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The 59th annual championships started at Tauranga Bay, 15km south of the town, with a solid 1.5m-plus swell and strengthening winds.
Surfers in the open women’s division produced some excellent performances with the in-form Ariana Shewry (Taranaki) showing a liking to the solid conditions and surfing to a heat total of 13.34 points.
Shewry eclipsed her travelling companion, Brie Bennett (Raglan), who posted her own impressive score of 13.07, her smooth surfing giving her a comfortable heat win.
Event favourites Paige Hareb (Taranaki) and Ava Henderson (Christchurch) won their heats, Henderson attacking critical end sections for a 12.67 score to set the tone for the round. Hareb kept her opponents in check during a low-scoring affair to move to the quarterfinals.
Other female surfers to advance out of the first round, securing heat wins, included juniors Asia Braithwaite (Gisborne) and Natasha Gouldsbury (Taranaki).
The women were set to have a rest day yesterday before resuming their road to the finals today.
Top-seeded open men’s surfers do not enter the event until the second round.
Round one was dominated by a mix of junior surfers and seniors returning to the competitive arena.
Soren Bucka-Christensen (Taranaki), Tyler Perry (Kaikoura) and Max De Groot (Hawke’s Bay) found their way into the next round as the top-scoring juniors.
Senior surfers Kane Rowson (Taranaki) and local favourite Jai Earnshaw also advanced through the round and will meet the top seeds when they enter the water on day two of the event.
The performance of the day went to Piha’s Leia Millar in the under-16 girls division for a near-perfect 9.33 point ride in her heat.
Millar found a long-running lefthander and smashed several big turns, finishing off the wave on a critical end section and scoring 13.8 to advance to the semifinals.
Other top surfers in the division included Skylar Mcfet-ridge (Taranaki) and Poppie Enwistle (Christchurch).
The under-18 boys division rounded out the day with Kalani Louis (Taranaki), Tyler Perry (Kaikoura), Jake Owen (Dunedin) and James Millar (Christchurch) all collecting heat wins on the way to the quarterfinals.