The rising tide of young talent had their moments but it was the salty old sea dogs who barked loudest at the Eastern Regional surf lifesaving championships in Gisborne over the weekend.
Midway Beach hosted the championships for the first time in its 57-year history and turned on an enthralling show, with scorching temperatures and 2m swells for the majority of the Tairāwhiti Gisborne-sponsored carnival.
Midway's Will Pittar takes on a big wave during the under-19 ski race on his home beach during the Eastern Regional championships. Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media
It proved a massive test for most of the 530 competitors but not for two of the oldest competitors, 37-year-old French international Julien Lalanne (Mount Maunganui) and 36-year-old Mairangi Bay ski paddler Travis Mitchell.
A full 23 years after first competing at the event, Mitchell nearly took a clean sweep of ski titles, combining with 39-year-old clubmate Danny Morrison to collect silver in the men’s double ski, joining 19-year-old Samalulu Clifton to win the mixed double ski and then blazing home to win yet another ski race crown on the closing afternoon.
Mount Maunganui’s Libby Bradley sprints to victory in the open women’s board race at the Eastern Regional surf lifesaving championships in Gisborne. Photo by Jamie Troughton
I’ve very happy - I don’t think I’ve missed one in 23 years but I still enjoy it,” Mitchell said. “I really enjoy racing when it gets big and it’s really important to race in a range of conditions, especially for the younger guys, who don’t always get to test themselves like this.”
Lalanne, who has been a member of the Mount Maunganui club for much of the past decade, was similarly dominant with wins in the men’s surf race, the surf teams final and the open ironman.
The latter was particularly impressive, hobbling through the lengthy transitions with a knee injury but picking his way carefully through the waves, before outsprinting 20-year-old Piha rival Jamie Peterson up the beach, with Red Beach’s Daniel Cairns third.
“It’s hard to believe - I wasn’t even sure I should race and it was so hard running but the waves just made it so much fun,” Lalanne said. “When we caught the wave on the ski, it was just so hard to hold on and I went a bit sideways and I had to run a lot further than I wanted to.”
Mount Maunganui's Matthew Wagstaff comes unstuck inn the under-16 ski race at the Eastern Regional championships in Gisborne today. Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media
His efforts inspired young clubmate Libby Bradley, who took out the surf race, board race and ironman in her first year of open competition.
Bradley needed a sprint finish in the board race but hooked a monster wave in her surf race, riding it most of the way into the beach. Her ironman victory was even more impressive, given she took a vastly longer course in the board leg, which allowed Midway’s Danielle Scott back into the race.
The 19-year-old Bradley was delighted with her success.
“It’s been pretty tough this season so I just came down here wanting to enjoy it,” Bradley said. “Having these waves was fantastic - it’s why we do this sport. I just love the added dimension of using those extra skills and that really got me going, seeing Julien gritting his teeth and coming through in the surf race and ironman.”
Elsewhere, Papamoa’s Scott Cowdrey won the men’s board race, Omanu’s Black Fins representative Murdoch Finch clinched both the beach sprint and beach flags titles and Waimarama’s all-conquering canoe crew grabbed both short and long-course crowns.
Scott showed her versatility, helping Midway win both the open women’s long course and short course canoe titles, while Mairangi Bay won the women’s ski relay crown.
Sheer weight of numbers and consistency across the age groups helped Mount Maunganui to their ninth consecutive overall club title, though they were pushed all the way by Gisborne’s Waikanae.