pre­sented by Health 2000

New Zealand Surfing - - Out there Doin it - Words and images by Cory

I’ve long been drawn and deeply in­trigued by com­pe­ti­tion. Ever since I was young, I was al­ways in­fat­u­ated by the greats of all sports and the mind-blow­ing things these tal­ented ath­letes could do un­der im­mense pres­sure. Like all kiwi kids, back then I watched the cricket, the All blacks and in­ter­na­tional sports such as ten­nis and box­ing when they graced our screens. Back then that was the only medium to mar­vel at these great sports­men. Then I be­came a surfer, re­born into the world of salt and I sim­ply couldn’t get enough! There wasn’t a lot of cov­er­age go­ing on in those old days but early on I had the mags and had al­ready pleaded my al­le­giance to my mag­a­zine idols both in­ter­na­tional and here in NZ. It seemed pretty ob­vi­ous, the best surfers all won the big comps, so cov­er­age of those dom­i­nated the pages. In 1988, as a young grom, I had the chance while hol­i­day­ing in Mt Maun­ganui to watch the Joseph Kuhtze NZ Na­tional Champs. Right there on those very sands strut­ted the best in the busi­ness, and I was in awe of what they could do on a wave. That cham­pi­onship ended up go­ing flat, it was then re­lo­cated and fin­ished off in Gis­borne and I wanted so badly to see who would be­come champ that I boarded a bus as a young 14-year-old. That was my in­tro­duc­tion to the Na­tional Champs and since then I have at­tended 23 Cham­pi­onships not miss­ing one since 1995, both com­pet­ing and hon­ing my skills be­hind the lens while the guns were out per­form­ing! While these days it is my job to cover the epic swells, and big events, I come to the Na­tion­als year af­ter year to be in­spired and to ad­mire; to watch my favourite surfers go to bat­tle for the most cov­eted ti­tle in NZ Surf­ing, and to also watch the emerg­ing ta­lent that ap­pears year af­ter year. Back when I be­gan this streak, I kicked around with a pretty core group, and to­gether ev­ery year we showed up, com­peted, caught up with long lost faces, had some hell laughs, and then of course in be­tween I also worked. Most of those guys have since moved on, but back then we used to have a wa­ger at the start of the cham­pi­onship. Round one could be com­pleted so you could an­a­lyse who was show­ing best form, or who had im­proved out of sight, but then you had to name four surfers that you thought would go on to make the Open Men’s Fi­nal, con­sid­ered the pin­na­cle of the event. These days I must con­fess that there are ju­nior fi­nals or even the Open Women’s that are nearly as damn ex­cit­ing to watch. But any­way, back to task, we could also pick one wild­card, and who­ever ended up clos­est at the end of the cham­pi­onship with the most named surfers in the fi­nal was the win­ner and the oth­ers had to pitch in for a big bot­tle of Jim Beam (which we all shared any­way on fi­nal night). Since then I still find my­self play­ing this same old game like some sort of rit­ual in hon­our of my de­parted bro’s, who by the way still ring me in the first cou­ple of days to see who’s do­ing what and who I reckon are the picks. For seven days for the last 23 years my Na- tional Cham­pi­onships goes some­thing like this. Be at the beach by 6:30 (de­pend­ing on lo­ca­tion of course - down in Dunedin it would be 5) set­ting up to shoot the free-surf­ing prior to com­pe­ti­tion get­ting un­der­way, then by 8AM it’s all go, and I will not leave the beach all day! Don’t ask me how I re­lieve my­self, let’s just say the late and great Jerry Collins and I have a sim­i­lar tech­nique em­ployed. By 5PM, af­ter 30 heats of non­stop ac­tion, I may go get a feed, rally up some troops and then go and shoot some free surf­ing un­til dark then head back to my nest, down­load all the images, send out me­dia, and fi­nally hit the sack about 11PM at the ear­li­est. This is then re­peated each day, be­com­ing ground hog day for the fol­low­ing six days. I don’t blink and I watch ev­ery move, in hope of nail­ing that one golden turn ev­ery few heats, and pre­serv­ing a mo­ment and mem­ory that in fu­ture years will be re­mem­bered as his­tory of NZ Surf­ing. No one see’s more of the ac­tion than I, es­pe­cially up close through the big lens, so very quickly I get a good take on who is gun­ning for the ti­tle and who is show­ing prom­ise to carry the man­tle of cham­pion into the next gen­er­a­tion. Here’s my per­sonal take on this year’s cham­pi­onships. NB: It may al­ter from the ac­tual re­sults, as the judges were 500 me­tres away star­ing into a burning glare most of the time!

The Venue:

While con­di­tions for the cham­pi­onships were very un­der par, what Piha does of­fer ev­ery time this cham­pi­onship is held here is ac­tual waves! In a week-long event if you were to look around the coun­try dur­ing this week nowhere could have of­fered waves ev­ery day for seven days, and Piha never lets us down on that front. Piha is also con­sid­ered the birth place of mod­ern surf­ing in NZ, where two trav­el­ling Amer­i­can surfers Bing Copeland and Rick Stoner in­tro­duced the first fi­bre­glass mal­ibu’s to NZ wa­ters, and has held the cham­pi­onships 12 times over 54 years, se­cond only to Gis­borne.

The G.O.A.T:

Head­ing to Piha for this year’s cham­pi­onships had a rather hol­low feel­ing about it, good mate and pos­si­bly our best surfer ever, Mr Maz Quinn, had only days be­fore made it of­fi­cial that he was hang­ing up the rashy and call­ing it quits on his com­pet­i­tive ca­reer. To have wit­nessed what this man has achieved both on and off­shore in the great­est prov­ing grounds of world surf­ing were great mo­ments for my­self, to know that he would no longer be grac­ing these events was met with some sad­ness, yet at the same time great re­spect for what he had achieved. Ever since the 80’s reign of ti­tles by the leg­endary Iain ‘Ratso’ Buchanan, who matched an icon of our sport Wayne Parkes at 5X con­sec­u­tive ti­tles, that had been not only the record but the bench­mark that all cham­pi­ons as­pired to beat. This had been a mas­sive goal of Maz’s early in his ca­reer and he swiftly rung up 4X ti­tles and looked well on his way to eclips­ing the record, when his run was halted. In stepped Billy Stairmand of Raglan with a brand of fast, loose and ex­cit­ing surf­ing. Billy was out there on the world stage com­pet­ing on the qual­i­fy­ing cir­cuit just as Maz had, and this kept him ra­zor sharp! And while some surfers snubbed the Na­tional Champs this meant a huge amount to Billy and he al­ways re­turned home for a run at the ti­tle in prime form. In 2016 down in Dunedin, with both surfers on 4X ti­tles, Maz and Billy went blow for blow in the fi­nal. All week long Maz had looked un-stop­pable but he went miss­ing in ac­tion

in the fi­nal and Billy grabbed his fifth and most im­por­tantly, record equalling 5X ti­tles to sit along­side some il­lus­tri­ous com­pany. So, upon lead­ing into the cham­pi­onships and wit­ness­ing the form and train­ing that Maz was in, it looked a done deal that he was gonna come out swing­ing and give that fifth ti­tle a crack. In­stead he came out and re­leased a state­ment, that through his en­tire ca­reer he had al­ways told him­self that when the fire in the belly was no longer there, it was time to walk! And we re­spect that and hon­our the 27 years of com­pet­i­tive ser­vice and en­ter­tain­ment you have given to our sport, you are a true cham­pion. So, with Maz gone, there was much de­bate on who could stand in the way of Billy the Kid, tak­ing his 6th Crown and also the man­tle of GOAT! In 2016 upon win­ning his fifth there was much con­jec­ture, when it came to com­par­isons of win­ning five spread out ti­tles Vs five con­sec­u­tive ti­tles. This was a fair call, in sport it is much harder to re­main at the top year af­ter year with ev­ery­one gun­ning for ya blood. But if Billy could take his 6th that would in­deed place him in his very own cat­e­gory. So, to get back to play­ing my own per­sonal game of “who’s ya fi­nal­ists” on the first day of the event, I chose Billy, the ev­er­con­sis­tent JC Su­san, ju­nior El­liot Brown af­ter his barn­storm­ing round one per­for­mance and of course lo­cal El­liot Paer­ata Reid as my fi­nal­ists, and Sean Peggs as my wild card. And by the fi­nal day I was pretty stoked to get three of my picks in the four-man fi­nal. What I didn’t see com­ing was Taylor Hutchi­son’s ma­ture per­for­mance, but more about that in the Dark horse cat­e­gory. For an ath­lete to per­form to their best, they must not only be in peak phys­i­cal and tech­ni­cal form, they must have it all calmed and ready in the top 10 inches, in the head. Talk­ing to Billy early on, I sensed much sad­ness and loss, the last few weeks had been heart­break­ing for the bloke, he had parted ways with his long time ma­jor spon­sor leav­ing him with­out fi­nan­cial back­ing for 2017, and had also lost his mum af­ter a long bat­tle with can­cer. Yet Billy was here do­ing what he does, try­ing to get through this dark time as best as he could by surf­ing. His ear­lier heats were slow and lo­cal won­der boy El­liot Paer­ataReid grabbed the billing as favourite af­ter his im­pres­sive per­for­mances, and kept this form right on through to the fi­nal. While any of fi­nal­ists would and could have a le­git­i­mate shot at the ti­tle, es­pe­cially in these con­di­tions that Piha had served up, the fi­nal day was 2-6 foot and strat­egy and the abil­ity to adapt within the 25-minute time­frame would de­ter­mine your fate. El­liot knew the line-up bet­ter than any­one, so Billy tagged along join­ing him on the out­side bombs. While these of­fered some scor­ing po­ten­tial, be­ing out the back of­fered slow scor­ing and the chance of be­ing caught by a wide set and pinned in no man’s land for the en­tire heat. How­ever, the move was a wor­thy risk, latch onto one of those run­ner bombs and big scores would fall, which is ex­actly what dropped in the first few min­utes of the heat for Billy when a 9.53 was de­liv­ered, first nail in the cof­fin! With Taylor putting in some epic work on the in­side, Billy ad­justed his strat­egy and headed in to get a piece of this ac­tion and when he stroked into that last wave with only a minute re­main­ing, he milked it all the way to the sand and just stood there wait­ing, know­ing he had done all he could. Then if there wasn’t a dry eye on the beach, Billy raised his hand pointed to the heav­ens in ded­i­ca­tion to his mother, and the tears, cham­pagne and ela­tion flowed! The 30-year record had been bro­ken, Billy had just be­come the 6X Champ and stamped him­self in the his­tory books as the ‘Great­est Of All Time’. With a group of his best mates and fi­ancé all in sup­port they car­ried and cheered him up the beach. There was one more fit­ting mo­ment about to go down; Ratso, the man whose record Billy had just bro­ken, was there wait­ing at the edge of the dunes, hav­ing watched the en­tire show with noth­ing but re­spect and ad­mi­ra­tion for the lad, and be­ing the leg­end that he is Ratso ex­changed a few words, shook hands and then handed out a mas­sive man hug.

The Dark Horse:

While I had Sean Peggs in my mix as my wild­card, he did not dis­ap­point, you see if Peg­gsy had been ac­tively com­pet­ing in re­cent times I’d have had him as a fi­nals pic for sure, yet he had been trav­el­ling and tak­ing on a new ca­reer in re­cent times so recog­nis­ing his pure ta­lent and con­sis­tency he was my pick. The one I did not see com­ing was Taylor Hutchi­son, giv­ing credit where it is due Taylor has for years lead the pack in the grom comps, and is one of the most con­sis­tent surfers go­ing, he also in 2016 rep­re­sented NZ at The ISA World Champs, an event that would have grown his con­fi­dence im­mensely. In com­pe­ti­tion surf­ing and be­ing re­stricted to 20 min­utes, strat­egy is ev­ery­thing; get that right and you are more than half way to pro­gress­ing through each and ev­ery heat. Taylor’s strat­egy heat af­ter

heat was bang on, and he not only chose the cor­rect for­mula, he ex­e­cuted it with pre­ci­sion. With two min­utes to go in the Open fi­nal Taylor had one hand on the tro­phy and as the sec­onds ticked down an up­set was in the mak­ing and it looked as if Taylor was gonna rain on Billy’s pa­rade. It was only through years of in­ter­na­tional com­pet­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence and be­ing heat savvy that Billy stole the lead on his last wave. Yet Taylor’s time will come and this is not the last we’ve seen of this name.

The Key­hole:

If you’ve ever been to Piha and at­tempted to get out the back on days like those which the cham­pi­onship saw, you’ll know just how hard it is. Catch a wave and you may as well for­get try­ing to get back out; that wave must be utilised to its max­i­mum, made count and then an­other lap taken. In years gone by you could al­ways count on the cir­cu­lat­ing rip in the south­ern cor­ner of South Piha which ef­fec­tively cre­ates the form of the in­fa­mous Piha Bar. In re­cent years, there has been a mass of sand mi­gra­tion break­ing off in slugs from the 8 mil­lion cu­bic me­tres of sand de­posit down near the Manukau Har­bour. These slugs of sand move north fill­ing in the beaches of the West Coast, while it is great to have sand at a beach, in this case many of the banks that were pre­vi­ously iconic have filled in and no longer show their ex­pected form. In Piha’s case, while this has cre­ated great banks up North, the rips that surfers utilised to con­veyor belt them­selves out the back are no longer what they once were. For com­peti­tors at cer­tain times of the comp this meant the only way out was through a cave like crevice which stretches 60 me­tres through Camel Rock and out into the lineup be­hind the break­ing waves. While lo­cals and reg­u­lars take it in their stride, the path­way can seem treach­er­ous and in­tim­i­dat­ing, but many a surfer that utilised the Key­hole dur­ing the week, ad­vanced while oth­ers were be­ing held in­side pad­dling their hearts out.

The Ela­tion and sup­port:

No mat­ter what divi­sion it is I’ve al­ways fas­ci­nated by the ela­tion that sport­ing suc­cess brings, and how each ath­lete han­dles that. Some go quiet, some scream and yell, then there’s the quiet claims of a light fist squeeze, and the po­lar op­po­site fist pump to the heav­ens. For years NZ Surf­ing events kept the fi­nal re­sults se­cret un­til prize giv­ing, which was some­times days later and the emo­tion and ela­tion of a win was lost. I per­son­ally cam­paigned for years to see this changed, and thank­fully we now get to wit­ness and go along on the ride with each and ev­ery vic­tor, to see their friends and fam­i­lies revel in the mo­ment with great pride af­ter years of sac­ri­fice and ded­i­ca­tion.

The Fu­ture:

Each and ev­ery Na­tion­als un­earths new ta­lent that sim­ply shines and it wasn’t that long ago that some of the guys that filled the Open fi­nal slots had shown great prom­ise in the U14 di­vi­sions at this same event. The ta­lent we would wit­ness in these ju­nior di­vi­sions we know that in 5-10 years’ time will be the masters and fu­ture of our sport. Not since a young grom­met named Bobby Hansen way back in 96 as a long haired cheeky mi­cro grom of 11 years old,

The abil­ity to adapt his game plan quickly and surely de­liv­ered Billy his sixth and record set­ting ti­tle.

This one’s for you mum!

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