New Zealand Surfing - - Nationals - Words and Im­ages: Cory

Re­turn­ing to Gis­borne for the 16th time in the il­lus­tri­ous his­tory of the Na­tional Surf­ing Champs which first kicked off back in 1963, there was a lit­tle ner­vous­ness in

the air. The East Coast had been rel­a­tively lake like for 3 weeks lead­ing up to the Nats and al­though Gizzy, open to swells from the North to the South-west, those con­sis­tent of­fer­ings from the south had all but dried up. But like clock­work as the week­long event ap­proached so did the swell and not only did it look like swell all week, but it even ap­peared as if it would max out for the first cou­ple of days mean­ing some­where unique may have to be used.

Since 1985 NZ Surf Mag pho­tog­ra­phers and edi­tors have made the an­nual pil­grim­age to the Na­tion­als wher­ever they may be, and from the first blare of the hooter at 8AM on day 1 un­til that Open ti­tle tro­phy is hoisted into the air seven days later, we are there on the beach from dawn till dusk, fo­cussed on the ac­tion, the con­tro­ver­sies, the per­sonal tri­umphs, the fail­ures, and the tears that may fall. Ev­ery year there are piv­otal mo­ments and sto­ries that oc­cur in the chal­lenge for these 29 ti­tles con­tested by over 300 surfers.

The Surf - With a huge southerly swell pump­ing in fanned by brisk off­shore winds, the scouts were dis­persed at first light to find the best lo­ca­tion for com­pe­ti­tion. Days prior lo­cal ex­perts called the place to be was Gizzy Pipe, but as Pipe is most of­ten over­looked in favour of more name spots, it is of­ten held in re­gard and the last op­tion. Yet in con­di­tions like this Pipe can of­ten end up the place to be. At first when it was an­nounced Pipe was the venue to kick start the 2018 Na­tional

Champs, many thought it was some sort of prank, un­til they rolled up and laid eyes on the lineup them­selves.

What Pipe of­fered that other lo­ca­tions wouldn’t in these con­di­tions was a de­fined pad­dle out spot where two re­fract­ing cur­rents create a chan­nel mak­ing it pos­si­ble to get out in al­most any con­di­tions. And while the open coast­line was badly af­fected by mid-morn­ing by the strong sea breezes, Pipe re­mained off­shore turn­ing to glassy later in the day. For two days Pipe de­liv­ered and on day 2 when con­di­tions were fore­cast to de­crease the swell dou­bled and spec­ta­tors lined the shores mar­vel­ling at the outer reef cloud breaks that were bomb­ing and then swing­ing onto the bank at Pipe. There were some in­cred­i­ble waves seen and a fair few rid­den. Con­di­tions were such for a con­test that many se­nior leg­ends of the sport that have been present or wit­nessed Na­tional Cham­pi­onships surfed for 40 years plus were call­ing for the premier di­vi­sion the Open Men’s to be com­pleted in these type waves. This is a week­long tour­na­ment how­ever and in the in­ter­ests of at­tempt­ing to give ev­ery di­vi­sion a fair go in de­cent surf it can’t be all about the Open.

For the re­main­der of the week the con­test moved to Red Bus at Mako­rori which de­liv­ered epic con­testable waves for the re­main­der of the con­test, the bank of­fered short rights and long peel­ing me­chan­i­cal lefts through all tides. Iron­i­cally when we men­tion how the Open Men’s tend to get the cream of the con­di­tions, it was this very push in sched­ul­ing to give other di­vi­sions a go that lead to the demise in sev­eral of our top surfers. From our point of view this was the only de­ci­sion by con­test or­gan­is­ers that

in­deed of­fered un­fair con­di­tions. All morn­ing the bank of­fered up 2-3 foot walls in both direc­tions but by the time the Open quar­ters pad­dled out, the sea breeze had kicked in and the tide was near­ing full mean­ing all they had to work with was 1 foot mush with no form what­so­ever. One point that was raised that holds sub­stance was that these con­di­tions were still bet­ter than lot of WQS con­tests which our in­ter­na­tional surfers must work with, yet when one wave peels through and the next ten which all look the same fade out into a deep hole it sim­ply be­came a mat­ter of luck. First went 6X Na­tional Champ Billy Stair­mand, Next 4X Champ and for­mer WCT surfer Maz Quinn, along with Bobby Hansen and Tay­lor Hutchieson, the race for the Open Ti­tle had some been blown wide open and it was any­one’s for the tak­ing from here on in.

The draw - Once the draw is re­leased it of­fers a pic­ture as to the po­ten­tial match ups if the favourites do make their heats, what we had this year in the Open Men’s was a mas­sively stacked side of the draw and a rather weaker side, with­out any dis­re­spect to those surfers. What this meant is po­ten­tially we could have many of our top tal­ents all meet­ing in the quar­ter fi­nals and three of NZ’s top surfers all in one semi-fi­nal. How this oc­curred was driven by years of de­mand for ac­count­abil­ity and trans­parency, rules were writ­ten and pro­cesses etched in stone. But when you have sev­eral of your top surfers com­pet­ing over­seas for years and hav­ing not com­peted that much in the na­tion­als which pre­vi­ous re­sults dic­tate your seed­ing, then even though every­one knows those surfers are the top dogs. To fol­low the rules which every­one re­quests, draws such as this will oc­cur. Many surfers that ended up on the stacked side of the draw and were cry­ing foul, call­ing it a set-up and so on, but Surf­ing NZ sim­ply gave the peo­ple what they asked for.

Women’s Surf­ing - Fe­male surf­ing has boomed in the last ten years and to be hon­est it is the fe­males that have flown the flag for us in­ter­na­tion­ally more so than the males in re­cent times with Paige Hareb and Ella Wil­liams per­form­ing so cred­itably and there is also an un-prece­dented amount of our girls tak­ing a shot at the World Qual­i­fy­ing Se­ries. The surf­ing these women are do­ing is a plea­sure to watch, and while the re­al­ity was that in the past, the beaches emp­tied and the rat­ings plum­meted once women’s di­vi­sions took to the wa­ter, it is no longer the case and our very own women’s heats are in­tense and en­ter­tain­ing. How­ever this year, driven by ru­moured le­gal ac­tion, Surf­ing NZ opted to run the same di­vi­sions for the women as those of­fered to the male coun­ter­parts, de­spite the fact that in some of the se­nior women’s di­vi­sions only one fe­male had en­tered. What this ul­ti­mately meant was that those fe­males that paid their en­try fee and pulled on a rash shirt, were al­ready crowned Na­tional Cham­pi­ons and were Gold Medal­ists be­fore they even pad­dled out! Five fe­males pad­dled out for one heat and 5 cham­pi­ons were crowned, none of them were com­pet­ing against each other or even them­selves. The ti­tle was ce­mented by pay­ing the en­try. Now if we are to look up the def­i­ni­tion of a cham­pi­onship the way surf­ing is run, it is a con­test, where one or more com­peti­tors COM­PETE against an­other to de­cide which in­di­vid­ual is the cham­pion.

So, we strug­gle to see where the com­pe­ti­tion was in these di­vi­sions at a Na­tional Cham­pi­onship dur­ing a surf­ing con­test. As a whole the women’s surf­ing, even in these se­nior di­vi­sions, was an epic watch for the en­tire tour­na­ment and we ap­plaude these ladies for their de­ter­mi­na­tion and ef­forts, and lets hope more fe­males will en­ter in years to come but for now we strug­gle to see how this de­ci­sion in­deed helped the sport of women’s surf­ing.

The Fairy­tale - In 2013 Waihi Beach’s Levi Ste­wart was liv­ing the dream, his surf­ing had gone from strength to strength and he was pick­ing up big re­sults; spon­sors were knock­ing on the door and he was at­tend­ing the Raglan Surf Academy, ev­ery­thing a young com­pet­i­tive grom surfer dreams of achiev­ing. Then dur­ing one foul swoop while com­pet­ing in his last ever scholas­tics event at Piha Beach, Levi took a heavy wipe­out out on the bar which saw him break his spine in two places. Levi’s world came crash­ing down when Doc­tors de­liv­ered the ver­dict that he may never be able to surf at a com­pet­i­tive level ever again. For a year Levi was sim­ply bat­tling with re­cov­ery and couldn’t even at­tempt to surf. Once he was con­fi­dent that his in­juries were re­ha­bil­i­tated enough Levi be­gan to swim and had the odd surf on a long­board. For an­other year Levi bat­tled with the fact that he would never get to surf again how he once did. He spi­ralled into deep de­pres­sion and put on a lot of weight and he calls these years “the dark­est of his life”. One day around eight months later he re­calls wak­ing up and think­ing I’m sick of this shit, and he im­me­di­ately set a goal to prove the doc­tors and crit­ics wrong! He be­gan train­ing that ev­ery day, and day by day he im­proved his strength, his mo­bil­ity and with that his state of mind. It was a long hard road and an­other year passed be­fore Levi be­gan to once again ride his short­board, a few small lo­cal comps fol­lowed and the con­fi­dence re­turned. Levi trained his ass off ev­ery­day, build­ing up mus­cle and strength to sup­port his in­jury. On day 1 of the event Levi was out at first light tear­ing apart the big Pipe walls, on­look­ers were ask­ing “who was that?” And af­ter sev­eral more rounds of pro­gres­sion when he came up against 6X Cham­pion Billy Stair­mand along with his grom­met-hood spar­ring part­ner Paul Mor­retti and took down the de­fend­ing champ. Every­one from then on had the name Levi on their lips, learnt of his story and he took on the role of the ‘Peo­ples Champ’. Ev­ery heat Levi’s mum stood at the edge off the wa­ter and greeted him with a big cud­dle when he pad­dled in, a cel­e­bra­tion of mile­stones that for so many years seemed im­pos­si­ble. When Levi pad­dled out for the fi­nal of the Premier di­vi­sion, the beach was his! Sure, Ri­cardo was there along with El­liot two of our in­ter­na­tional cam­paign­ers with all the ex­pe­ri­ence in the world, he was also shar­ing the fi­nal with this child­hood bro Paul Mor­retti. Af­ter word got back to the Waihi Beach com­mu­nity a heap of his mates and other sup­port­ers had driven through the night to sup­port their brother, and they lined the beach shoul­der to shoul­der. For years Levi had prob­a­bly lived this mo­ment in his dreams, he’d prob­a­bly gone over this scene in his head thou­sands of times as he searched for mo­ti­va­tion to over­come his ob­sta­cles, and with 15 min­utes of the 25 minute fi­nal he was lead­ing! The in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence of Ric and El­liot be­gan to shine through in the dy­ing min­utes and Levi fin­ished a ca­reer best 3rd, oh so close but at the same time oh so far from where he had come. From a grom who was told he’d never surf again, to a con­tender! We look for­ward to the many epic mo­ments that will fol­low in your ca­reer mate.

A Ri­valry - It’s been a long time since there was a heated ri­valry and a bit of mon­grel on dis­play in a NZ con­test, and it was great to wit­ness! While four surfers took to the wa­ter in the Open Men’s fi­nal, two of them were locked in an in­tense bat­tle; one ex­pe­ri­enced leg­end of NZ Surf­ing in Ri­cardo Christie and one young buck want­ing to stamp his mark in El­liot Paer­ata-Reid. In­tense ri­val­ries create drama and great view­ing and not since the mid 90’s and the bat­tles of Daniel Kere­opa and Da­mon Gun­ness has there truly been one of such pro­por­tions, think Andy and Kelly and you get the drift. While Ric has all the ac­co­lades and ex­pe­ri­ence in his camp, the type that oth­ers re­spect and gen­er­ally roll over in awe of, El­liot on the other hand was there to win and he wasn’t tak­ing a back­ward step! The type of heat strat­egy that El­liot brings to the wa­ter is ex­actly what is miss­ing from many of our in­ter­na­tional reps when they take on the world tour, be­ing able to tech­ni­cally match the other surfer they of­ten fall short when it comes to tac­tics and tak­ing it to the other com­peti­tors. With two min­utes re­main­ing in the fi­nal El­liot was in the lead and Ric re­quired a big score. El­liot held the in­side po­si­tion and wasn’t giv­ing it up. Words were spo­ken, and the bat­tle heated. With a minute re­main­ing El­liott's sup­port­ers were be­gin­ning to raise their arms, while Ric’s sup­port­ers had their hands over their face. Then with 45 sec­onds re­main­ing Ric sold El­liot into a wave that was noth­ing but a dud. Re­al­is­ing his mis­take El­liot pulled out and some­how man­aged to get back onto the in­side of Ric as he was com­mit­ted to tak­ing the next wave no mat­ter what. The two stood up to­gether with a small piece of white­wa­ter sep­a­rat­ing them, El­liot pulled off in frus­tra­tion and Ric went to work, hav­ing to leave ev­ery­thing he had on that wave. The crowd was si­lenced! Would the judges call an in­ter­fer­ence on Ric? (They had called them all week long for much less) or would Ric get the score he re­quired? When the judges dropped a 9.67 that an­swered the ques­tions. Ric with 22 sec­onds of the fi­nal re­main­ing took the ti­tle, his sec­ond af­ter be­com­ing our youngest ever cham­pion 13 years ago aged 16. An ob­vi­ously unim­pressed El­liot stood wait­ing at the wa­ter’s edge. More words were ex­changed and then the two em­braced each other in a man hug in re­spect for what just went down and it was left at the wa­ter’s edge. The mon­grel was back and a new ri­valry born, let’s hope we get to see a bit more of this out of our surfers. Ric got to thrust that tro­phy etched with his­tory for his sec­ond time and El­liot went on to be awarded “The Most Out­stand­ing Per­for­mance” an award re­flec­tive of his ef­forts over the week which he ded­i­cated to a re­cent fallen friend and of­fered the words of recog­ni­tion to Ric. “I was stoked to put on a good per­for­mance and have a good bat­tle with the best surfer in New Zealand at the mo­ment but ob­vi­ously it is a tough pill to swal­low, I made a mis­take and if you don’t win you learn I guess”.

The last time Gizzy Pipe de­liv­ered waves like this was prob­a­bly back in 2009 and the last time these type con­di­tions co­in­cided with a com­pe­ti­tion was around 1997. For two days Pipe sim­ply pumped!

El­liot Paer­ata- Reid was one of the few com­peti­tors to be seen tak­ing to the air dur­ing the champs.

The Champ in­vited the next gen­er­a­tion to come and share the mo­ment. TOP TO BOT­TOM: Open Wom­ens Cham­pion Raiha En­sor is a silent as­sasin, she can plod along with a few low scores in a heat and then in one swift blow drop a 9.67 with a cou­ple of huge turns, and that's ex­actly what she did to take the win.

6X Na­tional Cham­pion Billy Stair­mand came look­ing to de­fend and ad to his run, early form sug­gested he would be hard to stop, yet fell like many other top seeds to ad­verse full tide 1 foot on­shore con­di­tions.

The con­sis­tent left bank with the odd right de­liv­ered great con­test waves for the en­tire week.

Keone Camp­bell is a big hu­man and when it gets big and juicy his power surf­ing comes to the fore.

The heat of bat­tle can take one into places they've never been be­fore, Ric and El­liot set­tle their dis­pute man to man.

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