"I always feel welcomed here – everyone is so friendly and happy to share their waves," smiles Piha surfer Zen Wallis. "I'm fizzing right now."
He should be fizzing. He just became the first ever surfer to win back-to-back South Island Surfing Championship titles in the Men's Open. The event was hosted by the South Coast Boardriders and sanctioned by the South Island Surfing Association and Surfing New Zealand. That means it's part of the New Zealand Surf Series. But the real drawcard for the Piha, Coromandel, Raglan, Taranaki and Bay of Plenty surfers wasn't the points on offer, but the chance to surf in Dunedin's waves and the chance to soak in some of those good vibes that have kept Zen coming back ever since he first visited as a grom all those years ago.
Sadly, the waves didn't really fire like they usually do for this competition, but the 1-3 foot of swell was clean on the first few days and contestable throughout finals day.
I managed to shoot a few sessions around the periphery of the contest – it's the perfect time when competitors are a little more relaxed and nowhere near as charged up as they are in their heats. Competition surfing is about meeting the criteria – playing it safe, but ticking the right boxes on each wave. Free surfing is more about unbridled expression and taking risks without consequences. That works nicely for photography.
A big feature for me this year was the number of young girls pushing the standard of surfing right through the roof. The Under 14s, 16s, and 18s divisions were all stacked with some seriously talented athletes emerging. I managed to take locals Anika Ayson and Jaya Reardon over for a session at Blackhead with Christchurch 13-year-old phenom, Ava Henderson. These girls are such promising surfers, driven and paint a rosy future for women's surfing in New Zealand. Christchurch teenager Estella Hungerford dominated the Women's Open final to take the win, and she's just 17.
I have no doubt that the efforts of Paige Hareb and Ella Williams on the world stage are inspiring this next wave and something tells me we could have a few more to cheer for on the World Championship Tour in years to come. I certainly hope so.
See you at the beach ... Derek
Story - adventuremediagroup.co.nz