Kiwi surfers pay tribute to eco-hero Jonathan "Fang" McCarthy

August 20, 2009 | Surfing

Kiwi surfers pay tribute to eco-hero Jonathan

Visionaries are few and far between. Even rarer are visionaries who are prepared to put their money where their mouths are. If time is money, Jonathan Patrick McCarthy was one of that rare breed - a man who saw things before others and was passionate, even obsessive, about protecting surf breaks.

Better known as the “Fang”, Jonathan was one of New Zealand’s leading surfing environmentalists. He passed away in the seaside suburb of Sumner in his hometown of Christchurch on 25 June 2009.

For those who did not know him Fang was the Environmental Officer for Surfing New Zealand and the leading advocate for the establishment of New Zealand’s first ‘Surfing Reserves’ Fang believed that surf breaks, the playing fields of surfers, were just as deserving of protection as the sports grounds where rugby players and netballers hone their skills.

His love of surfing was fueled at a young age when he forsook rugby and headed off to surf breaks in Bali, Timor, Fiji and Hawaii as well as Australia and New Zealand. He had a sense of fun and a mischievous nature that sometimes got him into awkward situations, but he was invariably able to extract himself with his wit.

Fang was seriously injured in a bike accident in 1987 and it was his long and tenacious recovery that gave him the inspiration and courage to return and surf the 20 foot waves of Hawaii and Timor. You only had to ask him about those days then sit back and listen for the next 40 minutes or so while you were dragged into a world of fun and adventure.

His profession as a lawyer, his strong Irish heritage and passionate belief in legal and social justice combined to make him a force to be reckoned with. He was a strategist, a man of patience and a master of the English language. He took on criminals, the law the police, big business, councils and the government … and won.

A champion of the underdog, he believed in fair play and justice for all. He was presented with a Police Community services award after coming across a lone female constable being set upon by several thugs while walking home one night. Alone, he kept the men at bay for seven minutes – just by talking to them – long enough for police re-enforcements to arrive... Those of you who have attended any meeting where Fang held the floor will understand how hard he was to stop in full flow and how 5 minutes could quickly turn into 15 or 20.

Unlike many lawyers, Fang was not a wealthy man. He spent large amounts of unpaid time researching, compiling and representing surfers’ interests while we were out surfing or spending time with our friends and families. At the time of his death Fang was awaiting the result of public submissions on the NZ Coastal Policy Statement (Policy 20) where he put together a compelling case for the establishment of New Zealand’s first ‘Surfing Reserves’. If these Reserves are established it should be acknowledged that Fang was the guiding light.

Fang has an impressive list of surfing related achievements (below), but there was much more ... father, husband, friend, poet, writer, surf historian, lifesaver, organiser, swimmer, talker, mischievous imp. A book is required to do him full justice. Above all he was a bloody good bloke who never had a bad word for anyone and fought tooth and nail for what he believed in. 

A brief summary of Jonathan’s surfing related achievements:
- 1993: Co-founder of the Sumner Longboarders Christchurch.
- 1997: Jet Ski Exclusion zone – amended to exclude Sumner Bar a well known Christchurch surf break. Precedent set for other Jet ski zones. e.g. Removal of the Lyall Bay Jet Ski zone.
- 2001: Dunedin sewerage – new 1km pipeline followed by secondary treatment by 2011
- 2003: Lobbied Surfing NZ for a establishment of a national surfing environmental body
- 2005: Re-established Surfrider to fight Christchurch Sewerage/water quality issue.
- 2005: Christchurch sewerage outfall – outcome - forced the City Council to build a pipeline offshore rather than into the Christchurch Estuary ($70M project)
- 2006: Established Surfers Environmental Advocacy to replace Surfrider as environmental body
- 2006: Provided key note address at the inaugural SNZ sponsored national Environmental hui at Raglan.
- 2006: Establishment of the local Pegasus Bay Action Committee to fight  the off shore mussel farm in Pegasus Bay
- 2006: Proposal and establishment of a national surfing environmental body with Surfing NZ.
- 2008: Christchurch offshore mussel farm – This farm (10,500 ha) was the size of Christchurch city. An agreement has been reached to trial it for 10 years at 10% of its original size.
- 2008: Consulted on the Cobden sea bed mining issue with the Kahuna Boardriders
- 2008: Received award for outstanding contribution to summer sports in the Canterbury Sports Awards
- 2009: Aided the Raglan Point Boardriders in opposing the proposed Wind Farm
- Numerous access rights to places such as Hickory Bay, Stoneyhurst and others.

The challenge for all surfers with Fang’s passing is to ensure the lights he turned on for us are not left to burn out. The challenges to our coastlines and waves will continue in the future and it is up to us to do something about it. We are all very protective of “our” waves when we are jockeying for position in the line up, but we tend to turn a blind eye to the other challenges facing the existence our playground as soon as the boards are back on the car roof.

Fang was driven by 2 fears. He did not want future generations to miss out on the privilege we have inherited of surfing the oceans waves…and he did not want those future generations to point the finger at him and say “You were there – why didn’t you do something about it”.

The visionary has shown us the future and what to do about it. It is up to us all to act as the guardians when we are required to do so.

Jonathan was aged 50 and is survived by his loving wife Di and adoring daughter Rima.

  • As the novel coronavirus Covid-19 nightmare comes to an end in China, local surfers are starting to get back to the beach.
  • Are you daydreaming about a perfect day of surfing and endless rides? Here's a simple step-by-step tutorial on how to draw an ocean wave.

SurferToday uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. More info: