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The old days at Ning Nong

Updated: Apr 8, 2019

Howard Rait and his recollections of the pioneering days at Ngawi.

Dee-Dees circa 1974

As my first article for this blog I thought I'd concentrate on an area every surfer in Wellington knows well.

A couple of months ago I was fortunate enough to be able to interview Howard Rait at his home. I doubt there is anyone in Wellington with as much material covering this topic. Not only did he live through the earliest days out there, but he also has an extensive library of slides, photos and surf diaries dating back to the late 60's. I owe a great debt to Howard for taking the time to talk to me and sharing some of his photos. I'm sure there are other people out there with some more material, and perhaps a different take on things (I'd love to hear from them by the way), but as a starting point I don't think I could have done any better than Howard. (He would like it known that he's probably not the best person to ask as he "didn't pay much attention to details of the larger picture etc)

Ning Nong, or Crap Point as it is otherwise known has been one of the most popular surf spots in the Wairarapa for over fifty years. It's not the world's greatest wave but it's generally fun, reliable and easily accessible.

The name Ning Nong actually relates to the bay near the small settlement of Te-Kopi (or Whatarangi) about 15km to the North. It is an unofficial name given to the area in the 1950's. Evidently it also used to be called "Kelp Beds" until the diversion of the Ruamahunga River in the 1950's away from Lake Wairarapa changed the nutrient flow to the area and killed off all the kelp.

The Crap Point name was actually due to the lack of a toilet at the surf spot, since people used to relieve themselves in the paddock behind the break. Some people like to call the place Ning Nong, some (probably less so these days) like to call it Craps. I'll call it Ning Nong for the purposes of this article.

A pretty standard scene at Ning Nong in the early 70's. It hasn't really changed a lot, other than the dunny!

One of the first people to surf at Ning Nong was possibly a guy called Toby and his friends in 1963. This cannot be accurately confirmed as not much is known about this crew. Then there was Mike Draffin, Howard Rait, Ian Gall, Roger Titcombe, Peter fitzsimmons, Gavin Aikman, Dave Witherspoon, Rodney Sparks and John England among others that started to arriving from about 1965-67. There were also crews from Masterton, Titahi Bay, Plimmerton, Upper Hutt and other places. The early 70's hippie era saw an influx of surfers and others moving into old farm houses. Surfers got jobs on cray-boats in Ngawi and some even got their own boats. Some worked for the council working on local roading improvements. They got a hard time from their friends driving by on their way to the waves while they were stuck at work.

Howard Rait (Left) and others camping out in the early 1970's. The hairstyles and vehicles might have changed, but it's still pretty much the same buzz today

Before 1965 there were no bridges at all between Whangaimoana and Ngawi. Even after the curved bridge over the Hurupi Stream was constructed in 1967 there were no other bridges built for quite a number of years. In periods of heavy rain there was the possibility of getting stuck on the wrong side of one of the fords, and some cars were washed away. The road was mostly unsealed right up to the 1990's, and of course there has been some dramatic coastal erosion at Whatarangi and Te-Kopi which has altered the road greatly. Couple this with the lack of a motorway from Petone to Silverstream and you'd think it would have taken an age to get to Ning Nong. Evidently this is not the case. Howard tells me that it took about the same time as it does now, which he puts down to the increased traffic and those goddamn traffic lights on the Hutt Road.

Howard at Ning Nong.

Dee Dees was named by two characters named Denis Antropis and Dexter Dunlop, hence the name "D.Ds". They had a third friend but he didn't have a D in his name so he missed out! Then there's "Howies", or "Howards" which is self explanatory really. Howard had nothing to do with the spot being named after him, other than surfing it by himself for many years. From what I can gather he actively tried to discourage people from naming it as according to him once a spot gets a name it gets put on the map. I must say I agree with this reasoning.

It is unclear who named Freight-Trains.

Most of the spots had names given to them by various people, before the names we have today finally stuck. For many years they all just came under the heading Ning Nong.

Howard on the right at Ning Nong.

Surfing at Ning Nong during the pre-legrope days, and in particular in the longboard days of the 60's was a fraught affair. If a board was lost after a wipeout it ran the very real risk of getting smashed up on the rocks. Your only hope was that someone on the beach would run down and rescue your board before it got smashed. Generally in those days people would look out for surfboards and were usually quick to attempt a rescue if they could. The guy who's board you rescued one day might be rescuing your's the next day! Later on of course leg-ropes were invented. This is an interesting story in the local context that few people know about and it deserves it's own article; which will be forthcoming.

Nothing says 1970's quite like this image. Check out the leg-ropes.

There was a relatively small band of surfers surfing "the coast" right up to the early 80's. It was particularly quiet during the mid to late 70's when surfing in Wellington had all but disappeared from the mainstream consciousness. A great time to be alive from what I can gather. There were still crowded days to be sure, but nothing like what we have today.

The local surfers were a tight-knit bunch. Everyone knew everyone. As no one lived close to Ning Nong and everyone drove there, there was no localism as such. In the water the competition for the waves was relatively fierce. According to Howard you had to paddle at 900 miles an hour just to maintain your position. Generally people waited their turn though and behaved themselves. Out of the water there were all sorts of antics. Egg fights were a common happening. The first car to leave after day's surfing would pelt the others with eggs. The last to leave would likely be ambushed in Featherston. Evidently the Four Square in Featherston did a roaring trade in eggs. It's hard to imagine that this sort of thing would have endeared surfers to the local townspeople though. However, to paraphrase something that Murray Martin once said: It was a lot better in the old days when people hated surfers as they just left us alone!

A fairly hard-core camping arrangement.

Some time in the mid 80's there was another surfing boom and Ning-Nong started to get pretty crowded all year round. Sometimes these days it can even be more crowded at Ning Nong than the Corner, which is a pretty strange state of affairs when you think about it. One thing that hasn't changed is the wave, which is still the same as it was back in the day. Despite the best efforts of the owner of the newly established paid campsite across the road you're still allowed to camp out in front of the break. This is something worth fighting for as fairly rapidly, one by one, many of the traditional surf-spot camping areas around the country are becoming off limits.

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1 Comment

Mike Henry
Mike Henry
Jan 19

Nice article, but I beg to differ about the demise of 'Kelp Beds'. Back in the 70s there used to be a surfable wave at Kelp Beds when there was a huge south swell and a following wind and everywhere else was out of control. It was protected from the wind by the mud cliffs behind the road which ran along the point from Te Kopi to Whatarangi and smoothed out by the kelp. But every so often a part of the mud cliffs would collapse onto the road and the council would just bulldoze the claggy stuff off the road and into the sea. Kelp needs rock to anchor itself to and once the rock was covered that was…

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