Catching the perfect wave

A surfer’s paradise lured the Marr family from the Canary Islands to the Far North.
Catching the perfect wave

Jens Marr was simply looking on Google Earth for his family’s next holiday destination, when he spotted something that would eventually lead them to build a life in New Zealand’s Far North.

That thing is what he calls “the perfect wave”. Jens is a devoted surfer, and often used the satellite-image program to look for the best places to surf. 

“I saw those images from Ahipara and Shipwreck Bay, and how perfectly the wave is turning around and lining up, and the wind is almost always blowing offshore [from the beach out to sea].  So I thought that is the perfect wave,” he says.

At the time, German-born Jens, his wife Sunia and their daughter Larissa were living on Fuerteventura, in the Spanish Canary Islands. They first visited New Zealand in 2008, hiring a campervan and heading straight to Ahipara.

The surf was, as Jens had hoped, perfect. They spent a week there, then began travelling around the North Island – but ended up returning to Shipwreck Bay for the rest of their holiday.

Two years later, they rented a house in Ahipara for two months. After another couple of visits, friends asked them, “Why don’t you live here?” 

Today, the Marrs are doing just that. Jens works for Durapanel Housing North and Durapanel Systems, which create and sell pre-cut wall and ceiling panels. He designs houses and programmes the machine to cut the panels, and manages some projects. 

Sunia works as Durapanel’s business development manager, and as a real-estate agent in Kaitaia. Larissa, 16, is in her second-to-last year of high school.

During a visit in 2013, a friend put Jens in touch with Ian Stewart, who runs the Durapanel companies and wanted to hire someone with Jens’s skills. Jens applied for a work visa, while Sunia and Larissa went back to Fuerteventura to pack up their lives. They had lived there for 13 years.

Jens joined them for a month later that year to end his involvement in a business he co-owned, and help sell the family house. “It was quite an intense time,” he recalls. 

Now they own a house on a large piece of land in Ahipara, at the bottom of 90 Mile Beach.  The famous beach is often used as an alternative to the road when travelling along Cape Reinga. 

“It’s much quicker. The road is curving, and if it’s low tide you just go on the sand and drive straight up north to go surfing on the east coast,” Jens explains.  

Ahipara offers a variety of top surfing spots, and Sunia says the family sometimes surfs together. “But Jens and Larissa go off around the reef to the big waves, and I stay somewhere where there are smaller waves! We go fishing if we have the time, we have a little inflatable boat,” she adds.

Moving here also gave Sunia the chance to breed and ride horses. On Fuerteventura, due to very little rain, there was no grass and they fed their two horses with hay and other feeds, she says.

Conditions are better here, and Sunia and Larissa have nine horses. “We have Clydesdales and drum horses, and two sports horses as Larissa competes in dressage [trained movement] and jumping,” says Sunia.

“We can ride on the beach, that’s another reason we like it here.” That, plus exercising and caring for the horses, takes up a lot of time. 

Going from an isolated island to a small town was not difficult, because the Marrs were already used to fewer shops and people. But it took a while to adjust to certain aspects of the Kiwi personality, says Sunia.

“They are not so direct. They have had problems with us because we are used to saying what we think; we are not rude, but we are open and transparent. I don’t find it easy to say what we think and feel, and sometimes we are not really sure what they think and feel,” she says. 

It is also tricky when their non-Māori and Māori friends disagree about race relations, and want Jens and Sunia to agree with their views. “We don’t want to choose one side,  we have friends on both sides. We were used to living in an international environment with many nationalities, and we always try to respect and understand different cultures,” adds Sunia.

They have made friends through the surfing and horse-riding communities, but it has taken time, she adds. “People are always friendly, but it’s often nothing more than a ‘hello’ or ‘how are you’. Most local kids and families have grown up together, and they are not as open to other people from outside as we were hoping.”

But on the whole, the Marrs are very happy here. Jens enjoys the constant flow of international surfers coming and going from Ahipara, and going for BBQs at local friends’ homes.

“Actually the main problem is working, because you still need to work to earn money and that makes you short of time for surfing!” he laughs.

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