The artwork for the Single Fin Mingle, all created by the talented Bradley King, is hands down some of the coolest art I have ever seen for a surf competition.

I’ve just returned from my week in New Zealand, and boy oh boy was it a week to remember! I had a bit of a rocky start, with some trouble getting my boards onto the airplane, but it sorted itself out and I made it to Christchurch with a couple days to sightsee and practice before the Single Fin Mingle surf contest began. As soon as I arrived in the tiny beach village of Sumner, I could feel the charm oozing from the cozy cafes and historical houses. The beauty of New Zealand is like nothing I have ever seen before, with native plants that somewhat resemble those of California, nestled in with giant pine trees and rolling green hills.

Eurico Romaguera of Portugal and Sam Crookshanks of Australia sharing a moment on the totally empty beach of Hickory Bay.

My friends who are involved in running the event were kind enough to offer up their home to myself and several other participants, which is conveniently located just across the road from the contest site! Their house is probably close to 100 years old, and gave me some serious Isla Vista/Santa Barbara vibes - surfboards littering the yard, skate ramp out the back, band equipment set up in the garage, and a constant flow of friends stopping by. The first afternoon I was there, I went for a quick chilly surf and was relaxing on some couches outside (classic). I met two of the local girls that would also be competing in the event and we made some plans to go on a surf adventure the next day. The following morning we set off for Hickory Bay, located about two hours away from Sumner. The drive through the hills was so green and picturesque, I could hardly process the beauty unfolding before my eyes. When we got to Hickory, we had a 20 minute trek through a farm to get to the beach, which involved dodging cow patties and crossing a babbling brook. There were six of us - myself, Ana and Nina (the two girls from Sumner), my friends Montana and Sam from Australia, and Eurico from Portugal - and we had the entire beach to ourselves. Although the surf wasn’t mindblowing, the stunning backdrop made it one of the most memorable sessions of my life.

Yeah, wasn’t joking about the suit. On Saturday night, Sabine Baumgartner, German-turned-Kiwi and I meant business.

When we got back to town, we had a pre-mingle dinner, as other surfers startled to trickle into town from their respective corners of the earth. The next day, the surf and weather cooperated in Sumner, so we just surfed and got ready for the contest. The whole Mingle has a formal attire dress code, which essentially means everyone was meant to suit up. A couple of the girls and I hit the local thrift stores (which are MUCH better than what Australia has to offer, thankfully), and set out to maybe find some funky blazers or ties... but what I ended up with was more than I could ever imagine - a mustard yellow two-piece leisure suit, complete with flared out bell bottom pants. As a big fan of dressing to themes, I was over the moon with my discovery. On Friday evening, the 2018 Single Fin Mingle officially kicked off, with a traditional Maori welcoming ceremony and a surf movie night at Sumner’s very own Hollywood Cinema. The ceremony was so heartfelt and moving, and I was overjoyed to learn more about New Zealand’s very celebrated indigenous culture.

Pre-heat high fives with Ambrose Mcneill, the man behind the Mingle - working tirelessly throughout the weekend to make sure everyone was having an amazing time. Photo by Cam Hay

On Saturday morning, the contest conditions were crisp and clear, and the forecasted rain never showed up, to the relief of all the Minglers. I made it through my day one heats, and was into the quarters on Sunday, but that didn’t stop me from hitting the dance floor on Saturday night. I busted out the yellow suit, and went to an amazing art show featuring work by Byron Bay’s own Paul Mcneil, prior to attending what just may be the best party Sumner has ever seen. At the local community center, we witnessed some amazing music by local band The Butlers, and The Shambles, who flew down from Auckland for the event. Both bands knocked everyone’s socks off, and we danced and danced until we couldn’t dance anymore.

From left to right: Clare Sullivan, myself, Lucy Small, and Mischa Davis. Photo by Dave Thew.

On Sunday, there were definitely a couple dusty heads as we kicked off finals day of the contest, but everyone still showed up ready to bring their best surfing to the table. The conditions were a bit messy and soft, which actually reminded me a lot of the good old days of competing at places like Tourmaline and La Jolla Shores, so I didn’t mind at all. I won my quarter final and scraped through the semi’s, making my first final in a surf competition in quite some time! The final consisted of myself, two-time mingle winner Mischa Davis of New Zealand, and two fellow residents of Byron Bay, Lucy Small and Clare Sullivan. All of us had a fighting chance at taking it out, and more importantly, we had a totally awesome time cheering each other on throughout the heat. I ended up in third place in a very close finish, and am really just ecstatic with my result! Really, one of the best aspects of the the Single Fin Mingle is that it’s really not about who surfs the best or wins the contest, but actually just emphasizes making friends and having a plain old good time.

This road, which connects Sumner to the neighboring town of Lyttleton, has been closed since the earthquake, but this rainbow over the bay, with snow-capped mountains in the background, appears to be somewhat of a symbol of hope and rebirth.

While the whole week was all about fun fun fun, there is still a bit of a dark shadow hanging over Christchurch, even though seven years have passed since the magnitude 6.2 earthquake devastated the region. For the most part, the city and suburbs have been rebuilt, but there is still a large quantity of abandoned houses and businesses that are left boarded up and uninhabited, as well as roads and structures that have yet to be fixed. However, the area’s residents are nothing but positive and optimistic, and their hopeful spirits overpower the grim memory of the quake, choosing to focus on all of the good that the world has to offer. As far as the Single Fin Mingle goes, this definitely is the most fun I have ever had a surf festival, which is due to the warm and welcoming community of Sumner and the inclusive, friendly participants in the contest. There were no egos, no attitudes, and no hard feelings - just smiles all around. I think this may actually be the first contest in which I did not hear a single complaint regarding who made what heats or disagreeing with judges! I am so grateful for the opportunity to participate, and no matter where in the world I’m living in the years to come, I will definitely be returning to New Zealand for the annual Single Fin Mingle.