Māori researcher seeks to understand 'surf rage'

A Māori Massey University researcher is looking to find out why some surfers erupt into what’s called ‘surf rage’ and what can be done about it.

Surf rage and an associated phenomenon known as localism arise when surfers, protective of their local surf, end up competing for waves with newcomers and the conflict can boil over into acts of intimidation and even assault.

Massey University Kaupapa Māori Psychology Lecturer, Jhan Gavala (Ngāti Kawau/Ngāti Ruamahue/Ngāi Tūpango), is an avid surfer and having experienced the behaviour, he wants to find out what motivates surf rage. 

“I’m keen to find out what psychological and cultural factors are associated with surf rage. By looking at how and why localism appears in surfing communities, I might be able to get a greater understanding of surf rage and how to overcome such behaviour,” says Mr Gavala. 

Mr Gavala says some may think his research is just an excuse to go surfing but he says there is a serious side “Along with understanding this complex human behaviour, I’m really interested in using surfing as an intervention to deal with all kinds of psychological challenges and stresses”.

Mr Gavala’s PhD study will look at ‘localism’ at major surf breaks around the country. He’s keen to talk to all types of surfers to hear about their experiences and talk to locals about what makes them protective of their patch. “At those different surf breaks I’ll be in the surf among the surfers, I’ll be on the beach making observations of any incidents that I think would constitute surf rage or intimidation or general unfriendliness and I’ll see how people react in the car parks”.                                                       

As a Māori surfer, his research will also look at the origins of Māori surfing and the possibility of rekindling the craft of Māori surfboard building as a therapy programme.