Taranaki surfer Daniel Farr won the Nationals at Westport in 2022, taking down form surfer of the event, Billy Stairmand, in one of the most exciting finals ever seen in New Zealand. The quiet, reserved surfer always believed he could do it. Now he has his sights set on the next step in his career.
We find out what makes Daniel tick and what his game plan looks like from here.
Winning the Nationals is a defining moment for any surfer. But the way Daniel and Billy went head-to-head at a punchy 2-3 foot low-tide Nine Mile beach break was legendary.
Going into that final Daniel, who had spent the past two years working as assistant manager at Domino’s Pizza in New Plymouth, knew he’d have to fight for it.
“It’s always rough going in against Billy,” Daniel tells me as we hit the dirt road on our way to a fickle Catlins point. “He’s just such a prestigious name in New Zealand. His name has weight to it. He’s got all those titles – it’s quite nerve wracking going up against him.”
“It’s always rough going in against Billy. He’s just such a prestigious name in New Zealand. His name has weight to it. He’s got all those titles – it’s quite nerve wracking going up against him.”
Daniel, 22 at the time, wrangled the uncomfortableness of the moment and turned it into something positive.
“I just didn’t let that deter me in any way,” he recalls. “I saw it as motivation to do better. It’s like, ‘imagine beating Billy? Imagine getting that title? Imagine what’s going to happen after that?’”
The final unfolded with intensity from the very beginning. Billy selected a rip bowl closest to the rocks that just seem to answer his presence – lighting up as if on demand. Billy was making hay.
“I actually had two plans going into that final,” Daniel reveals. “I was planning to sit on that little rip bowl that was deeper where he started off, but I was hoping that no one else would do that. So, when I saw him stop there with Reuben Woods and surf that deeper peak, I saw Levi was already way down the beach, so I decided to follow him. I ended up deeper than Levi to get one of the first waves, so it worked out quite well.”
Billy took control of the heat from the start with Daniel the most likely to challenge him. Then halfway through the final Billy paddled over and sat on Daniel. It was a defining moment of the final. Billy had control and poked the bear. Daniel fired up.
“Throughout the entire event, I was quite fired up, but I was trying not to show it in a way that I looked sporadic,” Daniel reveals. “I wanted to stay quite calm and collected, but still look like I’m after that win. When he came and sat on me, I was a bit like, ‘all right, well now it’s a final, now we’ve got to put on the show’. And I’ve landed that first one and got the score on the second one, and I needed to hang onto that, to make it a good story.”
“I think I tried one or two before actually finally sticking one,” he explains. “The pressure of the heat can get to you, and you’re freaking out a little bit, and you really must get a score. About halfway through – with just under 10 minutes to go, I was paddling back out and I was like, ‘what am I doing? I land these all the time at home, I know how to do them’. And I just thought to myself, ‘I have plenty of time – just under half the heat, I know how to do these, just go land it’. I told myself that, and it took the pressure off. I felt like the weight was off my shoulders, and I could go to the air, and landed them. And then I got the scores – it worked out perfectly.”
Once he’d nailed that second air reverse, which was even bigger than the first one, he still wasn’t quite sure he’d secured the win. And Billy was on the counterattack.
“I just wanted to keep doing punts,” Daniel smiles. “When I landed the first one. I was like, ‘Okay, cool. That’s going to be a nice score’. I was happy with that. And then I landed the second one, but I wasn’t sure if it was going to be the score or not. I didn’t know how they would take it, just because no one else is really doing them consistently in heats. I did the little claim, because … well it just felt good.”
As he saluted the judges the crowd on the beach erupted – every Taranaki surfer was on their feet, arms in the air. With minutes to go Daniel had one hand on the trophy. The sea went flat. Billy was hunting and found himself with priority and ready to respond. A wave came and he went nuts on it.
“He needed an 8.01 I think it was,” Daniel reveals. “I thought it was the score, or very close, and I was nervous coming in after seeing that one. I couldn’t do much because he had priority, and I had seen the spray coming off the back – three big sprays. I’m like, ‘ah, shit, he’s got the score, and I’ve just lost the title. It’s going to come very close’. So, coming in was scary. I didn’t know what was going on. I was just trying to wait it out and stay calm. And then commentator Gavin Bisman read it out and all I was listening for was a seven. Because if he said seven first, then I knew I won it. And that’s what he said. We just went nuts.”
“I couldn’t do much because he had priority, and I had seen the spray coming off the back – three big sprays. I’m like, ‘ah, shit, he’s got the score, and I’ve just lost the title. It’s going to come very close’. So, coming in was scary. I didn’t know what was going on. I was just trying to wait it out and stay calm.”
The entire Taranaki team celebrated Daniel’s win, and that of Paige Hareb in the women in the final prior. Taranaki had a show of force that put every other surfing region on notice. Not just for the titles they claimed but for the way they operated as a team.
There are three boardriders clubs in Taranaki, each with its own strengths, so coming together like that was certainly an impressive achievement.
“It’s good – it’s weird – it’s just natural,” Daniel explains. “We’ve got a sick little crew coming up, and that team environment makes it a whole lot more special.”
He said they often chased the best waves and so ended up surfing together a lot.
“It has taken me years to become good mates with Dawson Tamati and Chris Luke who lives at Stent,” Daniel adds. “It was inevitable, growing up there and surfing all the waves with them. It is really natural – such a good vibe just hanging out with them. I travelled to Westport with Dawson, and me and him get along well, and then all the grommets as well.”
Dawson comes from a professional rugby background as does Chris, who still works in strength and conditioning with high-performance athletes.
“Those guys are awesome,” Daniel adds. “Even the older guys are still frothing just as much as the kids.”
He said the whole team had a hand in his national championship win.
“We lost it when we got to the beach and knew it was coming home,” he smiles. “It felt like less of an individual title, and more like a community title. It was for Taranaki. When people congratulate me at home, it’s like, well, it’s here now, and someone had to bring it home. Like this is for us. So, I carry that weight behind me. Taranaki hardcore – that’s what it is. That’s what we essentially are to the core.”
The advice of Dawson and Chris fell on attentive ears, but Daniel said his surfing was always ahead of his gym work.
“I go to the gym, but it’s not like I’m mental with strength and conditioning,” he reveals. “It’s just a casual gym routine. I prefer surfing all the time. Most days when I’m not at work, I’m surfing all the time. Those days when I haven’t surfed, I’ll go to the gym for a little while and smash it out.”
He said he was also aware of the role of nutrition in terms of his recovery.
“Around the contests I’ll have a bit more routine, and I’ll try to get at healthier food,” Daniel offers. “If you’re feeding yourself properly it helps big time. And if you don’t refuel properly with a solid meal, you’re not going to feel good the next day to get up and do it again.”
Daniel said he spent most of his time surfing Fitzroy or Back Beach when the swell was smaller.
“I’ll maybe head to Stent two or three times a month,” he shares. “It’s just because there’s still those older guys out there that are a bit protective – that localism thing. Even though I’ve been surfing there for the past 12 years, but it’s all good. I leave them to it and kind of respect that’s their wave. I’m not going to go be a full contest guy down there. But when it’s pumping, you have to go down, wait your turn and get your waves.”
Daniel spent his younger years being the young grom of Taranaki and now has a whole crew of younger grommets nipping at his heels.
“I’ve been trying to build a good relationship with them, and I’m always trying to give them a few little tips in the water,” he laughs. “There’s a Taranaki Grom Squad now that Kane Rowson, Spencer’s dad, is doing with quite a few of the dad’s, Pauly as well. It’s sick. I’ve done one training with them, they all go hard, and it’s really cool seeing them actually get together, and how amped they are … the dads as well. They’re loving it and then they pass it on to the groms, and they’re loving it as well. They’ve created a really good environment – that full community as a grommet is really important.”
Daniel feels like he owes it to them to shares some of what he has learnt over the years.
“Four of the groms made the world’s team for the ISAs this year,” Daniel explains. “That’s a full Taranaki crew going over to the ISAs – it’s nuts. I was over the moon proud for them. I want to help them as much as I can because I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I owe it to them to pass on my knowledge – to help as much as I can.”
Most people see a national champion and think it comes down to natural talent, or, a Kiwi tall poppy favourite, luck. I’ve watched Daniel’s career from afar. It’s been tough. He’s worked hard for everything.
I was standing next to his father, David, when Daniel won the title at Nine Mile in Westport in January. He had tears streaming down his cheeks. The upwelling of emotion was scrawled across his face.
In that instant it dawned on me, as a parent as well, just what that journey was for him – the years of hard work, failure, and growth.
Daniel started surfing when he was around seven years old. They used to live inland and so his father would get them up Saturday mornings and drive half an hour to the beach where they’d surf on soft tops and enjoy getting out there.
“Every weekend we were doing that, and then every other chance we got, ‘Dad, can we go surfing?’ And he is busy, he’s got work, but then he takes us down anyway,” Daniel recalls, as he wells up at the memory. “And now look where we are. It’s crazy to think about that beginning now, and then in the future. I’ve still got dreams of calling up my dad when I’m overseas: ‘Dad, dad, I made the tour!’ It’s hard not to get emotional about it. It means a lot to me.”
And making the World Tour is on Daniel’s mind. He calls his 2022 season his preparation year.
“My coach is South African Llewellyn Whitaker,” Daniel begins. “I’ve been doing quite a few calls with him, and working on technique, and my mindset. We’re calling this year the preparation year in our three-year plan.”
Daniel is no stranger to the QS slog. He first competed on the Junior QS in 2014 and has contested QS events from 2015 through to 2019. He’s rubbed shoulders in heats with Callum Robson, Liam O’Brian and Ethan Ewing – all surfers who have since made the Championship Tour. Like many athletes he was involuntarily sidelined as the world wrestled with Covid.
“Next year I’ll be back on the Australian tour,” Daniel reveals, noting that he likes the new regional qualifying format. “It certainly helps on the wallet and accessibility, just going over to Australia for a couple of weeks and smashing out events. I had quite a good routine before Covid. For three years I’d go to South Africa because it’s a bit cheaper to live over there. I had a lot of mates there, and then I’d go to Philippines, and Sri Lanka, and a few of those places. I’m going to miss going to the Philippines, Cloud Nine was amazing.”
Earlier this year Daniel started his 2022/2023 campaign with a solid showing in Indonesia where he finished 17th at the Krui Pro in solid proper waves. He backed that up fighting his way into another Round of 32 start at Nias, eventually adding a 25th place to his campaign tally.
“Krui was an interesting wave to surf,” he shares. “It was kind of like your normal big left-hand point over reef, but the top of the point was different to the bottom of the point and the middle section was flat and then it walled up again. It was a pleasure to surf especially with those bigger sets rolling through.”
Once he had been eliminated after his Round of 32 heat Daniel caddied for Billy Stairmand who went on to make the final, finishing second.
“I remember sitting in the channel caddying for Billy,” Daniel recalls. “We were way out on the shoulder for when those bigger sets came through. It was eight-foot whitewater, and we were scrambling to get even wider to get under those. It was a cool experience. It was great to stay with Billy as well and to share a part of his success there.”
While Billy opted for an early trip to the Ballito Pro in South Africa, Daniel pushed deeper into Nias.
“I left Billy at the airport – we parted ways, and I went to Nias by myself,” he explains. “That was a bit of a mission to get to with the internal flights of Indo in the baking heat and planes without air-conditioning until we took off. I remember sitting on the plane on the tarmac in 40°C heat. I also had Bali belly when we left Krui and eventually got to Nias and my boards didn’t show up.
“Luckily Pago was there as well and my boards eventually turned up,” he laughs. “The waves were incredible at Nias. The swell was consistent the whole time. It was packed for the free surfs, but just amazing in the heats. To see it breaking the way it did – I had only ever sat at home watching videos of it, so it was another level experience to be there sitting in the lineup watching it breaking that way.”
Apart from a trip to compete in a Rip Curl Grom Search at Lakey Peak when he was 13 or 14, this was Daniel’s first proper Indonesian surf trip. When he got knocked from the contest Paige asked him to caddy for her.
“She was first heat on finals morning, so I was up at the crack of dawn and out there with her for that first heat,” Daniel explains. “Watching from the channel you can see it from a different angle and it’s pretty special and so cool to see her achieve that win.”
“Paige is Paige – she has achieved so much in her career, but the past few years she hasn’t always had too many incredible results so to see her win that on her backhand and with those turns under the lip … that was incredible. Watching it from the channel and the lines she took in the pocket under those lips – that was so special. I was stoked for her to get that result and happy to chuck her on my shoulders and carry her up the beach.”
“Paige is Paige – she has achieved so much in her career, but the past few years she hasn’t always had too many incredible results so to see her win that on her backhand and with those turns under the lip … that was incredible.”
Daniel’s Indonesian leg netted him 1520 points and has him in 27th place on the 2022/23 rankings with the Aussie leg to come, starting in February.
“Right now, my focus is on Nationals and then I will look at the Australian WQS leg and then I’m quite keen to go to Indonesia again and possibly the Philippines and Taiwan, although they’ll be counting towards the following year’s ratings.”
Daniel is super intelligent and driven. He’s working on being adaptable and how he processes learnings.
“Your mindset is a huge part of surfing,” he offers. “I’m always learning how to interpret things in a good way to be able to take that out into the surf to win heats.”
He said the New Zealand surfers had previously lacked the team spirit that had given nations like Brazil such a strong platform for performance.
“Kiwis are stronger when we’re together, but really when it comes to work and travel, we have been quite singular. This past year they’ve done quite well and that’s because of Billy taking Levi Stewart, Kehu Butler and Saffi Vette under his wing and with them all staying together.”
“When I was doing it before Covid, that was not an option,” Daniel shares. “I felt like I had to make my own way, because Kehu didn’t really reach out or we didn’t talk about going over together. I’m a quiet person as well. I’m not necessarily going to text you and make something happen. I’m a bit more reserved.”
He said the team environment that Billy had instigated was the way forward for Kiwi surfers.
“If I was out there enough to text all the guys and say, ‘Let’s do it together’, and they were actually keen, it probably would’ve helped us throughout the years,” Daniel admits. “I guess we’re all in the same boat – I mean you never really know what they’ll say. They could be like, ‘Oh, I’ve got plans already with someone else’. I guess that’s what stops you from reaching out and saying, ‘Let’s do it together’.”
He said it was different again for Kehu who often had Red Bull and Quiksilver, sorting out his travel.
“I did spend a bit of time with Tane Bowden, because he was over there,” added Daniel. “I reached out to him, and we did a few events together, but I always found my own way, because I felt like those guys were already sorted with their sponsors and knew what they were doing.”
Daniel has some long-standing sponsors who he credits with helping him to compete at the highest level.
“I’ve been with O’Neill for almost 10 years now,” he smiles. “I was picked up by Gavin Bisman when he was working for them, when I was 12 or 13. They’ve been a massive support over the last decade with wetsuits – they’re expensive now, so all that free stuff helps and just that backing of a solid company that creates such a quality product. And the name behind O’Neill, it’s solid, it’s very solid.”
For the same amount of time Daniel has been riding for Seasons with his shaper BJ.
“BJ has been shaping my boards for a very long time now and we’ve just been creating better and better boards through feedback,” Daniel offers. “BJ is always shaping me something magic and it shows … I got a fresh board and won nationals on it.”
After his big nationals win, he also picked up Backdoor. They also offered him a full-time job at their New Plymouth store, giving Daniel the chance to leave his late-night duties at Domino’s.
“It’s very cool to be sponsored and employed by them,” he explains. “They’re such a good team and doing the team trips helps to create that family vibe.”
Daniel is also supported by New Zealand-owned and operated wax manufacturer Sticky Johnson along with Ryd for accessories.
We finally reach the end of the gravel road in the Catlins – just a 20-minute walk lies ahead of us. The fickle break is on and Daniel wastes no time in finding jump rock. The session that follows is rare for so many reasons. Just Daniel, four of his mates a local and a sea lion. Two other locals pull up on the rocks to watch the spectacle.
The crisp water temp doesn’t faze Daniel. He likes the thinning of crowds through winter. Afterwards he shows his appreciation.
“I think that session will be with me forever,” he smiles. “Just seeing that place … it’s something special. I’ll remember that for a long time … the adventure side to it – that’s what you chase.
“I watched one of the boys have a wave with a sea lion,” he smiles. “I’ve had a run-in with them in the past at Blackhead and it’s quite scary. I got chased and ended up kicking the underbelly of one accidentally. I went for a duck dive, and it swam over my leg as my leg came up. I shat myself as soon as that happened.”
On our drive back I ask him what’s his next thing in surfing? What’s in his development plan?
“I’m trying to work on nailing it all and consistency,” he reveals. “I think the beauty of surfing is, even Kelly Slater’s still improving. No one’s gotten to that point of, ‘Ah, yep. I know everything, I’ve got everything down. I don’t need to work on anything’. You’re constantly trying to improve – that’s the fun of the sport. That’s what keeps me going … I just enjoy it so much.”
Daniel said that his success was a combination of hard work and dedication.
“If you want to get to the top of your sport, you must really dedicate your whole life and your whole mindset towards it,” he offers. “If you do that, results will come … eventually – maybe not straight away. People who put in that dedication eventually do get the results and they become amazing athletes and amazing people rather than just incredible surfers.”
“It’s more than just your ability – it’s that passion and commitment behind it,” he adds. “My goal is to be that good all-round surfer, who has everything to offer in the water, as well as full commitment and a good understanding of mindsets, and psychology, and the sports side of it. That’s what I’m aiming for.”
“It’s more than just your ability – it’s that passion and commitment behind it.”