GROM TI­TLES

New Zealand Surfing - - Behind The Cover - Words & Photos: Cory

The coun­try’s fu­ture surf tal­ents as­sem­ble in Gis­borne for the na­tional Pri­mary and Secondary Scholas­tic Champs.

As the car­loads of groms pull on up and empty out onto the beach, a buzz fills the air. Groms from the length and width of the coun­try have fil­tered into Gis­borne on a stun­ning spring day, and right in front of their eyes an epic blue wa­tered lineup fanned by off­shore winds reels off with a two-way peak and longer lefts. The hype is real, the groms are scream­ing with ex­cite­ment, some are re­served and shy while oth­ers are the life of the party al­ready run­ning around min­gling with other teams and friends they’ve per­haps met at other events.

My mind takes me back, a long 28 years, where just like some of these groms I’d come to the very first in­au­gu­ral scholas­tic champs, a ten­ta­tive 14-year-old grom. As I came from an area not so surf con­test ori­en­tated and I hadn’t done a lot of surf­ing at the hot spots like Raglan and Piha I wasn’t part of the core group of tight groms, but I kept quiet and just con­cen­trated on my surf­ing. Other groms all around me were fa­mil­iar as I had seen their faces in the mags and the elder U18 guys were al­most like he­roes to me. The places they were from, the waves

they surfed and the trips they’d been on scoring mind blow­ing waves had me want­ing a taste of that ac­tion one day! And much like my­self 28 years ago I look around and wit­ness the same be­hav­iour amongst these new gen­er­a­tion of groms as if look­ing on a mini me from long ago. In that event I pro­gressed through a few heats but in what I think was the quar­ter fi­nals I was up against some big names and I sim­ply froze, in awe of the spray that was blow­ing off the back of the waves they rode and I barely caught a wave. But over those few days I met some epic grom mates and some older surfers who took me un­der their wing and re­main friends for life, open­ing the doors from that point on 28 years ago. Also still there in the thick of it, sur­vivors of that very first NZ scholas­tic event are Ben Ken­nings who now runs these events for Surf­ing NZ the win­ner of the U15’s back then, James Fow­ell of Gis­borne who teaches at the lo­cal high school and has been brought in as spe­cial­ist guru coach of the Gis­borne team, and as I look down the beach there on the shore­line cheer­ing his charges on is Puke Parana of Can­ter­bury still at it af­ter all these years of scholastics. Then locked in­side the big white box is NZ Cir­cuit judge Russell Ritchie of Can­ter­bury who was in­volved in that very first scholastics and was part of the team who headed to Bali for the Worlds.

The scholastics was launched in 1989 the brain­child of Ross Guy who worked for Rip Curl, with Carol Cranch (now McGhee) and Mary Davie heading the ins and outs. The con­cept was launched to im­prove the level of com­pe­ti­tion and to se­lect a Ju­nior Team for the World Grom­met Ti­tles held at Kuta Beach, Bali. And for the next 13 years our finest groms went head to head in the Re­gional and Na­tional Scholastics and from there a team was se­lected to rep­re­sent NZ on the world stage, and rep­re­sent they did, with many podium plac­ings over those years cul­mi­nat­ing in a World Ti­tle win for the kiwi team in 2001 and a World Ju­nior Ti­tle for Jay Quinn in the U18’s.

The scholastics con­test en­vi­ron­ment has changed ever so slightly over the years; the in­ter­na­tional event moved from Bali in '99 to Australia for a few years and was then ab­sorbed into the stand-alone ISA World Ju­nior Cham­pi­onships, which has been con­tested ever since in a va­ri­ety of lo­ca­tions around the world in­clud­ing our very own Piha in 2010.

But one thing that hasn’t changed, is year af­ter year dur­ing the school hol­i­days, teams of groms con­gre­gate to duke it out over the week-long tour­na­ment to find the cham­pi­ons from Pri­mary Schools, through to Secondary schools and the cham­pion re­gional team.

For three years straight, the tour­na­ment has been hosted by Gis­borne and for three years straight the groms have been spoilt be­yond be­lief in the wave depart­ment with each and ev­ery year pro­vid­ing amaz­ing weather and per­fect grom waves to offer a con­sis­tent and fair plat­form for the young­sters to per­form. What­ever weather pat­tern we’ve been im­mersed in over the last few years, even the ex­perts can’t seem to make up their minds whether or not it’s an El Nino or La Nina pat­tern, one thing for sure is that the sea­son of spring has been cruel for the ma­jor­ity of surf zones in NZ bar Gis­borne and per­haps Dunedin. But imag­ine throw­ing a pack of groms out into the icy wa­ters of Otago in early Oc­to­ber, I can hear the Otago Team right now rub­bing their hands to­gether scream­ing bring it down here so we can be the only ones whose limbs work. But the re­al­ity of the need for con­testable waves through­out the course of a week, makes Gis­borne a prized location to hold such an event, where at many lo­ca­tions up or down the coast waves can be scored in all man­ner of con­di­tions. Many years ago, when the con­test was last held on the South Is­lands West Coast at West­port the surf con­di­tions picked up so fast and fu­ri­ous to the point of be­ing dan­ger­ous and with nowhere to hide from the swell or­gan­is­ers were forced to can­cel the event at the quar­ter fi­nal mark and crown a cham­pion by way of high­est heat score at that point.

This year’s event kicked off with the Satur­day and Sun­day open­ing act of the Pri­mary School champs with groms rang­ing from 6-12 years old, en­com­pass­ing both Pri­mary and In­ter­me­di­ate lev­els. While the Secondary Schools had more of a hard-core com­pe­ti­tion fac­tor the Pri­mary con­test was more of a feel-good

sce­nario, where fun and be­ing in­volved take pri­or­ity and Sticky John­son and Skull­candy were two spon­sors that got in be­hind the cause to en­hance par­tic­i­pa­tion and grow the sport at this level. While surf­ing in an event such as this can be daunt­ing for some groms it seemed the par­ents were tak­ing the hit the most, some waded out up to their chest to help out their kids while oth­ers pad­dled out on a board to offer their kids a sense of se­cu­rity and then there were the par­ents that sim­ply couldn’t watch as they were so tense and ner­vous they had to leave the beach. Ev­ery sin­gle grom gave it their all and most im­por­tantly friend­ships were forged that just like that first ever scholastics 28 years ago will last a life­time as these kids grow to­gether pushing each other and laugh­ing amongst the waves of Aotearoa.

Rolling straight into the Secondary Schools there was no rest for the wicked with 117 surfers spread over 11 re­gional teams. There would be five straight days of full on com­pe­ti­tion with 99 heats to be surfed and at the end of the ar­du­ous week seven new cham­pi­ons crowned. Util­is­ing the same arena as the pri­mary Sshools had, at North­ern Mako­rori, the bank was on fire and broke all through the tides of­fer­ing up both rights and long lefts. And for the next three days the event hummed along with­out a hitch with noth­ing but epic surf­ing, in­tense bat­tles in the wa­ter and su­perb dis­plays on ca­ma­raderie and sports­man­ship amongst the teams.

Gizzy had de­liv­ered five straight pump­ing days, and in be­tween heats the teams would also dis­perse to sam­ple other waves around the re­gion, re­turn­ing with tales of be­ing blown out of pits. And that's the true re­ward of events like this, those in­volved get to de­velop their skills as peo­ple, be a part of a team and the val­ues that brings, im­prove and test their surf­ing by way of com­pe­ti­tion and at the same time get to ex­pe­ri­ence an­other part of the coun­try’s surf. There isn’t anywhere in the coun­try at this time of year that could de­liver such a fine run of con­di­tions, and for the third year run­ning par­ents were also run­ning off to real es­tate of­fices look­ing to get in on a piece of Gizzy love.

But on the fourth day, as ex­pected and fore­cast, that run came to a grind­ing halt with a sav­age southerly whip­ping in off the Pa­cific. Tem­per­a­tures plum­meted and the ocean was whipped into a mess by the on­shore. Yet Mako­rori’s ‘Red Bus’ surf break ac­tu­ally de­liv­ered some con­testable waves de­spite the hor­rid day. Then as this part of the coun­try does at this time of year, the fi­nal penul­ti­mate day dawned clear, sunny and groomed off­shore lines marched through Poverty Bay where they met the sand bot­tom reefs of ‘Red Bus’ for the ex­cit­ing and en­ter­tain­ing 2017 Fi­nals. There were some epic neck and neck see-saw­ing bat­tles, where the lead changed over and over and where it ba­si­cally came down to who rode a wave last be­fore the hooter sounded, then in other fi­nals one surfer dom­i­nated from the get go and never looked back. But through­out the event, as across the fi­nals, it was en­cour­ag­ing to see the many years ahead for this sport in this coun­try will be well rep­re­sented, just like the 28 years pre­vi­ous.

A week of team bond­ing, sup­port­ing one an­other and be­ing coached by ex­pe­ri­enced men­tors, and throw in pump­ing waves and you have the recipe for one epic week of grom froth that will in re­turn de­velop the sport for years to come. The Can­ter­bury team fly the flag at the wa­ters edge.

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