You’d think anyone holding a conference at Solscape, with its panoramic views over the ocean and Raglan’s surf coastline, would run the risk of distracting at least the odd participant from the issues at hand.

But for those who attended a three-day hui at the eco-retreat last week the venue could scarcely have been more apt.

The ‘Surfing Social Hui’, hosted by Waikato University, brought together academics from as far away as the UK, North America, Holland, Spain and South Africa to present papers on and discuss various aspects of surfing culture.

But while the Wednesday and Thursday  programmes focused on academia with formal 30-minute presentations on topics like ‘Beyond surfing postmodernity’, Solscape was awash with visitors on the Friday as leading researchers were joined by representatives of the Raglan surfing community – along with local environmental and marine research representatives  – in a ‘Surf for Social Good’ community day.

Raglan resident and Waikato University associate professor Dr Belinda Wheaton, main organiser of the hui, said the third day’s focus was on surfing media and ways in which the sport could develop a more “inclusive” community.

Presenters during the community day included Waikato University’s Rebecca Olive, who has researched women’s experiences in Australian surfing culture, and visiting research fellow Easkey Britton, best known as a big-wave surfer from Ireland who is channelling her passion for surfing into social change.

Easkey spearheaded late last year in Bali the first international ‘Surf for Social Good’ summit which, Belinda says, brought together many like-minded thinkers of the surfing world.

Belinda – long involved in sport and leisure studies – had contributed an “academic perspective” to that conference, she explains, and then with two of her colleagues set about doing something similar in Raglan.

“But we wanted to involve the local people who are the experts,” she insists.

To this end last Friday’s community day included local presenters such as surfers Phil McCabe and Bernadette Gavin – who also run Solscape – Malibu Hamilton, a founding member of the national Surfbreak Protection Society, and Kelly Murphy nee Clarkson who has surfed competitively internationally.

Also presenting were oceanographer Ed Atkin of the Raglan-based eCoast Marine consultancy, independent researcher Georgina Roy and retired academic Angeline Greensill, who is environmental spokesperson for the Tainui hapū.

The Chronicle sat in on some lively workshop debate around the sexualisation of surfing, “collaborative” surfing as opposed to competitive, and the global movement for social good to make the world a better place through surfing.

Kelly Murphy spoke of her disenchantment with the sport’s over-commercialisation, while Malibu shared his sense of ancestral ties to both sea and land.

As a Surfing NZ journalist, Ben Kennings spoke of the national organisation’s responsibility to foster gender equality when representing young stars like Ella Williams and Paige Hareb who, he said, “put the sport on the map”.

For Belinda – who back in the late ‘80s competed internationally in England’s ski team and also represented her native Britain in windsurfing – organising the University of Waikato conference was hard but rewarding work.

“It was very much a starting point … a conversation,” she says.

She’s lived in Raglan a little more than a year with her partner and two children, after transferring from Brighton to Waikato universities.

Raglan is “fantastic”, Belinda enthuses, and Solscape an ideal venue for the event which served to connect those in the industry, explore ideas and collaborate for the future.

Edith Symes