Surfbreak Protection Society
Surfbreak Protection Society
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Wellingtons Proposed Airport Extension – South


WGTN Airport – Where To For Lyall Bay From Here?




The father of modern surfing Duke Kahanamoku also known as “the ambassador of Aloha” brought Hawaiian surf culture to the U.S. mainland, Australia, and then New Zealand in 1915 – 100 years ago.

Surfing has since spread to numerous countries on all continents, bar Antarctica (perhaps the next challenge?).

With the construction of Rongatai’s North South Runway in 1959 and incremental increases in the new Wellington Airport’s runway length,  reclamation now holds a major influence over Lyall Bay’s swell corridor, currents, sediment pathways,  and surfbreaks.

Will the proposed 300 meter extension have a negative impact on surfing in Lyall Bay?

The only way to determine this is with good robust science – surf science – that will take into account all of the above mentioned drivers on wave action in Lyall Bay, and the overall effects on surfing wave quality.

The questions we are asking  are;

1. The swell corridor – the pathways through which  swell travels in to the bay, – will the extension be an obstruction creating a shadow for swell, especially on waves travelling from South – East directions. The more a swell refracts the more energy is expended as it travels along the lengthened airport wall, consequently losing wave height. A 2001 study revealed that Lyall bay only receives about 27 quality surfing days a year – could we also lose small wave days, suitable for longboards and learners at the corner?

2.Currents – those who surf Lyall Bay are familiar with the east – west rip out the front of the clubrooms on an outgoing tide, will the airport extension accentuate or diminish this rip? What effect on the currents/rips (if any) will the extension also have on the Corner and the Bend?

3.Sediment pathways- obviously influenced by currents and rips, will marine sand accumulate in some areas and diminish in others? this could have either positive or negative effects on the form of particular surfbreaks within the bay.

We need robust surf science – science that measures the effects on surfing wave quality due to seasonal and swell directional patterns – in the current climate.

That means it is necessary to start collecting baseline data right now about currents rips and sediment pathways in the bay,  so that we have a good understanding of these behaviors before construction begins, 3 months worth of data before a consent hearing simply won’t cut the mustard.

We will then have a good starting point to apply any adaptive management if need be to counter possible adverse effects on Lyall Bays surfbreaks.


Airport Rights is part of the naturally existing reef system beside Moa Pt. Rd. The reef has already been mostly reclaimed by the airport developments since 1959, The rock at the end of the breakwater is the reefs Western most point.

Some surfers won’t surf Airport Rights because of rubble from the historical airport reclamation in the line up, that includes steel reinforcing rods. However, it is one of the city’s most powerful big wave spots and is enjoyed by those who are brave enough to tackle it

Airport Rights along with Lyall Bay and the rest of Wellington’s regionally significant surfbreaks have recently been identified and mapped for the Wgtn Regional Plan Review by eCoast Ltd of Raglan – the mapping includes swell corridors.

We also have to get the project in to perspective; the computer generated image at the top of this article ( lower right- that appeared in the DomPost July 26) certainly is not in perspective, unless WIAL is looking to extend about 1 kilometer out to sea.

By using simple tools like Google earth and its ruler tool you can see that the extension projects into Moa Pt. Bay, but not out past Moa Point, as the image above suggests.

SPS have generated these images below that are more to scale and perspective:


The Surfbreak Protection Society has already requested to be kept informed of developments and notification of the submission process.

SPS along with Wellington Boardriders Club will also be looking to caucus our surf science experts with WIAL coastal process science experts (NIWA) before if possible, as well as during the consent process, in order to achieve the best outcomes for Lyall Bay’s surfbreaks.

You can also be kept informed of any news or notifications through Wellington City Council portal,

just click on the picture below and fill in the details.

engage WCC


When you make your comments to WIAL you may wish to highlight several of the following points.

My concerns with the proposed airport extension relate to;

  • Lyall Bay is recognised as being one of the first three venues surfed in New Zealand by the father of modern surfing, Hawaiian Olympic gold medallist Duke Kahanamoko in 1915. Lyall Bay has cultural significance nationally (and regionally) to the sport of surfing in Aotearoa.


  • Surfbreaks are protected under the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement 2010, policy 16 that focuses on avoiding adverse effects on surf breaks of national significance. Airport rights at the south eastern end of the runway will be destroyed by this development and; surfing wave quality, especially wave height may well be affected at the corner surfbreak due to refraction.


  • Lyall Bay – Wellington, along with Fitzroy Beach – New Plymouth, Mount Maunganui – main beach and coast, Wainui and Waikanae Beach – Gisborne, and St Clair Beach – Dunedin, were accepted as examples by the board of inquiry to the 2010 NZCPS as nationally significant nursery surf breaks.




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