg ropes and surfboard fins, and Voss says wetsuits sold particularly well this summer.
She says surfing is growing in popularity and Bay surf instructors agree.
HIbiscus Surf School owner Rebecca Manning attributes the surge in popularity to the region's growing population of permanent residents and families.
Manning says in the past most of her clients were travellers but this summer, it was mainly kids.
"It was awesome. We created more kids-specific programmes and [even though] we didn't advertise very well, it just went crazy some days, maxed out with kids."
Surfing has also become a popular school trip activity, she says - Te Puke High School, for example, bringing its international students to the Mount for lessons twice a year.
Manning says more women are getting into the sport and she has many conversations with middle-aged women who have never surfed but are eager to try.
"It's just something they've always been interested in doing and they don't really have anyone to do it with or know how to start, or they might have a partner who surfs but they're different levels, don't want to teach, or they don't really want to surf together."
In the past, Manning says all her instructors were men and she never got any applications from women, making her the "oddball" on the team.
But that has all changed too and now most of her instructors are female and HIbiscus is starting a women's surfing group.
Manning, 32, says the social aspect of surfing is something she greatly enjoys and she hopes women who join the group will not only learn to surf but meet lifetime surfing buddies and form friendships that stretch beyond the ocean.
"Next year, I have a feeling that our women's groups are going to go off," she says.
ALONE BUT TOGETHER IN WAVES
For New Plymouth 16-year-old Dylan Scouller, who is surfing at the Mount on Monday, catching waves offers welcome solitude.
"I just enjoy getting away from people. It's just scenic," he says.
Scouller has surfed since he was a child and credits the strength he has developed with saving him from paralysis when he broke his neck boogie-boarding a year ago.
The injury went undetected for six months and doctors told him his strong muscles were the only reason his three fractured vertebrae stayed in place.
Scouller is surfing with his dad, Rod, 49, who says their shared love of the waves allows them great father/son time.
Like Michael Rose, Rod Scouller says he plans to keep surfing until he no longer can.
"Once you're hooked on it, you're there for life," he says, galloping into the waves with his son.
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