Liz Alder

Founder - Walking on Water Surf School.

Growing up on an orchard in a small rural community just outside of Gisborne provided a creative environment for Liz Alder. There was always plenty to do, jobs to be done and places to explore. Attending Kohanga Reo and being in the ‘white minority’ in Manutuke was also an important foundation.

“Whanaungatanga, kaitiakitanga, karakia and waiata were a wonderful part of school and community life and we all participated. They instilled an important set of values in me from an early age.”

At high school Liz admits she didn’t stand out academically but was one of the most successful in her year in securing scholarships.

“I had a few jobs outside of school and made the most of opportunities offered to me including international travel, leadership events and the Spirit of Adventure.

Following her creative instincts and initially starting out in design, it was an interest in business and a desire for tools that would help her establish and run her own venture in the future that led to a Bachelor of Commerce.

“I was particularly drawn to entrepreneurship and took as many papers related to this subject as possible. Human resource management was also an interest; understanding people and emotional intelligence was an area that really resonated with me.”

Gaining a marketing role in a real-estate business shortly after graduating, it didn’t take long before the lure of overseas travel beckoned eventually landing a role working across multiple facets of a global publishing company in the UK and subsequently Melbourne. The role involved a mix of design and commerce and working with international teams from India to Africa.
But it was a trip to Tanzania provided by her employer, in partnership with microfinance organisation 5 Talents that was to be a turning point in her life. Visiting a social enterprise called Neemacraft, which employed people with physical disabilities, revealed another way that business could impact communities for good and a realization that changing a negative African cultural view on disabled people in communities was possible really got Liz thinking.

“The environment was so successful, so joyful and operating in such a fulfilling way the whole experience had a huge impact on me. I saw people making jewellery with one hand better than I could possibly do with two.”

Armed with this new found inspiration Liz opted to leave the comfort of a corporate salary and headed off on her own entrepreneurial adventure.

With a heart to move home to Gisborne and seeing the potential for the sport of surfing to be a positive vehicle for change in people lead her to start Walking on Water Surf School.

“It’s a surf company designed to use surfing as a vehicle for positive change in people. Witnessing my students as they tackle a new challenge but also expanding into areas such as cross training, community building, organic & eco-friendly surf wear I quickly realised the wide ranging scope there was for the business.”

As a result, the Walking on Water Girls Surf Programme Liz created has gained national acclaim for delivering an empowering programme to young women through disrupting surf culture and reframing media around women in sport.

Frustration with the portrayal of women in sports media also lead Liz to create some media of her own interviewing Hawaian pro-surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost an arm as a result of a shark attack when she was just 13 which became the subject of the movie Soul Surfer, as well as publishing positive stories in national surf magazines has inspired her students to create and publish their own surf stories through film.

And just as she saw on her visit to Africa, positive communication and bringing joy to others is at the heart of the business; even teaching her own dog to surf! Incorporating her surfing dog into the story of her surf school, as well as developing a range of t-shirts and posters to give her students positive, fun images and messages to consider have all helped grow the business’s profile. “We’re now in our seventh year and I won’t say it’s been easy. I’ve had some low points along the way but I’ve learnt through surfing that in the struggle you develop strength and this will get you through in the end. Recently I taught a student who was going blind who wanted to learn to surf before losing her sight. That really put life into perspective for me.”