Surfbreak Protection Society
Surfbreak Protection Society
Surfbreak legal protection and planning

New Zealand is recognised as the first country in the world to incorporate surfbreak preservation concepts within its legal and planning framework. The intention of this page is to discuss and link all available literature to do with surfbreaks in a legal and planning context.

While many people’s eyes glaze over when attempting to discuss anything in a policy planning or legal context, we hope this page will not only help break down these barriers, but also give the reader an appreciation of how essential it is to have our surfbreaks recognised through legislation and statutory planning processes in order to protect these unique natural features – part of Aotearoa’s landscape/ seascape, from inappropriate development and activities in our coastal marine area.

Check back here over the coming months as we evolve this  resource hub.




Planning approaches for the management of surf breaks in New Zealand

New Zealand was the first country in the world to adopt surf break protection within its resource management policy framework. This came as a result of a groundswell from the grass roots surfing community backed by an improved knowledge and understanding of surf break environments that had been developing internationally in the area of coastal science.

The late Matt Skellern initiated research on current practices, planning processes, and sustainable management approaches for surf breaks. Matt Skellern was an essential member of the many who introduced surfing to the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement 2010. As a committee member of SPS Matt helped immensely with Hearings for Port Otago and submissions to other consent activities.

Following Matt’s passing the energy behind his research concept has been carried forward by Bailey Peryman, Shane Orchard, and Dr Hamish Rennie, with support from the Skellern family, Auckland University, Auckland Council, Bay of Plenty Regional Council and Surfbreak Protection Society.

Matt had been in regular correspondence with the authors about his research, the topic of surf break management, and the wider context of planning for the sustainable management of coastal environments. This report has been produced as a result of the authors continuing the extensive primary research Matt had already conducted.

The report includes information on a range of topics that will be helpful to non-government organisations and community members interested in the protection of surf breaks. This report may also assist local authorities with identifying issues and developing appropriate responses that avoid degradation of the integrity of surf breaks as unique features of the coastal environment.

Essential reading for all those interested in protecting New Zealand surf breaks!





“The surf is one of God’s greatest gifts. The surf is a natural resource which can

be exploited by thousands of surfers at any point in time but unlike other

natural resources it does not get used up or destroyed it endures through time

for future generations.”

(Anonymous cited in Pearson, 1979, 102)


The above quote captures an element of indestructibility of surfing, or more

correctly ‘surf’. However, today this can be seen as somewhat only one side of the story.

The other side is a scene in which globally surf break wave quality, and thus surfing, are

under threat from a range of activities in the coastal environment. With this picture in

mind I have articulated the following topic question which captures the focus of my

research; “How to provide for surfing as a legitimate activity in regional plans”.

Author : Giles Bundy



This study investigates what is necessary to identify surf breaks and their associated values to provide for their sustainable management in the coastal environment as a natural resource under the RMA. The study area for doing this is the Bay of Plenty Region (Appendix 1). The study builds on existing work by Councils, through the development of NZCPS surf break policy and presents findings on public consultation undertaken over the 2010/11 summer period.

Author: Bailey Perryman



Surf Break Co-Management: Options for the protection and enhancement of surf breaks in New Zealand

 This thesis by Aaron Edwards involved a case study of the Auckland and Otago regions to explore surf break user values, the purpose of surf break management and the suitability of surf break co-management within New Zealand’s resource management framework. The study involved an online survey of Surfbreak users and interviews with key stakeholders in the management of surfbreaks.

A key theme that emerged throughout the research was the desire for surf break management to reflect the needs and vision of local surfing communities. The study identified providing for the general protection of a range of surf breaks and increasing recognition of the value of surf breaks as key outcomes for the management of surf breaks. Results showed that surf break users primarily value factors relating to wave quality and elements of naturalness, with values reflecting local issues.

Co-management could enable local authorities to bridge potential funding and knowledge gaps, allow for surf break users to take ownership of surfing resources and serve to strengthen the consideration of surf breaks in formal decision making processes.



The New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement 2010(NZCPS) requires local authorities to provide for surf breaks in planning documents and decisions made under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA). However, to date there is no consistent, agreed method by which policy makers and planners identify and provide for surf breaks in New Zealand.

This study investigates what is necessary to identify surf breaks and their associated values toprovide for their sustainable management in the coastal environment as a natural resource . The study builds on existing knowledge of surf breaks, drawing on existing work by Councils and the development of NZCPS surf break policy; and presents findings on public consultation undertaken over the 2010/11 summer period. under the RMA. The study area for doing this is the Gisborne District

The need for recognising surf breaks in policy is important in light of rapidly increasing demands influencing land and water (fresh and marine) usage and ultimately affecting the integrity of the coastal environment. Surf breaks and their users provide a unique lens for viewing these competing interests given their location in the ‘mixing zone’ – the confluence of both land and aquatic based effects on the environment.

This report contains a background on surf breaks, existing knowledge and the mandate for their protection.



The focus of this research report is not surfers, although they are the interest group concerned, but rather the surfbreaks which are used by surfers. Surfbreaks are inherently formed by a very complex relationship between a number of varying factors and very sensitive to changes in environmental conditions and coastal infrastructure (discussed in section 2.1) (Eberlien, 2009). As the popularity of coastal living and development grows, so too does the pressure on coastal resources. Therefore, the protection of surfbreaks from inappropriate coastal activities and developments is an issue which requires increasing attention from decision makers.

Because surfbreaks are found exclusively within the coastal zone, it is the responsibility of coastal planners and managers to ensure that coastal development does not lead to the destruction of, or loss of access to, surfbreaks. Furthermore, because surfbreaks are natural features which are not “owned” they form part of the public realm for which planners are responsible. Along with this, surfbreaks can viewed as part of the natural character of the coastal environment, which are provided under S6 (a) of the Resource Management Act, 1991 (RMA). Policy makers have also specifically included surfbreak management into national level coastal policy through the inclusion of surfbreaks into section Policy 16 into the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement, 2010 (NZCPS).

Despite this, degradation and loss of access to surfbreaks is something which has occurred. Examples such as the Whangamata Bar and the degradation since the construction of the Whangamata Marina (as discussed in section 2.3 of this report) serve as a reminder that surfbreaks in New Zealand are still under threat from development under the current system of surfbreak protection. As a result, there may be opportunities for improvement on the current system of surfbreak management in New Zealand.





The NZCPS (1994) did not specifically refer to surf breaks. The NZCPS (1994) review process resulted in a significant response by surfers and surfing organisations identifying surf
break protection as a coastal management issue (Department of Conservation, 2008; Peryman and Skellern, 2011).

The review process led to the inclusion of surf breaks in the NZCPS (2010), providing specific protection for 17 surf breaks of national significance whilst also providing general protection for surf breaks as part of the natural character of the coastal environment and as natural features within the coastal environment. The inclusion of surf breaks in the NZCPS (2010) establishes New Zealand as a potential world leader in the protection of surf breaks. Whereas international efforts to protect surf breaks have largely focused on the creation of one-off surfing reserves, the NZCPS (2010) effectively affords a level of recognition and protection to all surf breaks within the coastal environment. (Surf Break Co-Management: Edwards 2012)

As far as the 17 named surfbreaks in schedule one are concerned, these are a must have, adverse effects must be avoided, and while every surfbreak has its own character the unique variation on the perfect wave that  these surfbreaks provide can not be replicated

Over the last ten years or so New Zealand’s surfing population has been listed at between 205,000 and 310,000, while it is hard to gauge this figure accurately, one thing is sure, surfer numbers continue to rise at least as fast, if not faster than our nation’s population increases. The New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement 2010 gives direction to Regional authorities regarding the preservation of these unique and finite natural resources – for future generations.

Background material to the NZCPS can be located on our resource page


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