"I was in a stage in my life where I wasn't comfortable to get a dog," Roger Hall tells his story.
"I used to have this dog – Chops – he came out of the blue to me and then stayed for 20-odd years. We had some amazing adventures together. When Chops died, I didn't think any dog could ever measure up to him."
It's a bit hard to imagine that now, considering Roger and his dog Taz are inseparable – not only on land but in the water too.
The pair are two of the most prominent surfers in the Bream Bay community, including Taz who is virtually obsessed with waves.
Before Taz became known as Bream Bay's surfing dog though, he had a rough start into life but was fortunate enough to be rescued by a compassionate Bream Bay resident, Lisa Bennett, who provided a loving home for the puppy.
"I think it's thanks to Lisa that Taz gets along with people so well," Roger says.
Over time, Lisa gifted the red Kelpie – an Australian sheep dog – to a friend and so Taz became the best buddy to Phil Jamieson, whom Roger described as a national treasure in terms of surfboard building skillset and knowledge of the history and evolution of surfing and the surfboard industry.
"Phil was a mate, a fellow surfer and surfboard building legend," Roger says.
Phil had moved up to Bream Bay from Auckland as he was transitioning into retirement and dedicated his time to surfing, so he often visited Roger at his surfboard workshop.
"That's when I first saw Taz – this beautiful, extremely well-behaved dog. You could tell right away that he had a really nice nature. Because Phil was coming regularly, we started building a friendship. I knew then if I was ever going to have a dog again, it would be a dog like him."
In 2016, Phil passed away suddenly leaving family and his dog behind. Lisa took Taz back in once again providing him with love and support.
Roger says he was trying to be helpful and signalled to Lisa that he would be able to look after the Kelpie.
"It coincided with my long-term partner's birthday. She had grown up with dogs and always thought about getting a new one. It was a perfect opportunity."
So one day, Lisa came by and dropped Taz off at Roger's place.
"I started taking Taz out to the beach. He's not a very demanding dog and waits for you to throw a stick. Instead, he chases waves."
It was a trial and error process for the pair – Taz would ride a wave then jump off to chase the waves rolling along the shore before returning to jump back onto the board.
One thing followed another and in no time at all Roger was paddling out the back into deep water with Taz standing on the nose where the pair began catching swells as they formed into breaking waves.
It was clear from the start that there was nothing better in the world for Taz than standing on a surfboard.
"It was an exciting challenge for both of us and this camaraderie developed between the dog and me. I now take him out 98 per cent of the time when I go surfing. Taz is obsessed with it."
• Northland's surfing elite gear up for championship action
• Piha Pro: Parking passes, checkpoint mooted to address access issues during World Surfing League event as excitement builds
• Aotearoa Māori Surfing: Northland's Indi-Lee Ruddell scoops under-18 title
• Surfing: Kiwi Ricardo Christie advances to finals after upset win in World Surf League finale
With Taz perched on the nose of the board frantically barking at the swell while wagging his tail in euphoria and Roger at the back of the board attempting to keep an even keel, their wave riding exploits tend to draw attention from back on the shore.
People are fascinated by Bream Bay's surfing dog, enjoy watching the spectacle from the beach and often enquire about this unique habit.
"They either have this look of amazement or big smiles on their faces. It is very special. Having the dog coming along with me has become the main event."
Taz has made many friends – two and four-legged – through his time at the beach and loves spending time with his mates or watching them when they are catching waves.
"He gets really excited when his friends are on the water and ride a wave. He pays so much attention."
Roger has been living and surfing at Bream Bay since he was eight. At 13, he was shaping surfboards in his father's workshop.
He says after 49 years working in the industry, Taz has taught him many aspects about surfing and surfboard design that he hadn't previously considered.
"Having an 18.5kg kelpie at the nose of your board makes the surfing quite different. Boards are designed around the way the surfer shift their weight from one foot to the other. By adjusting the body weight, the surfer moves the surfboard through the water. When Taz and I go surfing, that dynamic changes quite drastically."
The pair is using a 3m longboard without fins called a Double Hot Curl which is a radical departure from the accepted norm of surfboard design, Roger says.
"Taz likes to jump off when we get really close to the beach so with no fins the board can surf right in. The design is also very stable, which helps me when sitting on the board between waves as Taz wanders up and down as well as side to side, which means the board is continuously tipping off balance. The board also has the ability to turn high up on the wave and track across a fast-breaking wall, so we get really long exciting rides."
Roger also has to stand 30cm closer to the tail of the board than he would normally lie, and he needs a whole lot more power to paddle the board out into the surf and into the waves.
But he doesn't have to do all the work by himself – Taz has learnt to support his surfing buddy and rocks back and forth on the board depending on where his weight is needed.
Occasionally Taz gets over-enthusiastic when sliding down a wave and jumps off into the water only to realise that it might not have been the smartest move.
When the pair started their tandem surfing venture, Roger would always first swim to rescue the dog when they lost their balance in the surf and tumbled through the whitewash, but Taz is a confident swimmer now and can get himself back to shore safely while Roger snatches his board.
Roger doesn't use the traditional leash to connect his foot with the board to ensure Taz wouldn't get tangled.
Despite taking precautions in the water, scratches and scrapes can't always be avoided, and just this week Roger slashed his lip open when Taz's claw got caught on it.
"My wetsuits are quite ripped up, too" – a price Roger is happy to pay for the enjoyment of having Taz at his side.
"Sometimes we have a little cuddle at the shore after riding a bad wipe out. But Taz would go surfing all day long if he could. We're usually out twice a day – in the morning before work and then again in the afternoon. We also go in the winter. Taz doesn't mind the cold water."
Kelpies' namesakes are shape-shifting water spirits from the Scottish folklore who live in the Highland lochs. Roger says he could see how the kelpie spirit plays into Taz's character.
He says it is heart-breaking when he can't take Taz to the beach as he knows how much it means to the dog.
"Taz knows because he licks my hands and they taste of salt, and then he gets really distressed. Of course, I'm always trying to take him but sometimes to surf is too big and in summer there are a few restrictions with dogs on the beach."
Last year, both went on a 10-day surfing road trip driving down the coast to the Mahia peninsula, south of Gisborne, which they are planning on repeating next month.
"Surfing and surfboard making has been a massive journey for me and part of my life since I was a boy. Taz has renewed this journey, and we've immersed into a whole new level surpassing any intensity I've ever felt before. There's a real special camaraderie between the both of us."