Greg Townsend is to step down as CEO of Surfing New Zealand after 23 years of guiding and developing the organisation to the dynamic, innovative, surfer-focused business that it is today.
The longest running CEO of any national sporting organisation in New Zealand, Townsend will finish at SNZ on July 27 so he can focus on bringing similar successes to the international multi-discipline surfing event, The Ultimate Waterman.
“To work for an organisation that is all about creating a better lifestyle for New Zealanders through the sport of surfing has been a real privilege,” Townsend says. “As a passionate surfer, I could not have asked for a better job and feel proud that I have stayed true to surfing throughout.”
GT, as he is better known in the surfing community, is responsible for bringing some premier world surfing competitions and surfers to New Zealand including the World Longboard Championships at Raglan (2003), Vodafone Surf Sessions at Piha and Raglan (2005-6) – featuring the late Andy Irons, Joel Parkinson, Mick Fanning, Mark Occhilupo, Sunny Garcia and Bruce Irons – and the ISA World Junior Surfing Championships at Piha (2010). He also oversaw the World Kneeboard Championships at Opunake (1999 and 2009) and numerous ASP/WSL events, including Pro Junior and WQS events.
Within New Zealand, he brought new competitive opportunities to the surfing community in the form of the NZ Junior Series, Pro Surfing Tour and the Hyundai Pro Longboard Tour.
“My role has always been about creating opportunities and stepping stones to the world stage,” Townsend explains. “I have helped lay the foundation and now I just want to see the organisation keep growing, especially as it heads into a new era as an Olympic sport from 2020.”
Building up the organisation to include three full-time employees, Townsend has also overseen the introduction of International Surfing Association (ISA) qualified coaching the judging programmes in New Zealand and the standardisation of open and junior competition circuits. Surfing NZ has been able to nurture home grown surfers to be competitive on the world stage, most notably Maz and Jay Quinn, Paige Hareb, Richard Christie, Daniel Kereopa, Billy Stairmand, Sarah Mason and Ella Williams.
Ever responsive to the changing needs of the surfing community, GT organised the first National Surfing Environmental Hui in Raglan in 2006 to discuss the protection and preservation of our surfbreaks. Out of that initiative the Surfbreak Protection Society was formed, a national body to represent the views of the surfing community on environmental issues.
Under Townsend’s leadership, Surfing NZ has received many accolades and recognition for excellence including: Highly Commended in the Special Event category at the 2006 PRINZ Awards for the Vodafone Surf Sessions, Judges Special Mention at the 2006 NZ Sponsorship Awards for the Vodafone Surf Sessions, winning the 2011 NZ Sport and Recreation Excellence Award for the ISA Junior World Championships, the 2013 Water Safety NZ Awareness Award and the 2016 NZ Sport and Recreation Innovation Excellence Award for The Ultimate Waterman.
One of the initiatives that GT is most proud of is The Ultimate Waterman (TUW) event, a unique competition involving the world’s best watermen, which was based in Auckland in 2015 and 2016 and in Invercargill in 2017. It takes surfing, its places, culture and people to the world via media, social media and television. Probably better known outside New Zealand, Red Bull Media House’s coverage of the first three events reached a potential audience of 1.3 billion.
“It was a difficult decision to depart and while I am sad to leave Surfing New Zealand, I am extremely excited by the opportunity to take TUW to the next level internationally,” Townsend says. “We have created the best multi discipline water sports events in the world, which has been tried and tested in New Zealand. Now it is time to take it to Hawaii, the home of surfing and some of the best watermen and waterwomen on the planet.”
The Ultimate Waterman will be based in Hawaii from 2019 and has been set up by Townsend to continue to provide an income to Surfing NZ. He will also continue to support the national body in spirit as well, by remaining a SNZ life member, mentor and supporter.
GT acknowledges the help he has received from many people for The Ultimate Waterman. Sport New Zealand and New Zealand Major Events backed the idea and contributed much-needed funding. Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) and Tim Shadbolt and his team in Southland, supported the event at a regional level. GT’s friends, Hawaiian surfing legends Titus Kinimaka and Laird Hamilton and 2012 WSL World Champion Australian Joel Parkinson, helped ensure the competition was worthy of its title, The Ultimate Waterman.
“I’ve been very lucky over the years to have had good board members at Surfing New Zealand and TUW. They have been wonderful supporters and personal mentors to help me achieve what I have,” he says. I also want to thank all the SNZ officials who always do an exception job of running the SNZ events at a world-class level.”
“It has been an absolute honour and privilege to lead Surfing New Zealand as CEO over the past 23 years. We have achieved so much as a team and while it’s been a lot of hard work, importantly we have always kept it real.
“I want to acknowledge the fantastic team of Ben Kennings, Lee Ryan and past employees Steve Ria and Chris Malone, who have always been, and still are, so supportive and dedicated to the cause,” GT says.
Surfing NZ President Chris Fougere says Townsend leaves Surfing NZ with justifiable pride in his work and achievements, which will continue to make a lasting impression on the organisation for years to come.
“I hope he might now find time for a few waves for himself, having put in place a framework for so many others to enjoy a competitive surfing framework in NZ,” Fougere says.