A 3-Month Surf Journey Around New Zealand by Motorbike

Byron Bay's Torren Martyn set off to chase waves, covering 13,000 km on a motorbike in the process.

This story originally appeared on SURFER and has been republished with permission. Words by Ashtyn Douglas. Photos by Ishka Folkwell. For more stories, visit SURFER.

Torren Martyn's mode of surf transport for the past few months.
Torren Martyn's mode of surf transport for the past few months.

A couple years ago, Byron Bay native Torren Martyn and his sidekick, filmer Ishka Folkwell, packed up an ’87 model Range Rover Defender with surfboards and camping gear and set off on a 3-month surf trip around Australia. Since nearly the moment they returned, the duo started itching for another road trip. So they came up with the idea to motorbike across New Zealand.

Earlier this March, they put their two-wheel plan into action. They bought a couple bikes, packed as little gear as possible and went looking for waves all along the North and South Islands. Just a couple weeks after their return back to Byron Bay, we called up Martyn for a synopsis of how the trip went.

What made you want to go search for waves on a motorbike?

Ishka and I had both been to New Zealand a couple times and neither had seen too much of it. We just thought doing something on motorbikes would be so wild. Neither one of us had done anything like it before. It was Ishka's first time riding a bike. I biked a couple months before just to be a little more familiar. But yeah, we threw ourselves into the deep end you could say.

Martyn during the packing process.

You two have obviously done a trip like this before. But how was this trip different, logistically speaking, being on bikes?

It’s such a different world traveling by bike. There’s so much more you need to consider – essentially you’ve got to pack as light as possible. Even timing when and where you will travel, everything is dictated by the weather. New Zealand gets so battered and beaten by rain, so the whole trip we never really had a big plan of where we wanted to go – it was all determined by what the weather was doing that day.

For packing, I took two boards, a tent, a sleeping bag, a mat, two changes of clothes, a stovetop cooker, wet weather gear, thermals, a first aid kit and a couple little appliances. It ends up bulking up to be quite a bit. Our whole life was on the bike.

Was it difficult riding with all that stuff attached to the bike?

The bikes weighed about 180 kilos and with all our gear was prob 230 kilos, I’d say. You don’t want it falling on top of you, but there were a couple times where they tipped over and it took both of us with all our strength to lift them up.

New Zealand gets pretty cold. How was it only having two pairs of clothes and one or two wetsuits?

I’ve never been a huge fan of the cold. We started on the North Island in March. The weather there was beautiful–between 15 and 25 degrees Celsius, nice clear skies. But when you’re on the bike, any bit of wind gets you cold. We thought we had some cold days on the North Island, but the South Island is another level of cold. Once you’re wet and on the bike and dealing with a 100km headwind, it cuts to the bone pretty quick. We had thick thermals and invested in nice pairs of gumboots which were lifesavers.

Martyn, laying down a stylish highline.

Was it hard to get motivated to surf when the weather was a bit uncomfortable?

Yeah, sometimes it took a bit to get going. Especially because I pretty much had a wet wetsuit for like two, three months. But that’s all part of it. I don’t really need to surf every day – if the waves are good there’s more motivation to go out. It was such a different way of traveling then I did before.

It must have been difficult driving in those conditions.

We had a few pretty classic moments. We had one sketchy moment on the bikes on the bottom of the North Island in The Remutaka Range. It was a pretty windy day and we were making our way south to Wellington. We were coming up through a mountain range and there were a couple high-crash-warning signs like "Motorcycles Beware," and "Take Care, High Winds," and all these lights flashing.

We got up into the mountain and it was so f*cking windy to the point where it felt like cyclonic winds. We had no visibility, our helmets were fogging up because of the rain and we couldn’t see a thing. We were going 5 to 10 km an hour with our feet dragging on the ground, going around these winding mountain ridges. Ishka got blown into an oncoming car as we were going around a corner. He couldn’t even lift his foot off the ground to change the gear. We were both wrestling with this bike against the wind. It was wild.

Toes to the nose inside a golden-hued tube.

Did you guys score?

We got some pretty good waves. We weren’t surfing as much as you’d imagine. On surf trip that long, you’d think you’d be getting waves all the time. But New Zealand is such a fickle, wild part of the world where it takes so many elements to come together. For Ishka and I not having spent a lot of time there, it was pretty hard to be in the right place at the right time.

The two coasts are bordered by two totally different oceans. The countryside and mountain ranges are just so wild that it really manipulates the wind and the weather. There are so many different microclimates and stuff going on. Local knowledge there is so essential.

Places that get a lot of unpredictable weather seem difficult for visiting surfers to get a quick handle on.

Yeah, for sure. We were also on the move – it’d be different if we had a month or two in one area and took the time to get one area really dialed in. But we covered 13,000 km in a couple months, so we were moving around quite a lot. And like I said before, our movement was dictated by the weather. We’d see a weather system coming and we obviously didn’t want to get caught in it so we’d make our way north or south to be ahead of the system.

You’d get those big lows that come up from Tasmania and hit the west coast, which always seems to be messy and wild. And then for the east coast you want those cyclone swells coming out of the Pacific ocean. We spent so much time using the weather forecasting apps-probably even more times than the surf forecasting sites.

Do you think you'll do something like this again?

For sure. We did Australia on a 4-wheel drive and this time we were on motorbikes. In the future, we’d like to do Europe by bus, somewhere by boat, another place by foot.

It’s more about adventuring and exploring and seeing the countryside for what it is, rather than just flying in and out for a swell and then being over and done with it – this way of traveling gives the surf trip a little more heart and longevity, I guess.

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