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Published on January 29th, 2013 | by nzsm



It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of one of our greatest talented surfers of all time. Northlands Mike Tepania.  Mike burst onto the scene as a schoolboy and I can first recall reading about him in NZ Surf Mag when I was playing in the whitewater as a grommet, a few years later I got to witness Mike in the flesh at his home breaks around Shipwreck and I was mesmerised, Mike instantly became my hero and the guy who’s surfing I wanted to emulate. Over the years Mike struggled with mental illness and he faded away from surfing which was sad to see. Over the years stories would filter back that Mike had been seen out on a mini-mal well overweight but still tearing it up, even two weeks ago I was up at Shippies, surfing and catching up with old friends and I heard that Mike had been seen watching surf sessions from the rocks and was trying to get fit and make a comeback. That thought alone excited me, and unfortunately that comeback will now never happen.

Mike featured on the cover of NZ Surf Mag shredding his local break Peaks. Photo: Mike Bhana.


Laying rail on a Peaks wall. Photo: Mike Bhana.

Many who got to witness Mike’s surfing all agree that he would have gone on to become one of our most successful surfers ever, it is sad that an illness struck an end to what was such a promising career, yet during Mike’s time at the top he did inspire a whole generation of young and old surfers and was always a down to earth guy that simply surfed for the love and smiles. May you rest in peace Mike. To the Tepania Whanau our thoughts and love are with you all!

Mike became sponsored by Seasons Surfboards and had a bio ad featured in NZ Surf Mag.


A Bodyline Wetsuits ad NZ Surf Mag spring 1990.

The following is an intro to our 25th Anniversary issue from a few years ago, which contained reference to Mike and his inspiration to my own pathway of life. It is now more appropriate than ever to share.

Welcome to the NZ SURFING MAG  25 year anniversary issue, to have been the voice for surfing in Aotearoa over the years has been a mighty fine privilege, while our amazing country has a reputation around the world as the most amazing country in the world with its people so friendly and welcoming, it is not lost here with us. To travel the country’s length and width’s to all the hidden nooks and crannies our coastline has on offer, and to share experiences and world class waves with locals from Cape Reinga to the Bluff has been a moving experience and privilege over the last quarter of a century, I speak on behalf of the editors that came before me and those that will come after, to be immersed in such a wonderful culture surrounded by such a breathtaking environment is a fulfilling experience and one that changes lives forever. In this issue we put it to a varied selection of surfers to choose a magazine cover that may have inspired them over the last 25 years, while doing so a certain issue came to me, that I believe is the reason why I am sitting here today. It’s funny how life works.
When I was just a little fulla I thought surfies were the coolest bunch of guys ever. Now I grew up a long way from the ocean and once I caught the surfing bug all I wanted to do was be at the beach. Once I got my hands on my first NZ SURFING mag it opened up a whole new world to me, now I had local heroes that I could look up to and be inspired by that weren’t out of this world, sure I loved Tom Carroll and Dane Kealoha, but hey lets get real, when would I ever meet those guys. So NZ surfing mag was it for me, guys like Shane Grimes, Jason Mathews and Glen Campbell were my heroes, I would catch the 11 hour bus ride to Gisborne to hang with my mate in the school holidays and hang out in the rain under my boardbag to watch these guys surf in the Gisborne Pro-am. Some days they would even paddle past me in the surf and I would be frothing that they were even on the same bank as me. Then one day I biked down to the local bookstore and picked up an issue that changed my life in a way. It featured Shipwreck Bay in the far north and pictured on the cover was a guy that looked so styly and powerful, right then I wanted to surf like him, the surfer was Mike Tepania. That issue went with me everywhere, to school, to bed, you name it. Then one day I met this guy in class in third form who went on to be my best mate, in fact my best man at my recent wedding. Well he saw the issue and talked about how he liked surfing as well and had a place at Shipwreck Bay. At first i thought he was pulling my leg, but come school holidays his invitation to come up was readily accepted, and wow I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, there we were driving around the rocks of a wave that had been in my dreams since I brought that mag, to a house right in front of that very premier wave that was on the cover with Mike “Peaks”. That afternoon I caught my first glimpse of my local hero, word on the beach was Mike was about to paddle out, now we didn’t paddle out and start snaking Mike which is all to common amongst grommets these days, we sat on the rocks and watched Mike tear the place to pieces in awe. The power and moves the guy possessed were way ahead of his time looping 720′s and Barrels over the rock were met with screams of admiration. Still to this day I would say Mike was easily the most talented surfer to ever come out of NZ.  It was a sad story what happened to Mike but he slowly drifted away from the sport, but every now and then he would paddle out and still blow minds. My relationship with Shipwreck grew tight and I spent every swell over 10 years  up there defining my own surfing on the points and building relationships with many of the locals that are still great friends till this day. It’s hard to believe but that one 50 page magazine provided me with a idol, a lifestyle and went on to build the person I am today. Funnily as well, I did go on to meet and work with the legends I once never thought Id meet Tom and Dane, and as an adult I was in awe just like that 13 year old grommet all over again.
May the next 25 years bring you perfect waves and good times, enjoy.
Cory Scott and the team at New Zealand Surfing Magazine


Mike’s beloved Peaks where his ashes will be spread in due course.

If you would like to show your respects to Mike, his funeral will be held at  11.30am Wednesday the 30th January with karakia at 203 Foreshore Road Ahipara. Later that evening local surfers and those wishing to pay respect to the man who rode Peaks better than anyone will hold a paddle out at 6:30 PM at Peaks.

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15 Responses to R.I.P MIKE TEPANIA

  1. Mark Tan says:

    Saddened to hear of the passing of who was and is one of my greatest heroes, Mike Tep.

    Mike taught us how to surf before we could even pass a rugby ball properly. He was kind, always kind, he always took us out, always had time for us. He was fun – he loved life and laughed and made us laugh.

    To be honest, we all always hoped and waited for his comeback. We sat waiting in the water, waiting to see his flick of the head, his tip off the top, his snap. Those who knew him waited.

    But you know, life doesn’t always turn out the way we expect.

    Mike’s doing it now and he’s doing it now before the King.

    To the one who showed us how to ride the waves God made – thanks for the memories, thanks for the start and thanks for reminding us to live life now.

  2. Billie Berghan says:

    R.I.P uncle you were a great deal to my mum and family! rest in paradise <3 xx sorry we couldn't be there. x

  3. PT says:

    As one of a number of now 30-something’s who grew up in Ahipara, I can speak for us all that it is with great sadness we hear that Mike Tep. has passed away.

    I haven’t lived in Ahipara for some 20 years now and have no great knowledge of what the local surf scene has been like since then, or for that matter before then; but to me it seems that the mid-to-late 80’s was a great time to be a grommet and surfing was strong and alive at Shippies. All your friends seemed to be surfing (you could even do it during school…. with permission that is) and there were a number of talented Ahipara groms (plus others who lived in the big smoke… Kaitaia!!).

    Some of these young groms were very good and their talent cast a shadow across those of us who, well, tried hard. But their inspiration (and ours) was all due to the one who’s talent cast the biggest shadow of all… Michael Tepania.

    Back then there was no youtube, no internet…. heck there were no computers or even electricity at times. We were lucky if a competition that attracted NZ’s best surfers was held at Shippies even once every 2 years. For us, it was what Mike did that set the bar; his surfing was the yardstick against which our surfing, indeed all surfing, was measured. We all knew Mike was a great surfer and so full of Far North parochialism we would proudly tell everyone that he was ‘NZ’s Best’. But we surfed in a bubble and we didn’t really know.

    NZ, the World, is so much smaller now, so I wonder: How differently would a latter-day Mike Tep. be thought of? Well it’s simple really; we would have known he was NZ’s Best and so would have many others. We would have, however, been no more proud. Like much of what Mike did on a board, it’s impossible.

    It seems an eternity since I last saw Mike work his magic and whilst you always hoped that the King would return, I (like many others) had resigned myself many many years ago to the likelihood that I would never again see him conjuring barrels from main beach closeouts or tail-sliding 720s at Blue House. With his passing that hope has also gone, but in its place we can now look back and finally admire Mike for what he absolutely was, without the unjustified pain of what he hadn’t become…. simply put, the most naturally talented, innovative, unique, kind-hearted and down-to-earth surfer that, for those of us who are lucky enough to have met him, even for the briefest of moments, would ever know.

    My thoughts go out to Michael’s whanau, those Talented Tepanias. Your family has held dominion over the athletics tracks, rugby fields and touch pitches of the north; I guess it was only natural that one of your son’s ruled Tangaroa’s wave’s also.

    Mike, if you are to be returned to Peaks (and I can think of no better place) then I hope it’s always 4-foot and off-shore; keep an eye out for mussel rock and I look forward to riding with you again soon. We may have all been in your shadow, e hoa, but you can rest in peace knowing you were always, and will forever remain, our brightest light.

    • chris keys says:

      out of all the surf mags i ever had i kept this one of mike tep, even had an article i wrote in it to letters to the editor, mike was a true legend and we saw what he went through he will be remembered always, chris

  4. Steps says:

    Love you Mike, wish i had of gotten to know the man that you were before illness and then death stole you from us!

    Its so sad to realise that those of us who knew you best didnt really know you at all. Its heartwarming to learn of all the lives you positively influenced and even un-knowingly directed their paths in life! Rest in peace Mike always in our hearts and forever on our minds xo

  5. Sheena says:

    On behalf of the Tepania family i would like to thanks Cory Scott and the crew at NZ Surf for organising such an amazing tribute to Mike Tep! Keep up the good work!

  6. Chris Bugsy malone says:

    One of the best surfers I have ever seen !! Mean style with raw power !!
    RIP bro !!!

  7. Mark Wagener says:

    Mike was the most talented surfer I have ever seen, but he was more than that, he was a blast to be around. Everyone loved Mike. His surfing was 10 years ahead of anyone else, with total power, speed and so so radical,. He totaly blew me away with his backhand carve 360′s on the east coast beach breaks. How many of your school friends were pulling moves like that in the late 80′s ?
    Mike loved to push the limits in and out of the water.
    The last Comp I watched him he just blazed past everyone to the final. In the final he just rode the first wave in onto the beach., turned his board over and kicked out the fins. Then did spinner’s in the whitewash. He came second.
    It was the big finger and a comp directors nightmare. Everyone new he was the best, the final was a pointless exercise in Mikes eyes and he was having more fun doing it his way.
    The only problem’s he ever had was people like me not being able to cope with his long illness.

    Rest In Peace Mike…… You are a legend……..

  8. Lance Edmonds says:

    Like so many others I also looked up to what mike could do in the water. I was lucky enough to hang out with Mike and surf and few of the classic breaks up home. I remember the early morning dawnys sleeping in his caravan on foreshore Rd to get the waves in early. It didn’t matter how good you were, just how amped you were to surf. The things that mike could do and where he did them on a wave was way beyond his time. I remember going down to a comp together with Elton Hatfield and Doug Clark at Sandy Bay, Mike had smashed his heat and the hooter had blown for the start of the next heat, the whole beach was on Mike as he caught a wave in riding on his knees and ripped the wave to prices doing a huge reo and cutback. You will be missed bro, humble guy with a cheeky smile.

  9. Owen werner says:

    Rip M.T

    I grew up surfing shippies and you were the reason I wanted to surf. I wanted to surf because Mike Tepania surfed!! Your talent inspired many surfers of today.

    You were always and always will be legend to me! Much love and respect to Mikes family and closest friends. X

  10. Noeline says:

    Wow thankyou NZ Surfing for this amazing tribute to my brother. To those of you who knew him when he was well thanks for the memories and the tirbutes. indeed he was a powerful surfer and when he surfed people took notice. Arohanui kia koutou katoa from myself and my whanau.

  11. Cheyenne Tepania says:

    On behalf of the Tepania’s we thank you’s so much for doing that for our uncle, cousin and brother. He will be forever in our hearts. xoxox R.I.P Uncle mike.

  12. chris keys says:

    to the family, my deepest respect and condolensenses, that to known a true legend,Mike was an inspiration to me he showed me that having true talent came from inside, many times with the waipapakauri crew larry fisher, conrad froggat, vaughn bowkie, clint brillevich, jared keys, we watched in awe every time you dropped in carved the wave to obllivian , i remember the day i was really struggling and was getting hammered in four foot surf mike paddled over and gave me encouragement to relax and feel the wave under me after that i was so focused to impress him i had a great time and was stoked of my nut even when i hopped out he came up and said hey ro you were f in rippin my buzz stayed on forever to this very day cheers fot the memories and im sure jared my bro will miss you heaps cause he saw you go through all the troubles you did peace be with you always mike i still have the mag you were rippin in at shippies even when that goat boat ran you over you were a survivor your mum took great care of you to keep you around us for longer rip and surf that wave in heaven bud cheers for the memories they will be with me for ever chris cats keys

  13. coff says:

    SAD to hear this about mike T he and conrad stayed with me one xmas/jan many moons ago he was hot property alright funniest maori ever! mad steez was in awww of his surfing out united north piha one day we went out solid and he just charged!!! will be missed belated condolences go out to the Whanau as I just saw this


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