Former All Black and mental health advocate Sir John Kirwan's passion for surfing has got him involved in a project to build the country's first wave park in Auckland.
Writing in the Herald, Kirwan has revealed that surfing at his "happy place" at Waihi Beach has long been one of the best things he could do to manage his mental health.
"My favourite spot's at the northern end of the beach, and when I sit on my surfboard on a spectacular day when the waves are clean and glassy, gazing back at the green headland and white sand ... well it feels like heaven," he said.
Now Kirwan is planning to turn that passion for surfing into a project to bring the first surf park to New Zealand, saying during lockdown a highlight has been a weekly video call with a tight group spread across New Zealand, Australia and the United States.
"The founders of the company, Aventuur, approached me about a year ago to get involved in the project, which aims to bring perfect waves and incredible experiences for surfers, families and kids to Auckland.
"We're in the early planning stages, identifying the right location and land for the project, and building the foundations for something that is going to have a remarkably positive impact for the community – I'm proud to be a part of it.
"We share surfing tales, have brainstorming sessions about the design of the park and the experiences to offer, and discuss how we can develop holistic community programs to engage and give back. It gives me joy, and gets me excited about the future," he wrote.
It also known that American company Aventuur has acquired a licence to build a surf park in Auckland using the cove technology produced by Spanish company Wavegarden.
The Wavegarden cove can produce up to 1000 waves an hour, with changeable wave settings to suit the needs and abilities of the surfers.
Paige Hareb has flown the flag for New Zealand at the elite level over the past decade and described surf wave parks "like the perfect training ground" at a soft launch of the idea 12 months ago.
Hareb said a wave park could be the key to more professional Kiwi surfers finding success in the sport.
"I think the (Wavegarden cove) is going to be the best for the public and for training because there are so many waves within an hour. It's like a tennis court for surfing; you can hit that same shot over and over again.
"It's definitely going to make surfing progress that much quicker," he said.
Another New Zealand professional surfer, Ricardo Christie, said having a wave park at home would be really good for all the new kids coming up.
"From a high performance perspective, it makes a lot of sense – and it'd just be fun for everyone else," he said.
Kirwan said a wave park hits his ethos of always trying to kill two birds with one stone, like taking a walk with your partner or somebody you care deeply about.
"You're getting physical exercise on the one hand, and emotional connection on the other.
"My work to bring a surf park to Auckland is another example. It's a unique project that will remove the barriers to entry for surfing for so many people, providing mental and physical nourishment for the community.
"But it's also exciting to be able to build it with New Zealanders, for New Zealand, and I can't wait for it to open," he said.