Piha set for Wellington challenge

They vanquished all their Kiwi rivals last season and nearly conquered the world but don't expect the champion Piha men's surfboat crew to let their standards slip.

The revamped national series gets under way today with the Wellington Super Surf Boat carnival at Paekakariki. At stake in the series are two spots - open male and open female - to compete in a trans-Tasman test against Australia's best crews at Waihi in February.

Piha are sending six crews south to compete across four divisions this weekend, with their top two open men's crews - swept by Mark Bourneville and Shane O'Halloran - among the warm favourites.

A strong local contingent, led by Lyall Bay, Titahi Bay and hosts Paekakariki, has Piha's well-publicised supremacy firmly in its sights.

"It's great to see clubs like Lyall Bay getting themselves back into the fold and Titahi Bay used to provide a lot of the motivation that drove me so relentlessly to knock the buggers over," former Kiwis league player Bourneville said.

"It took us many years of building and planning to knock the likes of Titahi Bay off the top of the castle and we don't intend to give the space up any time soon."

Bourneville's wariness at the Titahi Bay revival is justified. The perennial surfboat powerhouses have been rebuilding over the last two seasons and a largely under-23 crew, swept by Wil McDowell, are making a permanent move into the open ranks this season.

"We've got a whole lot of junior girls coming through and three male crews, which is the most for a few years," McDowell said. "We've had guys like (former champion sweep) Paul McVicar helping out and Tim Marsden has been setting our programmes, which has given us a big boost.

"Piha will be right up there with the best and they're coming off some good form at the worlds but knocking them off is always one of our goals for the season and we'll definitely be going for it."

Lyall Bay grabbed second in the short course at nationals earlier this year, though they've had a disrupted off-season with crew changes.

The women's division may be given a shake-up this year, with the outstanding national champion Mairangi Bay crew without key rower Nina Reid. That could open the door for Red Beach and Bethells Beach, who took out the minor placings in the long-course at nationals, with Mt Maunganui also expected to feature.

The Dominion Post