Mahia’s Ricardo Christie will join Taranaki’s Paige Hareb on the World Surf League tour this year. Photo Robin Martin - Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin
Surfers aged between nine and 72 years old have been rubbing shoulders with World Surf League competitor Ricardo Christie at the National Championships in Taranaki this week.
A last-minute entry, Christie is one of more that 330 entrants competing across 29 divisions at the week-long event.
The country's longest-running surfing competition, the National Championships started 55 years ago and are returning to Taranaki for the first time in about a decade.
Yesterday, the open men's division took to the ocean at Stent Rd - a top-rated right-hand point break on State Highway 45, otherwise known as Surf Highway.
Event director and member of host club the Oakura Boardriders, Chris Wilkes, said conditions could not have been much better.
"So what we are looking at here is six-foot sets rolling in, which are two-and-a-half times overhead or basically like a two-storey building, and there's a slight cross shore wind so it's just holding the wave up nicely.
"It's perfect conditions actually today. It's exactly what everyone was hoping for and Tangaroa has delivered."
Mr Wilkes said the nationals were the best opportunity for New Zealand surfers to pit themselves against their peers.
"It's the biggest even in the country. There's no international events coming to New Zealand so this is the big one for surfers to really to test themselves against mother nature and the other competitors and it's been a real massive boost for Taranaki.
"It's been a long time since its been here."
Mahia surfer Ricardo Christie has requalified for the world tour for the first time since 2015 and had to ask the World Surf League for permission to compete at the nationals.
The 30-year-old defending champion said it was important for him to surf the nationals.
"You know this is where I came and saw guys like Maz Quinn, Jay Quinn and Bobby Hansen for the first time and then winning the national titles as a grom and the open when I was 16.
"The nationals kinda gave me the springboard to get into the international scene. It kinda started everything so it's cool to come back."
Christie, who blitzed his round of 32 heat with a 8.8 and 9.7 combo and went onto to win his quarterfinal with a combined score of 17.1, said the nationals were great preparation for his season.
"Whenever you pull on the vest it is good practice.
"You're always trying to do your best so coming here and surfing against New Zealand's best surfers is a perfect way to start."
Not that Christie was taking all the credit for his stunning round of 32 score.
"Yeah that was all down to the conditions it wasn't so much me. Anyone who had got those waves would've done that. It was pumping out there and I just had a lot of fun."
New Zealand's other world-ranked surfer Paige Hareb was taking in the nationals as a spectator.
She was looking forward to having a fellow countryman on the world tour.
"Just to have another kiwi to watch and support and hopefully he'll be there supporting me too. I think that will make a pretty big difference this year and I'll have a golfing partner on tour as well. It should be good."
Hareb was casting an expert eye over the open women's competition.
"Ariana Shewry from Taranaki and then Gisborne's Saffi Vette been surfing pretty good as well.
"A few of the other girls that I used to compete against actually like Grace Spiers are making a bit of a come back too."
But the event was not all about the elite surfers.
Ex-pat Californian and Oakura local Brian Clark was competing in the over-60s division.
"I just turned 62 yesterday and had my first heat, which luckily I won so that's always a good birthday present.
"I'm straight through to the final so that's the kind of contest you want to have, one heat and into the finals.
"It was a good group, good waves, good size. It was great."
Mr Clark said surfing was no longer a choice for him.
"If you're still doing it at my age you're addicted to it so you've got to do it. It's a feel good factor.
"So that keeps you going and obviously being in the physical condition to catch two good waves in 20 minutes especially in decent size waves.
"That's the motivating factor. You know the competitive aspect of it, for me it's really about surfing for myself. I'm competing with myself."
The open men's and women's finals are due to be run tomorrow and Saturday.