Due to the holistic nature of this project, a wide range of techniques will be employed.  This includes engaging with the public and drawing on their collective knowledge, making measurements using video camera installations, and getting out in the water to undertake various surveys.



  • Remote camera stations capturing images of a surf break from an oblique angle 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Images are manipulated or rectified to produce a “birds-eye” view of a surf break. Automated systems process the data to extract important physical and social parameters such as wave breaking patterns, the numbers of surfers and the formation of rip currents.
  • Hydrographic surveys record the elevation and shape of the seabed. Repeat surveys are compared to show how the seabed shape is changing overtime.
  • Geomorphological assessment will provide information on how the configuration of the shoreline, headlands, tidal channels, sand banks and other geomorphological features create surfable waves and how the surf break is maintained over time.
  • Public consultation through stakeholder meetings held at study sites will provide valuable opportunities to learn and document local knowledge and determine perceived and real threats to surf breaks, water safety aspects and the social and cultural importance of each study site. Moreover, separate consultation with local iwi will help ensure the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi (Te Tiriti o Waitangi), and kaitiakitanga are upheld.


surf-break-research-wave-geometry-nzNUMERICAL MODELLING

Simulations of waves using computers allow researchers to understand how a particular surf break reacts to different incident wave conditions. Combined with the data collection, numerical models are used to predict wave breaking characteristics, such as where, how often, how fast and what shape the wave is when it breaks.

This kind of data contributes to determining baseline conditions – the status quo – against which future effects and change can be monitored.


To date there is little to no existing scientific knowledge of the vast majority of New Zealand’s surf breaks, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to enforce Policy 16 of the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement (NZCPS). New knowledge generated by this research will be used to develop management guidelines which will be a world first. It is envisaged that the guidelines will be incorporated into the NZCPS during its next amendment through the submission and hearing process, and subsequently, if not before, be adopted by district and regional councils to support the sustainable management of coastal resources.

The guidelines will provide a clear understanding of the level of study required and the methods to be used for study and monitoring when considering activities in the marine environment that have the potential for adverse effects on a surf break.


15810007This research has direct benefit to coastal resource managers and users, be they councils (regional, district and city), local Iwi and other Māori organisations, consultancies (both private and Crown research institutes), marina and port operators, water safety organisations, prospectors, developers and the public.

The improved knowledge base and guidelines will allow the stated intent of the NZCPS to be realised. Of additional benefit, will be the understanding of natural and anthropogenic changes on surf zone morphology and hydrodynamics, which drives the complex rip-current patterns which are used by experienced surfers but endanger inexperienced swimmers and beach goers. Surf Lifesaving New Zealand’s (SLSNZ) has expressed a strong interest in better understanding the nature and cause of ‘flash rips’ and incorporating this new knowledge into educational material and their advice to councils on water safety management.

surf-break-research-workplace-nzThe data collected and the findings of the research will also be made freely available to the public including other research institutes through an online portal, allowing research investigations and studies beyond the scope of the research proposed here.

A set of articles to be published in scientific journals will provide technical details and findings of the research of value to the wider national and international scientific community helping to keep New Zealand at the forefront of surf science, water safety and coastal resource management.