The gurfers of Lyall Bay: a swell photo essay

Written and photographed
by Olivia Lamb

This is original content
for Capital online.

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Olivia Lamb is a freelance photographer. When she
isn’t at home consuming
the latest horror film, you’ll
find her out exploring
bush walks and trails
around Wellington’s coast
line, or catching waves
down at Lyall Bay.
Check out her work on
Instagram @olivia.s.lamb.

Photographer and keen surfer Olivia Lamb set out to quietly capture Lyall Bay and its surfers, but quickly found herself swept up in Wellington’s vibrant gurfers (girl surfers) community. She gets to know the women making waves.

Lyall Bay stretches 1.6 kilometres along the coastline, but the most popular spot to surf is known as the Corner. When the waves are right, the beach fills with people wetsuit clad and raring to dive in.

Here I met Nikita, Ella, and Maria who kindly took time out of the water to chat to me about their hobby. While I was working on this photo essay I enjoyed heading down to the bay for their dawnies and sunset surfs, capturing the energy and excitement they bring to surf culture.


While others may dye their hair or listen to sad songs after a breakup, Nikita Tu-Bryant found herself gravitating towards the ocean. “I never thought I’d get into surfing,” she said, “It was never something I thought I could physically do.” The actor, artist, and front-wāhine of the band KITA, was touring in Gisborne when she deicide she would to return there that summer and teach herself how to surf.

In the beginning, Nikita viewed surfing as a way to be alone and reconnect with herself, but over time she came to enjoy recognising the faces of fellow surfers. “What I love about the community is that there is an understanding of the times when you feel like chatting in the water, and when you feel like being left alone with your thoughts. That’s a nice place to get to.”

When I met Nikita, the first thing I noticed was her energy – her eagerness to get into the water. The temperature that day was an icy eight degrees, and it was appallingly wet and windy, but the weather didn’t dampen Nikita’s spirit. “You know it’s winter when you’re wearing gumboots getting ready for a surf!” Nikita has been surfing now for eight years and hopes never to lose her love for the sport, no matter the conditions.


Ella Baigent-Brown used to be a surf life saver, which helped build her confidence in the water. She has been surfing for four years now, and when it’s a bad day at the bay, she and her and friends back up their boards and seek better waves elsewhere. Her favourite breaks include Freight Trains at Ngawi and the Whangamata Bar on the Coromandel.

The best part about surfing, she says, is “hooting with your friends as you paddle back out after catching a long ride in… maybe they’ve pulled a move they haven’t nailed before, and you get front-row seats! Getting to consciously share the pleasure.”

Ella finds a feeling of wholeness from the sport, fully engaging her body, brain, and spirit. Overcoming challenges – for example surviving a big swell, which requires you to hold your nerve and your breath – is part of the experience. “It’s a privilege to be schooled or rewarded by the relentless power and grace of the way the ocean meets the land.”


Growing up in Brazil, Maria Gabriela Mascaren spent long blissful summers at her friend’s beach house, borrowing their surfboards and developing her skills. She’s been surfing for 12 years, and when she moved to Wellington found adapting to our chilly conditions difficult. Rugging-up, she braves the icy water during the winter months. “Surfing changes your hair, your priorities,” she says. “Surfing changes your lifestyle.”

She moved to New Zealand unsure whether there was surfing community here, until she came across the Facebook page Gurfers in Wellington. Since joining them Maria has competed in annual competitions, and travelled with members on surfing excursions, immersing herself in the culture of the group. She’s discovered “wherever there is swell, there will be a surf community.”


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