Matt Craig, Summer Sessions – A Life Aquatic

Matt and Natasha Craig hadn’t even heard of Matakana when they set out to find a Kiwi hometown in 2013.  

The couple had spent the previous five years running a surf school on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, raising their two young boys with sand in their hair and waves at their feet. It had been an idyllic and adventurous life for a young family, but as the boys turned 6 and 8, the couple were starting to think seriously about the future. ‘You just can’t beat New Zealand for raising kids’, says Matt. 

They began their search on Auckland’s west coast where Matt grew up, learning to surf and becoming a second-generation lifeguard at Karekare Surf Life Saving Club. American-born Tash wasn’t convinced by the rugged landscapes, so Matt’s sister suggested they check out Matakana. 

‘I didn’t even recognise the name,’ says Matt. ‘It was just a place I used to fill up my dusty old Land Rover on the way back from surfing at Tawharanui.’

After one peek at Omaha beach and a chance conversation with a local mother in the Black Dog Café (‘She basically said “move here now!”’ laughs Matt), Tash was sold. The couple went back to Costa Rica to make plans for a small paddle boarding shop in the heart of Matakana village. 

‘Our New Zealand distributor still laughs about the day some guy phoned from Costa Rica, wanting paddle boards delivered to Matakana and promising the money would be sent by overnight bank transfer. He was thinking “Yeah right”…’ 

That business is now Summer Sessions, a dedicated surf and skate shop in the heart of Matakana village. Over the summer, Matt offers surf lessons at Omaha to local kids and visitors alike, a vital way of staying connected to the community and the ocean he loves. 

‘I want kids to have a phenomenal experience of surfing with us. Some of my best experiences are the teenagers who drop off a wave and rush over to give me a hug, because they were secretly so scared about surfing.’

So how has life on the Matakana Coast measured up for the beach-loving Craigs? ‘The accessibility of water here is just incredible. When you’ve travelled around the world, you realise just how beautiful Omaha beach is, with all that white quartz sand. It’s also a great family beach, with good lifeguards, so everyone can get out on a board. 

‘If you want to get away from it all, Tawharanui is ridiculous – it’s just so gorgeous. Take the Ecology Trail and link up with the track down through the gully to the coast, the bird song in the afternoons is amazing. The snorkelling off that pebble beach is fantastic too – you should see the size of the stingrays and the snapper.’ 

Snorkelling lies top of the list of Craig family activities. ‘The kids have their dive certificates and we are working on free diving too, so we spend a lot of time out at Goat Island Marine Reserve.  If you’re adventuresome with your mask and snorkel – or even if you’re a terrified newbie – it’s next level. 

‘For a gnarly snorkelling adventure with kids, pack a picnic lunch and walk all the way to the end of the Ti Point Coastal Trail. If there’s no swell, you can snorkel straight off the boulders. There’s a kelp bed, stingrays and fish all around – it’s phenomenal.

It’s not all about the kids – Matt says the Matakana Coast delivers after hours too. ‘If you’re having an evening out with your honey and you want an amazing experience, head for the Matakana Cinemas. You can grab a glass of wine, have a great meal and then watch a movie in this beautiful cinema with all these silk flowers on the ceiling. It’s incredible.’ 

Matt and Tash’s current aquatic obsession is foil boarding. ‘It’s an old person’s sport – fun and challenging, but if you muck up, it’s not far to fall. This area is great for learning – at Omaha you can just go back and forth along the shore until you have to do the walk of shame and carry your gear back up the beach. You can do the same on the estuary side too.’ 

Matt believes there’s something special that happens in the water. ‘If I’m in a bad mood and I go surfing. I come out lighter, I understand what an idiot I’ve been and I’m ready to apologise – even for other people’s mistakes! You don’t need anything special to have that experience, just get in and swim.’ 

For the Craig family, the Matakana Coast turned out to be the perfect place to live their life aquatic.  More on Matt and the Summer Sessions journey.