Katherine Greer - Inspired by nature

Interviewed by Daisy Thomas

Katherine Greer is an entrepreneur, creator, mother, grandmother and ocean lover.

Katherine established one of Aotearoa’s original surf shops in the eighties, Hydro Surf, and has always been a supporter of women in surfing. As a business Hydro Surf has ebbed, flowed and currently nestles amidst original brickwork of The Hydro building a stones throw from the ocean. Among being a business woman Katherine’s creativity is manifested through knitting, felting, silk dyeing with foraged plant material, harakeke weaving and creating jewellery pieces.

Katherine’s intrepid nature is seen through the acquisition of a practical skill set. In all likelihood being raised in the Otago town of Port Chalmers, where she lived with a view of the Otago Harbour and access to surrounding beaches, has had a significant influence on her character, drive and creativity. I spoke with Katherine to draw upon business wisdom, a continued passion for learning new skills and her experience of surfing pregnant in the eighties at full term.

Q: How has the ocean influenced your life's path?

A: The Ocean has hugely influenced my life’s path, my work and play have revolved around it. I learnt to swim at a young age, started scuba diving at twenty, surfing at twenty-six, Hydro Surf at  twenty-seven, kiteboarding at fifty-nine and Waka Ama at sixty. I love the exhilarating and frequently frightening power of the ocean. Having a fabulous community of family and friends who share the same joy of our Otago Coastline has been a blessing, I now live at our holiday home in Aramoana with my husband.

Q: What inspires me about you is you appear to have passion not only for acquiring new skills but passion to continue and share these skill sets. What is your philosophy for learning new skills throughout life?

A: Learning new skills is exciting and one skill set helps another in some way.  My Mum taught me to knit when I was three years old. She said I nagged her so often to learn she gave up waiting until I turned four! I love knitting, especially for babies, I find it very rewarding and relaxing. My knitting skills are still improving and sharing these with others is a small thing to do.

I picked up spinning wool at thirty and felting at thirty-two, both natural progressions from knitting. Silk dying led to eco dyeing with plants then I was very fortunate to learn some flax weaving skills from master weaver Rokahurihia Cameron. I fell into making jewellery when taking part in a half hour workshop during a felting conference three years ago and am slowly learning this craft. I have kept my creations at a hobby level including jewellery, I sell through Hydro Surf to cover material costs and explore new techniques.    

Q: This is a beautiful Image of you surfing while forty weeks pregnant, can you recount this day?

It was a glorious day. The surf was perfectly offshore with three foot waves and I was surfing my favourite surf spot on a nine foot soft top, It was heaps of fun. I had only been surfing eighteen months before I became pregnant and I was enjoying it so much I just continued to surf. I had no goal to surf full term, it just happened – my husband’s wetsuit kept stretching! Baby James seemed to like the experience and moved out of the way each time I surfed. I was young, twenty-eight and fit but I really did over do it. I remember riding the last wave to the beach, stepping off onto the sand and immediately thinking I was about to have baby James on the beach!

Q: Were there any other surfers in the water?

A: Yes that day my husband at the time, Rod Rust, was surfing and our business partner and friend Greg Page – Greg took the photographs towards the end of the session.

Q: What kind of reception did you get?

A: Rod and Greg were very supportive but some strongly disapproved of a heavily pregnant woman surfing. This was thirty-three years ago and at the time there were very few women surfing, there was very little support. Surfing while pregnant was the only time in my surfing life that I have not had to compete for waves. I was given a very wide berth because some were concerned their boards might hit me so I managed to catch my fair share of waves!

Q: You established one of Aotearoa’s oldest and last original surf shops, Hydro Surf. What sage advice do you have for women in business here in Aotearoa?

A: My experience in business has been limited to retail and wholesale with employees. The most valuable business assetI have learnt, is staff. They work to live, not live to work. To share knowledge freely, lead by example, treat my team respectfully and provide a healthy, flexible working environment is fundamental.

I recommend a network of support including a good accountant, bank manager you like and to connect with others in business. The worst decisions I have made were reactive to competition and I now focus entirely on my own business. Try to retain a level of detachment so you can make clear analytical decisions.

The only thing constant for me in business has been change. Our business has survived by having some diversity with one aspect supporting the other at difficult times and providing enough time to restructure. Combining a family life with running a business can be challenging but our babies grow so quickly, spend as much time with them as possible. 

Q: Do you continue your connection to the ocean and in what way?

Yes I have just returned from a week diving on a live aboard in the Poor Knights learning how to dive in a dry suit. I am learning to kiteboard and surf an 8’6 softie on nice days when the surf is small. I enjoy waka paddling, free diving for kai, and swimming down the inside of the Aramoana mole. Walking or riding my old bike on the beach is always a highlight of my day and scouting the sand for treasures that inspire jewellery designs.

You mentioned having declined previous interviews, this being the first in thirty-five years, we are privileged! Thank you for taking the time to share your stories and experience with the AWSA whanau Katherine.

My pleasure Daisy, I wish all readers some relaxing time doing what they love during this home time combating covid 19. Stay safe and/or recover quickly!

While tracking down images of Katherine, as she was generally the one behind the lens, a bundle of letters were unearthed. These, as I understand, are primarily thanks to Katherine for supporting women's surfing over the years. Unfortunately these will have to stay bundled up, until quarantine is over, to be thumbed through but it has got me thinking... What other gems are out there to bring to light a small but rich history of women's surfing here in Aotearoa?