Eva-Sky Gundry

BLAKE Leader 2023 - Rangatahi

Kerikeri’s Eva-Sky Gundry was just 16 when she launched a business aimed at empowering wahine and sharing her passion for ocean sports.

Three years later, Sky’s Surf School reaches up to 100 rangatahi a week across surf camps, weekly lessons, and a weekly academy programme for international students.

The business utilizes powerful concepts from Te Ao Māori, such as whanaungatanga (connection and belonging) and tuakana/teina (peer mentoring), to build an environment where students feel supported to try, fail, and get back up – over and over again.

At a ceremony in Auckland 20 March 2024, Sky (Te Rarawa) was named the 2023 BLAKE young leader. This builds on her success with the Young Enterprise Scheme at Kerikeri High School, where her surf school business concept earned her third place in New Zealand in 2022, having won the Northland regional titles in both 2021 and 2022.

Sky gained a scholarship to study business at Otago University in 2023 but, after much consideration, she has opted to pursue the potential in her surf school.

“It was a hard decision, because so many of my friends have gone to uni and I would have learnt a lot, but it feels like the surf school’s growth is time-sensitive – we have momentum and I want to grab all the opportunities coming our way.”

Sky has secured a continuous year-round contract with international student lessons. This development has changed the game for the surf school, providing a solid base contract on top of which Sky can continue to build seasonal demand.

“I am learning so much every week, and have so many ideas to incorporate, so I’m keen to see where I can take this business over the years to come.”

Sky runs summer camps across the Christmas school holidays from a rented bach in Taupo Bay. For the five weeks of camps, she and her family – mum Kate, dad Mike and younger sister Grace, 15 – move in and provide a live-in surf camp experience for attendees.

During the school term, Sky has three weekly after school programmes and school groups booking one-off outdoor education sessions during the day. Although she originally started out with a sharp focus on girl surfers, she now runs boys’ sessions as well.

“The girls learn better and faster on their own. They will take risks, they’re not afraid. And the boys do really well in a group just made up of boys. We help them build a sense of belonging and it’s really successful.”

That sense of belonging, whanaungatanga, is a key plank of Sky’s offering. She says as Māori herself, and being based in Northland, Te Ao Māori is a natural part of the school’s culture. Going forward she hopes to grow her own reo Māori so this can be further incorporated into her work.
The international students from Kerikeri High School surf year-round, and there are as many as 45 of them at each Friday session. With a $10,000 grant from Tū Manawa Active Aotearoa, Sky bought her first 10 boards. Sky’s Surf School now owns, 47 boards, 50 wetsuits, a van, and a board trailer – and there’s no debt on any of it.

“It’s a financially viable, financially sustainable business.”

In fact, it’s been so successful that during 2023 Sky was able to spend the winter visiting surf schools in some of the world’s most famous surfing locations – including Indonesia and Portugal – to bring fresh ideas back for what promises to be her biggest summer season yet. While she was away, her business continued to run with one of her key business mentors, her dad Mike, stepping in as the caretaker operations boss. Mike owns a construction company in Northland and he’s taken each Friday off across winter to run the weekly surf academy for Kerikeri High School’s international students.

Sky and Grace have grown up at Tapuaetahi Beach. Sky did ballet until she was 17, which she credits with building her discipline, spatial awareness, and balance. Mike and Kate had surfed before starting their family and, most of Sky and Graces upbringing was spent in the ocean. When she was about 12 years old, Sky’s father started taking her out surfing more consistently.

“That was a massive part of why I wanted to start the business, to get girls into surfing. Because if you don’t have parents that are into surfing, it can be a difficult sport to break into.”

Sky says her whānau have been her biggest supporters on her entrepreneurial journey. They have been heavily involved in making the venture possible and helping Sky bring her visions to life.

Her mother Kate is a high school outdoor education teacher, and in her ‘spare time’ has launched and run multiple successful small businesses. She provides pivotal advice on working with young people and is across what funding and programmes are available in the sports space. And Sky’s carpenter father Mike often shares advice in areas such as staffing, workflow, and cashflow.

“Both my parents have been massive mentors for me. They support me in everything I do. And my sister is my best friend, she’s the coolest person I know. We’re all uniquely close.”

She draws advice from her family and other mentors, clients, the community, and other entrepreneurs. She has learnt to weed out the gems from the masses of information coming her way, and trust her gut.
“I get input from all directions and it’s such a positive. I listen and I figure out what sits best with me. In the end, I am in a position where I can make decisions around the business for myself. The responsibility and the consequences will always be on me.”

Sky says the business has demonstrated for her that leadership is about community and understanding the impact of decisions.

“It’s not just thinking about what you aspire to do. It’s also the impact of your decisions on others and the direction you are going in – will it effect a change or bring benefit to your community?”

Sky was nominated for the BLAKE young leader award by the Young Enterprise Scheme. Her nomination read: “Sky always looks to do things better. As a participant of the Young Enterprise programme, we saw Sky’s growth throughout high school and were impressed by her maturity, business nous and respect for culture. Sky has a clear understanding of the needs of others around her and has channeled her passion for the earth and surfing into a profitable, sustainable business that serves her community.”