‘Other surfers respect me’: 92-year-old surfer still rides waves in New Zealand | New Zealand


Nancy Meherne leads a simple seaside life, gardening and surfing the gentle, gentle waves of Scarborough Beach, a few blocks from her house.

The 92-year-old’s now pumice-like plank was made in New Zealand in the 1970s by a factory that made rubber boots and other rubber and foam products.

Unlike its owner, it’s a bit less hard-wearing (its blue and red pattern is long gone) – but it’s easy to carry and is perfect for those in their 90s.

Often dressed in a simple swimsuit, despite summer water temperatures ranging from around 14C to 18C, the grandmother of seven wades to the waist, waits for the perfect wave and jumps on it.

At 92, Nancy Meherne is probably New Zealand’s oldest surfer. Photography: Julie Luster
Meherne with surfboard
Usually, Meherne stays in the water for around 30 minutes when surfing. The day this photo was taken, the water temperature was 14 ° C. Photography: Julie Luster

“Other [surfers] respect me, ”Meherne said, suspecting that she was catching their attention“ because I’m old ”.

“They are waiting upstairs [of the esplanade], saying, ‘Yeah, you did well today’. I like to see a nice big come in and a gap. You cannot ride one small wave after another. You wait until you see a big wave and then you walk in on it. I love to speed up. You go so fast, it’s really good.

Born in Wellington in 1929 at the start of the Great Depression, Meherne says her life has been busy, with “never a dull moment.”

In her early twenties, after training and working as a teacher, she left New Zealand by boat to study and work in England and Europe, spending her weekends and holidays exploring the area, hitchhiking , sleeping on train platforms and staying in youth hostels.

Meherne on surfboard
Meherne has never learned to stand, but she loves to catch the waves on her stomach. Photography: Julie Luster

She remembers lying in a cemetery in a small French village with a friend, because there was nowhere to go, sneaking around at dawn because “we didn’t know if we would be very popular doing that ”.

Her travels have also taken her to India, Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon and Pakistan, where she taught at a school for three months.

After returning to New Zealand, Meherne raised three children with her husband, Doug, while teaching at primary schools and tutoring at a music school.

His teaching philosophy was similar to his philosophy of life: “You have to have fun. “

Meherne spent her early years living inland at the edge of a national park in the center of the North Island before moving to Whanganui on the west coast.

Meherne gardening
Surfing and gardening are the recipe for Meherne’s longevity. Photography: Julie Luster

She remembers seeing the ocean for the first time and being shocked by its ladder.

“I just thought the water was coming in small amounts.”

An avid swimmer and surf savior in her youth, Meherne says she didn’t start surfing until her late 30s or early 40s when she lived in Sumner and started borrowing the board. of his son.

“I never tried to get up, but I loved it. I would go when I could.

Simon “Honeybee” Brown, 63, is a founding member of the Sumner Longboarders club and considers Meherne to be a surfer, although she doesn’t get up, “because she’s not just going swimming there; she’s going down. to go for walks ”.

Brown has seen Meherne in the water for 40 years and says she is an inspiration to many.

Meherne goes on a wave in the middle of winter, in a summer wetsuit.
Meherne goes on a wave in the middle of winter, in a summer wetsuit. Photography: Julie Luster

“She still has the same board which is pretty cool. She used it so much that all the colors disappeared.

An avid vegetarian, Meherne attributes her good health to a sugar-free diet established by her parents, which was in part due to her father’s serious health problems after being injured in WWI.

She no longer drives, but cycles around Sumner and remains flexible by taking exercise classes and dancing to classical music on her FM radio.

Meherne will be 93 in August and says she will continue to surf as long as she is able to “take a little jump” to hit the waves.

Brown says he’s not sure he’ll still be surfing after so many laps around the sun.

“She definitely kept the bar pretty high there. She’s aged but she hasn’t aged, you know what I mean?


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