Life on the Water – The Gisborne Herald
Mike Baker feels like he is living his dream in his own piece of heaven in Okitu.
He says he and his wife Janice still pinch each other every day, waking up to their view of Wainui Beach after moving to Gisborne three years ago.
Mike is a bodysurfer.
In the water, he’s a must-have, with a hand board strapped to his arm and a GoPro camera strapped to his helmet to capture his view, often from the barrel.
As a sponsored team rider for Slyde Handboards from San Diego and Seventhwave wetsuits from Christchurch, he uses the images for promotional material and social media, but he is careful not to name any supervised surf spots.
Mike has been a waterman for most of his life.
He started snowboarding at the age of 11 after his family emigrated from the UK to Perth in 1968, and continued after his family returned to England four years later.
Mike quickly rose through the ranks of the Devon and Cornish boardriding scene to ride on the UK surf team from 1980 to 1983. He was well and truly engrossed in the surf boardriding scene at the time, even illustrating a book. titled “Start Surfing” in 1980.
He immigrated to New Zealand in 1987 and continued to surf, but by 2010 he discovered that the concept of the board was starting to feel “a bit outdated” to him.
Around the same time, he was starting to question his attachment to surfing. He remembered a friend in England who in the 1980s made custom foam and glass handboards.
He thought he was going to give it a try and ordered a basic online. He’s been hooked ever since.
âI couldn’t believe the feeling of speed. That was it, and I never looked back.
Today, at 66, his passion for interacting with the power of the ocean other than through surfing has only intensified.
As a practitioner and teacher of T’ai Chi Chuan (the practice of T’ai Chi as a martial art), personal trainer and teacher of contact improvisation dance, Mike has dedicated his life to the art of the body that connects and interacts with its environment.
With 46 years of experience at T’ai Chi Chuan and a Masters in Art and Design majoring in Dance and Video, he said his interest had always been in “the beauty that lies in fluid movement” and he found that the handboard is a means of expressing this.
The combination of speed, excitement and control that comes from âmelting intimately with a waveâ is something he said is unlike anything he has experienced before.
âSwimming around the roster. . .I love the combination of freedom and vulnerability.
Having to go out in the back, behind crashing waves, without a surfboard can be a daunting prospect, he said.
Although the lack of buoyancy helps it pass under running water, it is more sensitive to underwater currents and large wave holdbacks.
The surf experience is quite different between surfing and handboarding, he said. The biggest difference is the reduction in the speed of your body being in the wave.
âYou are there and you often wait for that lip (of the wave) to land on you.
âThe safest place is in the cannon, but it’s also pretty ruthless. Sometimes you get beaten within an inch of your life. “
The handboard has allowed Mike to travel the world.
In 2015, he was invited by the Del Mar Bodysurfing Club in San Diego, to participate with them in the 39th Bodysurfing World Championships in California.
After securing funding through friends, GiveALittle and Facebook; Mike was on his way and finished second in a warm-up competition before the world championships.
The connections he made on that trip led him to stay on Hawaii’s north coast and climb up to Pipeline on the return trip from his trip, which he said made his trip.
“I was surfing for Great Britain when I was 23 and body surfing for New Zealand when I was 60. It was a privilege to be able to represent both countries with such a gap between the two.”
Mike and Janice moved to Gisborne three years ago after taking surf trips to the area for almost 30 years.
He had lived in Nelson for 35 years, but said coping with the foreseeable lack of swell had been a major challenge.
Then their annual surf trip three years ago, where he scored “the best four-day swell run in Wainui”, served as a catalyst for him and Janice to take the step.
With so many world-class breaks so close, Gisborne was a gift that could no longer be ignored.
Mike has many favorite breaks here, but he can’t wait to explore all the area has to offer.
âI do body surfing in front of our house, but I also do 40-minute long swims towards other breaks in the area. . . Wherever there is a hollow wave breaking, there is a destination.
In addition to body surfing and T’ai Chi Chuan, Mike said he also enjoys fishing with light fishing gear where he can stay on the move and explore new places in the area.
He and Janice have quietly started a new chapter in their life in Gisborne for them and have no plans to leave anytime soon.
âI have traveled and lived in different parts of the world. Home is often where you hang your hat, but I think my hat has finally rested.
âThe people here, in and out of the water, have been welcoming. Gisborne is a really nice town. All my life I have wanted to live on a beautiful beach with my toes in the sand.
Essential: Handboard on a leash on his arm, GoPro attached to his helmet, wetsuit and fins, Mike Baker is ready to take the waves. Photo provided
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