Elderly Taranaki man electrifies surfboard so he can keep chasing waves

Allen Pidwell with his motorized surfboard.
Allen Pidwell with his motorized surfboard. Photo credit: RNZ

By Robin Martin for RNZ

An octogenarian Taranaki surfer isn't about to let his advancing years get between him and the "stoke" of riding waves.

Allen Pidwell - or Pid, as he's affectionately known - is among the first board riders in New Zealand to fit a specially-designed electric motor to his long board.

Pidwell began surfing in 1962 but in recent years has struggled to paddle out into the line up.

Luckily the surfer, who has a pacemaker fitted, now gets some help via the US-developed Boost motorised fin.

"It's a normal fin but it has a propellor attached to the back of it. It's got a lithium-ion battery, which you obviously turn on, and then it's controlled via a controller on your wrist. It can do up to 15kmh."

The fin has two settings - a minute-long paddling out mode and a catch-a-wave mode which reaches full power over 10 seconds.

Timing the use of the catch-a-wave function was still proving a challenge, Pid said.

"The main difference for me so far is paddling back out the back. Some of them are a couple of hundred metre paddles and this just takes me out the back no problem, so I can last out there hopefully a lot longer and get more waves as I get used to it."

Elderly Taranaki man electrifies surfboard so he can keep chasing waves
Photo credit: RNZ

Merv Farquhar was a surfing buddy of Pid's.

He'd already noticing the benefits to the retired firefighter.

"So, he was struggling with his paddling and now he's got this he can actually out paddle with me and he's buzzing around the ocean. You hear this thing turn on and he buzzes around the ocean.

"So, it's definitely given him a new lease on life, so once he gets used to the power of it and things like that he's going to be a handful all right, so we might have to put a stick in it or something."

Although 20 years Pid's junior, Merv could envisage a day when he might need an electric motor for his own board.

"At this stage I have no issues with paddling, but absolutely if I can surf when I'm 80 like Piddy I would definitely go and get one."

Surfing Taranaki chief executive Craig Williamson was also a fan.

Many older surfers gave the sport away because of shoulder injuries and the powered fin would be a game changer for them, he said.

"It's all about being inclusive and making sure everyone who wants to surf can still surf, so Pid's obviously someone who's surfed all his life and he doesn't want to let go of it so why should he? If technology can help, go for it."

The Boost electric powered fin.
The Boost electric powered fin. Photo credit: RNZ

Claire Mead, who was eyeing up the surf at Fitzroy Beach in New Plymouth, could also see the upside.

"I'm going to bigger boards all the time now because it's easier to get onto waves, but if I could stay on a shorter board but have a little motor to get me onto waves and save on the paddling out I'd be keen.

"I mean, my husband would probably say I'm cheating and stuff, but I think when you're older and you still want to keep active if that would keep you surfing I reckon that would be cool."

Meanwhile, Pid said the powered fin was already turning heads.

"I haven't been out in big crowds yet, but yeah even in the carpark a couple from the Hawke's Bay bailed me up and the woman who was probably a pensioner said 'that's what I need'."

He was stoked with his electric fin, but it was not a small investment - they now cost close to $700.