Editor’s Note: A few weeks ago, we visited New Zealand for The Ultimate Waterman competition and got to know some of the world’s most accomplished ocean enthusiasts better while traveling around the nation’s coasts. We’ve been releasing a video profile each week for the last three weeks, starting with freediver Ant Williams, followed by Laird Hamilton. Today, we conclude the series by spending time with Daniel Kereopa, a true ambassador of New Zealand surf culture. We hope you enjoy. This feature has been made possible through the generous support of The Ultimate Waterman, Tourism NZ, and Auckland Tourism, Events, and Economic Development.
Daniel Kereopa sees himself as an underdog. And depending on your vantage, he’s right.
Kereopa, better known as DK – and widely regarded as the mayor of Raglan – has deep Maori heritage in New Zealand. There’s actually a street named after his family there. And, as towns go, Raglan is precisely where a man who enjoys the ocean the way DK does wants a street. Ropes of swell mow across Raglan’s groomed point breaks every single day. Raglan is the cliche lineup shot. And it doesn’t get old. Kereopa says he can count on one hand the days that it’s been flat there during his lifetime. It doesn’t happen.
Which is why some might have a hard time seeing him as an underdog when it comes to ocean acumen.
But despite Raglan’s bountiful riches in the way of surf, it’s an inexplicably undervalued locale in the way of surf industry support. To be sure, surf culture thrives – arguably in a much more beautiful way – but not with the same financial backing that it does in places like Southern California, Sydney, or the Gold Coast. As such, DK, who grew up in a double garage with no running water or power in a family of sheep shearers, made his first leash from bailing twine and a rubber bike tube. He and his dad melted candle wax for grip. He wore wool shearer shirts to keep warm in the ocean.
Needless to say, Daniel Kereopa worked hard to become the de facto face of New Zealand surfing. In 2015, Kereopa defeated Kai Lenny and a host of the world’s most accomplished ocean athletes to be crowned the first ever Ultimate Waterman. The athletes competed in a grueling marathon of events ranging from distance standup paddling to long boarding to shortboarding. It was a test of will in New Zealand’s myriad ocean conditions. Something he was well equipped to tackle.
This year Kereopa placed third overall. He seemed in good spirits afterwards, eating an ice cream cone in the Raglan town center, but his voice had a hint of disappointment in it. In the event’s final competition, Kereopa collapsed to his knees after completing the 16th kilometer of the SUP endurance race. His face was writhing with pain, his legs pulsing with cramps. He said the pain overcame him just a few kilometers into the race, but there was no way he could quit. He trudged on, one paddle at a time. Something about learning to surf using candle wax and a rubber bike tube. Kereopa appreciates the will of the underdog. He is the underdog.