Kiwi teenagers Paige Hareb and Sarah Mason created surfing history as New Zealand came of age as international female power in the sport at the TSB Women's Festival in Taranaki yesterday.
Hareb was an impressive heat winner in powering through to the third round but was unexpectedly joined there by 15-year-old wildcard Mason - the first time New Zealand has ever had two competitors in the last 16 of a World Championship ''Dream Tour'' event.
For her achievement, Mason has drawn the indimidating figure of triple world champion Stephanie Gilmore who is yet to be beaten on the Dream Tour this year. Hareb, 19, faces Australian Rebecca Woods for a place in the quarter finals.
''It's so good to see the New Zealand flag alongside two names,'' said Hareb who broke through last year to become the first Kiwi woman to qualify for the elite Dream Tour and is now the inspiration for the likes of Mason.
''One of the advantages of New Zealand having an event on the Dream Tour for the first time is that we get to offer a wildcard start into the main tournament.
''I wasn't surprised to see Sarah earn that by winning the New Zealand Open on Sunday and she's proven her worth by getting to the last 16. ''She will give Steph (Gilmore) a run too. She's a great little surfer and she is showing how much talent we are building in women's surfing in New Zealand.''
Despite starting strongly, Mason was initially overwhelmed in her first round heat, falling to heat winner Gilmore and Hawaiian rookie Carissa Moore.
But she quickly found her feet in the second round repechage, clearly winning the heat ahead of experienced Brazilian Bruna Schmitz and ousting Australia's Claire Bevilaqua, out of the event. Schmitz and Bevilaqua are currently ranked equal 14th in the world.
While Mason's second round display caught the eye, Hareb more than lived up to hometown expectations with a blistering opening round performance.
The Oakura goofy-footer only needed one wave to demonstrate the threat she will be in this event if Taranaki serves up the big swell it is renowned for over the rest of the tournament.
Hareb coasted through her heat off the back of a single sizzling ride which netted the second highest score of the day.
The judging panel awarded Hareb with a 9-point (out of 10) score after she latched onto the biggest set to come through in her heat and took it apart with an astonishing backhand attack which included four massive vertical manoeuvres.
The display was a reminder of the danger the powerful Hareb represents in bigger waves typical of the coastline she grew up surfing and which is now hosting a Dream Tour event for the first time, largely off the back of her success.
''I felt good out there,'' she said after defeating Hawaiian veteran Melanie Bartels and French rookie LeeAnn Curren, daughter of former men's world champion Tom Curren.
''It's nice to have an event where I can sleep in my own bed! It was fun today and it won't worry me if the swell kicks up bigger.''
Hareb looks likely to get her wish.
While the waves were only a shifting one to one-and-a-half metres yesterday, the swell is tipped to increase to two metres plus today, setting the prospect for a mouth-watering showdown among the world's top women surfers.
- © Fairfax NZ News