Surf sisters build on their golden run

BRENDON EGAN
Last updated 05:00 27/12/2012
Southland Times photo
JOHN HAWKINS/Fairfax NZ
Southland sisters Stephanie, left, and Carla Laughton have had the midas-like touch in surf lifesaving this year.

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When you are talking about dream sporting years, it would be tough to topple Southland sister act Carla and Stephanie Laughton.

In the past 12 months, the duo have dominated women's surf lifesaving in New Zealand, winning national titles in the pool, on the beach, and inflatable rescue boat (IRB) events.

Their golden run of success got even better last month when they added a world title to their collection - claiming gold in the open women's tube rescue at Rescue 2012 at Adelaide's Glenelg Beach.

The Laughtons, who grew up on a farm in Springhills, near Winton, and attended Central Southland College, had never previously competed in a world championship event and did not know what to expect before they headed to Australia.

The Australians use different boats and motors, and Carla said it was very much a case of the unknown.

"At the world championships, they have a different set of rules, compared to New Zealand. In New Zealand, we have control over all our gear. You know what you've got. Over there, you get what you're given. Their boats and motors turn differently to ours."

The tube rescue event simulates the act of rescuing a patient with the use of a flexible foam rescue tube.

The Laughtons, and their patient, Rachel Craythorn, progressed to the final after advancing through the qualifying heats, quarterfinals, and semifinals. They had no idea they had won gold until the results had come through after the event.

The Australian teams were surprised they had been beaten by a New Zealand contingent and Carla said it was a wonderful feeling to know they were world champions.

"They were pretty arrogant. You could hear their coaches on the beach saying ‘They've got no competition here. You girls are going to win it easily'."

Carla said their mindset before a surf lifesaving race was pretty simple. In the sea, there were always plenty of uncontrollables, and it was important to try to focus on the process, rather than the outcome.

"With surf lifesaving, you've got waves and you can't control an alley or a rip. If you try and race your perfect race and do what you've been doing in training, the results will come."

Carla, 28, and Stephanie, 26, were latecomers to the sport. They both excelled in competitive swimming while at secondary school, but discovered surf lifesaving only when studying physical education at the University of Otago.

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"We didn't even know about the Oreti Surf Lifesaving Club [in Southland]," Carla said. "If we did go to the beach, we went to Riverton."

They proved to be naturals in surf lifesaving, creating history in 2010 when they became the first team to win gold medals at both the surf and IRB nationals. Carla is also the first lifesaver to win gold at all three national championships.

Stephanie said their strong swimming background and the meticulous training regimes they had developed, served them in good stead with surf lifesaving.

The Laughtons represent the St Clair club in Dunedin and from day 1 have been coached by Antony Mason, who is a respected name in the sport in Otago. Both sisters now live in Dunedin. Carla is a physical education and agriculture teacher at Otago Boys' High School, while Stephanie is the southern region's club development officer for Surf Lifesaving New Zealand.

Carla's achievements have been made even more astonishing by the fact that she suffered congenital heart problems when she was 15, which forced her to quit swimming.

She had open heart surgery and it took close to two years for her to finally regain her fitness and train again without any pain.

When Carla competes in surf lifesaving competitions, she draws on those difficult experiences and knows she has overcome her toughest obstacles in life.

"You've only got look at someone like [New Zealand rower] Mahe Drysdale, what he put on the line, when he was that crook, when he won his bronze medal [at the 2008 Beijing Olympics]," she said. "You're so fortunate for the opportunities you have [in life]. If you don't make the most of them and try your best, you're going to look back and dwell on it."

The Laughtons have a busy summer of racing ahead. In March, they will be gunning for more glory at the South Island IRB championships at Warrington Beach, near Dunedin, the national sand championships at Mt Maunganui and the national IRB championships at Waipu Cove, north of Auckland. Their main goal looming on the horizon will be the world surf lifesaving championships in France in 2014.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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