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Lawyers do surf… and an Easter 2018 national competition will present the evidence

03 November 2017 - By Nick Butcher

There’s a night scene on a sandy beach during the classic original Point Break movie where the undercover FBI agent Johnny Utah says he went to law school. He is talking to the surfers otherwise known as the criminal group the Ex-Presidents.

The film’s protagonist, Bodhi says “You’re a lawyer, well at least you’re surfing”. Another of the Ex-Presidents chimes in, “lawyers don’t surf”, and Bodhi quickly replies, “this one does”.

And in New Zealand they can be found, especially in the North Island’s east coast.

One of those is Adam Simperingham, a partner at the Gisborne law firm Woodward Chrisp.

The 47-year-old had never surfed until he moved to sunny Poverty Bay but caught the bug once he got a whiff of the ocean on his doorstep.

Along with litigation, a big chunk of his legal work is in criminal defence, so surfing is an ideal escape from the often hectic courtroom atmosphere.

Adam moved to Gisborne in 1999 after five years of practising law at a large law firm in Auckland.

“I randomly got a job as a Crown Prosecutor in Gisborne. People said it’s the G-trap in that once you go there you can’t leave. That’s how it has been for me. I intended to go there for a couple of years. Someone said it would be career suicide to stay longer but I think I died and went to heaven to be honest,” he says.

So, 18 years later Adam and partner Nicola Pittar have five teenage children. The family live close to Wainui Beach and he still manages to fit surfing into his busy work and family life.

How a city boy became a surfer

“Do you surf, mate?”

Surfing for Adam Simperingham came about because that seemed to be the question most people would ask him when he arrived in Gisborne.

“I borrowed a board for about two years and couldn’t ride it for love nor money. I then had some lessons with a guy who lives on my street and teaches surfing. He was American and also a physical education teacher at high school. His guarantee was that all people will be able to stand up on a board, and he was right,” he says.

As Adam got more involved in the waves, it turned out there was a fraternity of lawyer surfers in the region. “Hell yeah, there are many who surf. You know, if we all lived in Wanaka, we would all probably ski.

“Legal work can have some high pressure moments. Surfing is the complete antithesis. Obviously there’s the physical aspect, but there’s also a spiritual aspect to it in similarity to yoga. Sometimes I’ll be out at northern Makorori beach and it’ll just be me, or perhaps one other surfer. What a way to unwind. At seven in the morning you’ve got the sun coming up over the horizon and hills, it’s spookily cool.”

He says it gives him time to think about how the waves have been created by the wind and have rolled in from the other side of world across the ocean.

“Then there’s the surface of the board and balancing on it, it all comes together beautifully, like a spiritual ballet on the sea,” he says.

Surfing and a balanced life

Often in the legal sector, lawyers are reminded of what it means to be ‘practising well’ and there have been plenty of examples of when it appears some lawyers haven’t followed that philosophy so well.

Mr Simperingham says surfing helps toward a balanced life.

“You’re dealing with stress, disputes, conflict and crime, whereas with surfing you’re dealing with nature and there’s the physical outlet to it. I think having some sort of physical activity that gives you a buzz is essential to practising well as a lawyer.”

He laughs as he says one of the best things about surfing is that he can keep his board in the basement deeds room at the law office.

“Not too many people get to keep their board at work.”

The law office is one kilometre from Roberts Road, which is a mellow surf break. His children have also got into surfing and last summer Adam and one of his teenage sons went on a surfing trip to Mexico. “It was just amazing, we were taken out in a boat to the waves, the biggest I’ve ever ridden,” he says.

The surfing competition just for lawyers

During Easter 2018 (31 March–1 April), the New Zealand Lawyers Easter Surfing Festival will take place in Gisborne. The Gisborne Boardriders Club is backing the event and while it’s a competition, the main objective is to get lawyer surfers of all levels involved and on the water. Kelly Ryan is the Gisborne Regional Surfing Development Manager and part of the festival organising team.

“We know there are lawyers who surf throughout the country and we want to get them involved. It’s as serious as you want to make it. The most important part is taking part in the event,” says the former national longboarding surf champion.

The plan for the Easter competition is to include a trophy for the overall winner and also the group which performs the best.

Surfers will need to tick which area of law they practise in when they enter the competition.

“So we might link criminal and family lawyers against perhaps commercial and property lawyers; independent bar and partners and recently admitted lawyers on their own,” he says.

Makorori or Midway beach are the location choices for the event.

“Those two beaches offer a massive variance in waves. We could find that at one end they’re up to three metres high and yet at the other end the waves are a metre which is more what we are wanting for the events.”

Group of surfers standing with their surf boards

High standards

It’ll be just like the surfing competitions on television.

“No different to the world surf league,” Mr Ryan says.

The World Surf League judging criteria was rolled out at all events in 2010. Judges analyse the following elements when scoring waves:

  • Commitment and degree of difficulty,
  • Innovative and progressive manoeuvres,
  • Combination of major manoeuvres,
  • Variety of manoeuvres,
  • Speed, power and flow.

The Gisborne Boardriders Club has many members and a large proportion of them have been trained to judge surfing competitions, so they’re up for the challenge.

“They’re used to running events. We hold a lot of them,” Mr Ryan says. It will also be divided into age groups and there will be both men’s and women’s divisions. “Everyone will be catered for including longboard and shortboard events.”

There’ll also be a stand-up paddle board event.

Many of the members are also surf lifesavers so there will be no shortage of hands on deck or sand as it will be.

The Gisborne Boardriders Club is affiliated with Surfing New Zealand, and holds both public liability and statutory liability insurance. It’s also covered by ThinkSafe and has a comprehensive and regularly monitored health and safety policy. All contestants will sign an online waiver on entering. For further details go to

Surfing lawyers’ events are not new. In Australia there is an Australasian Surfing Lawyers Association. They hold events and even feature big names such as Nat Young who was a four times world champion and three times Australian champion.

Last updated on the 3rd November 2017