This website has been created as part of a 3-year scientifc research project in New Zealand, funded by the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment. The project entitled, “Remote Sensing, Classifcation and Management Guidelines for Surf Breaks of National and Regional Signifcance” began in October 2015.

The website provides information and resources concerning research on surf breaks in support of their sustainable management. Here you can find out about where and when research is being undertaken, what methods are being employed, and what data is already available.


pihaThe New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement (NZCPS) view here – provides guidance to local government for the day-to-day management of the coastal environment. The scheduled 10-yearly revision of the NZCPS 1994 included a comprehensive review process and input from stakeholder groups. The process attracted considerable input from surfers and surfing organisations, and the resulting submissions provided recommendations for the definition for a “surf break” and provisions for surf break protection.

These recommendations were largely adopted within the final NZCPS 2010 as Policy 16: “Surf Breaks of national signifcance”, which states the aim to:

Protect the surf breaks of national signifcance for surfing listed in Schedule 1, by:

(a) ensuring activities in the coastal environment do not adversely affect the surf breaks; and

(b) avoiding adverse effects of other activities on access to, and use and enjoyment of the surf breaks.

Schedule 1 of the NZCPS defines a surf break as:

A natural feature that is comprised of swell, currents, water levels, seabed morphology, and wind. The hydrodynamic character of the ocean (swell, currents and water levels) combines with the seabed morphology and winds to give rise to a ‘surfable wave’. A surf break includes the ‘swell corridor’ through which the swell travels, and the morphology of the seabed of that wave corridor, through to the point where waves created by the swell dissipate and become non-surfable.

‘Swell corridor’ means the region offshore of the surf breaks where ocean swell travels and transforms to a ‘surfable wave’. ‘Surfable wave’ means a wave that can be caught and ridden by a surfer. Surfable waves have a wave breaking point that peels along the unbroken wave crest so that the surfer is propelled laterally along the wave crest.

In addition to Policy 16, Policies 13 and 15 ensure the NZCPS transcends the 17 Nationally Signifcant surf breaks as they state that recognition must be given to the extent and characteristics of the coastal environment with particular regard to coastal processes and amenity value; and, that a precautionary approach should be taken around resources and processes where there is uncertainty, unknown, or little understood. Local authorities in New Zealand are responsible for implementing NZCPS policies.


Surf breaks are globally ubiquitous coastal resources proven to contribute directly to local and national economies with the capacity to change a coastal environment, economy and demographic; they are unique and valuable components of the coastal environment; and have cultural, spiritual, recreational, and sporting value for millions of people worldwide.

Surf breaks are a valuable resource in New Zealand, providing recreation opportunities which attract thousands of tourists and locals to the coast. Yet, many surf breaks are affected by coastal activities, and managing impacts is a critical part of conserving them as a resource. There are examples of surf breaks, both in the past and to this day, that have been heavily mismanaged or even destroyed. In the majority of cases this is down to a lack of education and understanding.

It is very difficult to gain consensus about the quality of a surfing wave. Some people enjoy small waves, others very large, some like long mellow rides, others something more intense and challenging. Regardless of people’s perception of a surfing wave and its “quality”, changes in wave breaking patterns, or the processes that maintains a surfing wave’s nature cannot be detected without gathering baseline data on the existing environment, before any change or potential change threatens.

Thoroughly understanding the baseline conditions and knowing what the indicators are for negative or positive change is the foundation of adaptive and sustainable management.

At present there is little to no data pertaining to the existing wave quality, breaking patterns, physical drivers, recreational use and the socioeconomic importance of New Zealand surf breaks. This lack of knowledge makes it diffcult for authorities to assess the effects of coastal activities on surf breaks, manage them effectively and uphold the intent of the NZCPS. This research project will address this knowledge gap and provide guidelines to aid the sustainable management of surf breaks. The Public Statement for the research from the MBIE contract can be downloaded here.