Teens take top honours in wind-battered rout
Two 17-year-olds stole the show at the Eastern Regional surf lifesaving championships in Whangamata, as big surf caused chaos in the craft arena.
Mt Maunganui teenager Katie Wilson showed her recent win at the Central Region titles was no fluke, holding off 18-year-old rival Natalie Peat to win the open ironwoman crown, adding to a solid victory in the open board race.
The other 17-year-old success story was New Plymouth Old Boys flyer Scott Murfitt, who grabbed the open and under-19 beach sprint double, heading off evergreen 36-year-old Morgan Foster in the open race.
Blustery onshore winds kicked up a solid 1.5-metre swell on the final day of the weekend, with sweep oars snapping like matchsticks. Organisers abandoned all divisions except for the open men's, where Titahi Bay's rookies outlasted their rivals in a gruelling final, heading home Orewa and Mairangi Bay.
Reigning national champions Piha were among the crews to capsize, although their frustrating weekend was softened with their selection to race the top Australian crew in Waihi next month. Mairangi Bay were picked as the women's representatives.
The gnarly conditions suited Gisborne 21-year-old Ollie Puddick in the open ironman as he picked up his third win in as many races in the Sonic Surf Race series. Puddick waited as Papamoa's Ben Johnston led out in the board and ski legs before pouncing in the swim.
"A couple of years ago, the order would've worried me, when my board was by far my weakest leg," Puddick said. "I've managed to turn it into one of my stronger ones. It was just a case of racing smart and not getting ahead of myself, not losing my board or making any mistakes."
Paekakariki's Jake Allen picked up an impressive second, with Mt Maunganui's George Haynes finishing third.
Haynes' clubmate Wilson, meanwhile, had to fight off strong charges from her teenaged rivals Natalie Peat (Papamoa) and Danielle McKenzie (Mairangi Bay), with McKenzie opening up an early lead on the board and Peat striking back in her specialist swim leg.
It gave Wilson a one-point lead in the Sonic ironwoman series, with the grand final to be held during the national under-14 championships in Mt Maunganui next month.
Murfitt is the son of former Taranaki rugby wing Dwight, and the paternal genes showed through as he stopped Foster winning the beach flags/sprint double.
Clubmate Olivia Eaton, still eligible for the under-16 division, won the open women's beach sprint from Briar Wilkie (Midway) and reigning national champion Arna Wright (Mt Maunganui).
Ocean Beach Kiwi pair Scott Bicknell and Hamish Beattie led from the front in a brutal open men's double ski, while Fitzroy pair Rebecca Cole and Sarah Wilson won the open women's double ski.
Mt Maunganui won the open men's taplin and the open women's beach relay, helping them clear out in the overall club points tally. They finished with 124, well clear of Papamoa (88) with Red Beach five points further back in third.