Daniel Kereopa

Daniel Kereopa “I could surf before I could swim”

Words: Robert Tighe   
Photography: David K Shields

The Raglan waterman represents New Zealand this month in a unique test of watersport skills. And he’s determined to upstage some of the biggest surf names in the world 

For Daniel Kereopa, this year’s edition of The Ultimate Waterman represents a second chance to prove he’s one of the best all-round surfers in the world. In 1993, when he was 14 years old, Kereopa finished runner-up at the World Junior Championships in Bali, but he struggled to repeat that success in the senior ranks.

He competed on the pro circuits in Australia, but after a number of failed attempts to qualify for the World Championship Tour, and fed up with the financial challenges of life as a pro surfer, Kereopa returned to New Zealand in his mid-20s, where he carved out a successful career as a TV presenter and surf instructor.

Now, a decade later, the 37-year-old has an opportunity to compete against the world’s best in The Ultimate Waterman, a unique event that tests athletes in six disciplines: longboard, shortboard, stand-up paddleboard (SUP) and tow-in surfing, waka ama and SUP endurance. Kai Lenny of Hawaii, Mark Visser of Australia and American Danny Ching will appear in the competition, which takes place in New Zealand waters over seven days from March 14. 

THE RED BULLETIN : Can you win The Ultimate Waterman considering some of the superstars you’re up against?

DANIEL KEREOPA: I’ve got a chance. I’m confident in my abilities on the water and I know I can handle myself in competition. I’ve got this fire inside me that I haven’t had for a long time, and I’m excited about testing myself against the best surfers in the world in my own backyard.

When did you first hear about The Ultimate Waterman event? 

Greg Townsend of Surfing New Zealand shared his idea with me about three years ago. I didn’t know if he could make it happen, but I kept surfing as many different disciplines as possible in preparation for this event. The opportunity to compete across multiple disciplines in one event is very exciting.

Do you have a favourite discipline? 

Surfing’s not about what you ride; it’s all about how you behave out on the water. If you smile and talk to people, you can change the mood of the whole line-up. You shouldn’t worry about whether you’re competing on a stand-up paddleboard, a longboard or a shortboard. Whatever you’re riding, make sure you have fun.

How did you get into surfing?

My dad was a farmer and we moved to the surf town of Raglan when I was eight. None of my family had been on a surfboard before. Dad’s life revolved around work, and the idea of enjoying yourself on the water was alien to him. He didn’t encourage us to go surfing.

“I’m excited about testing myself against the best surfers in my own backyard”

Did your father’s attitude change?

It had to, because me and my brothers surfed all the time. We had a second-hand surfboard that we always shared between three of us. We didn’t even have wetsuits. We wore rugby shorts and one of Dad’s shearer’s shirts. I never had a lesson. I spent all my time at the beach, waiting for my turn on the board. I was the youngest, so I was always last, but I watched and learned. I could surf before I could swim, so that made me determined not to fall off. 

The Facts 

February 28, 1978, Huntly, New Zealand

Home Town
Manu Bay, Raglan

Home advantage​
“Knowing about the New Zealand waves and weather conditions is massive,” says Kereopa. “Our waves aren’t as steep or as powerful as places like Hawaii, so you need the right equipment. Then there’s the weather in New Zealand, which is so unpredictable and can change so fast.”

What are the highs and lows you’ve experienced on the water?

Winning national and international titles and finishing second at the World Juniors in Bali in 1993 were big highlights. A few years after the World Juniors, I was back in Bali and I found a dead body in the water. There had been some big swells and we were warned that some locals had drowned. I saw something in the water, paddled over and it was a little boy. I had nightmares about it for a long time.

What are you most looking forward to about The Ultimate Waterman? 

Growing up, I’d watch videos and read about the greatest surfers in the world and dream about surfing with guys like Sunny Garcia and Mark Occhilupo. I did get to surf with some of my heroes and now guys like Kai Lenny, Danny Ching and Mark Visser are coming to New Zealand to surf with me. The great thing is they don’t know who 
I am, and I’m excited to change that by showing them what I can do.

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