Silvana Lima sold her surfboard to fund her trip to Taranaki.
Yesterday it paid off for the Brazilian surfer, who defeated Australian Laura Enever in the final of the ASP 6 Star Port Taranaki Pro women's qualifying series event at Fitzroy Beach.
It was her first final in three years after she suffered an injury in 2012 quashing her season, then didn't re-qualify after the 2013 world tour because she couldn't afford to travel to all the tour stops.
Yesterday's win gave her wildcard entry to the fourth stop on the Samsung Galaxy ASP World Championship Tour on her home turf in Rio de Janeiro later this month.
The crowd on the beach erupted in applause as Lima paddled ashore and was carried up the beach by fellow Brazilian surfer Jacqueline Silva and Taranaki's Paige Hareb.
The win was also a thrill for Lynne and Steve Dickinson of Curl Magazine, who have supported Lima during her time in New Zealand.
The couple first met Lima when Steve was photographing her at a surf comp in Fiji.
"It was 10ft swells and she was paddling out and Steve said, ‘Be careful'.
"She caught this barrel, looked straight down the lens and laughed at him," Lynne said.
At just under five foot, Lima is a tiny powerhouse who seems to double in size when she hits the water.
"I call her rato de praia, the ‘beach mouse'," Steve said.
Lima's website, Silvana Free, was set up as a crowd-funding source to help her out financially in her training and competing.
Unlike most of the other pro surfers around her, Lima has no brand sponsorship and travelled to New Zealand with just two boards, one of which she sold last week to help cover her costs.
Lynne said they contacted Lima to ask if she had anywhere to stay in New Plymouth during the competition.
She didn't, so they picked her up from the airport and invited her to stay in their spare room.
"The organisers would have found a house for her but it would have put her out of pocket because she's travelling such a long way," Lynne said.
She said Lima was incredibly appreciative of being given a free bed.
"A lot of the girls have big money and sponsorship, she doesn't."
Being able to help someone like Lima travel around the world was nice, she said.
"If you can do something and help somebody out, that's cool."
The language barrier limited her ability to express herself fully but Lima's gratitude was clear from her huge grin.
"He [Steve] has believed in me, in the contest that I can go in to do the best I can do.
"Thanks for everything."
Lima was glowing after her victory. "This year I feel 100 per cent and everything is good with my knee. I'm 29 but I feel like 20, everything is good."
Her one complaint was the Taranaki temperatures.
"The weather is pretty freezing but after that the waves are good."
New Zealand Home Loans Surf Festival director Craig Williamson said the event had been successful from the start.
"To finish in the sunshine and decent swell with so many people on the beach and to have such a worthy winner who's overcome such adversity, it's fantastic."
Commentator Chris Wilkes had such faith in Lima he had $10 on her to win. "She's definitely the fastest and the most powerful." Results: Page 2
- Taranaki Daily News
Is this the best summer ever?Related story: Wellington sizzles in January heat