Black ironsand is Scott Murfitt's sportsground

SECOND HOME: Sprinter Scott Murfitt at Fitzroy Beach.
SECOND HOME: Sprinter Scott Murfitt at Fitzroy Beach.

Taranaki's Scott Murfitt is sprinting to the top of his sport - surf lifesaving. He's one of the fastest beach sprinters in New Zealand and he has his sights set high. Sports editor Murray Hills catches up with the talented teen.

The black ironsand beaches of Taranaki have a lot to answer for.

Youngsters sprinting over the scorching sand to the shallow water.

Adults shuffling their way over the hot sand for a dip in the water, before a quick dash back to their car.

But for 18-year-old Scott Murfitt, the sand is his sports ground.

He's one of the quickest beach sprinters in New Zealand and one of the best when it comes to beach flags.

Murfitt - who was head boy in his final year at New Plymouth's Francis Douglas Memorial College in 2013 - has been running on sand all his life.

"I always enjoyed the beach. I joined the Fitzroy Surf Lifesaving Club when I was 14. I gave the ski a go a couple of years ago, but it got to the stage I just wanted to go hard in the beach events," he said.

"Swimming's not my strong point. I could run down with the first aid gear, but I wouldn't swim out with the rescue tube. I'm way faster on the beach than in the water."

And the modest teen is exactly that.

At a recent Whangamata surf lifesaving carnival, he won the open men's beach sprint and finished third in the open men's beach flags. Prior to that he won the under-19 beach flags and beach sprint at the Bay of Plenty champs at Ohope Beach.

He's also quick on the athletic track.

At the New Zealand secondary schools' track and field championships in Hamilton in early December, Murfitt finished second in the senior boys' 200m in a personal best time of 22.18 seconds.

"I did a PB in the 100m quarterfinals, an 11.13 seconds, but didn't go so well in the final. I had a shocking start and everyone was gone. I finished fourth," he said. "My favourite distance is 200m. I want to get my PB down below 22 seconds and get my 100m time down below 11 seconds."

With help from track coach Larry O'Byrne and beach sprint coach Katie Watts, Murfitt said training had been going really well over the last few months.

"I'm injury free and that's helped a lot. Since I started running, I've had injuries every year . . . stress fractures in my lower back, torn quad muscles and a couple of hamstring strains," he said.

"At the start of 2013, I got into the Sport Taranaki Future Champions and got a strength and conditioning programme. That's helped a lot as has Anita Walsh with physio. Any niggle I get, Anita is just a text away and she fits me in."

His goal next year is simple . . . selection in the New Zealand surf lifesaving team for the world champs in France in September.

"That's a huge goal of mine. I was selected in the New Zealand team for the International Surf Challenge mid-year but had to pull out because of school commitments. I'd missed a lot of school with head boy duties and I'd been away to the Australian surf lifesaving champs in April (where he finished second in the under-17 beach sprint)."

To help achieve his selection goal, Murfitt has opted for a gap year in 2014.

"I want to focus on my training and get my times down. March is a big month. I've got the New Zealand surf lifesaving champs at Ohope, then the New Zealand track and field champs and then the Australian surf lifesaving champs in Perth."

That means a lot of training to peak at the right time.

"I train six times a week at the track, plus one to two sessions at the beach with Katie and a couple of gym sessions."

There's also some study planned in 2014.

"I want to study medicine. I'll do some study . . . and catch up with my sciences. I'm still deciding where . . . Auckland or Dunedin."

Surf Lifesaving New Zealand club development officer Andy Cronin said Fitzroy was leading the way for Taranaki.

"There's heaps of talent on the beach, particularly at Fitzroy where Katie Watts is leading the way," he said. "She's the sprint coach down there and holds regular training sessions at both the beach and the Inglewood track."

Cronin said Taranaki was producing a number of quality beach sprinters.

"They're all pushing one another, there's a culture of excellence. It's pretty cool to see them competing with the best and doing well," he said.

"It must be all that running on black sand. They're used to only having their toes on the ground for a short time."

Watts said there was a good group of sprinters.

"We've got a talented squad. We're hoping to do well at the nationals in Ohope in March. We won five gold this year (2013)," she said.

"They're hard working and they all want to do well. There's a good atmosphere . . . we've got a pretty good thing going at the moment."

Taranaki Daily News