Hareb after first title, Stairmand his ninth

Paige Hareb will seek her first national surfing title in Westport this week. PHOTO: NZ SURFING...
Paige Hareb will seek her first national surfing title in Westport this week. PHOTO: NZ SURFING MAGAZINE
Two of New Zealand’s most celebrated surfers head to the national championships in Westport targeting two distinctly different goals this year.

Raglan veteran Billy Stairmand goes on the hunt to break his own record of eight titles.

On the flipside, New Zealand’s most successful surfer, seven-time World Tour veteran Paige Hareb (Taranaki), will be seeking her first.

The 59th edition of the New Zealand championships starts today, held on the West Coast for just a second time.

Both Stairmand and Hareb are gearing up for the World Surf League regional qualifying series, which starts in Australia early next month.

Stairmand has regularly used the national championships to prepare for international events while Hareb has often been unable to compete due to international commitments, limiting her chances to snare a title.

The two star-powered surfers will be up against some of the strongest domestic talents who are eager to put their name on the most prestigious surfing trophies in New Zealand.

Hareb will find strong opposition from several junior surfers, including 2020 champion Ava Henderson. The 16-year-old South Island surfer, based in Christchurch, won her title at the age of 14, shocking the New Zealand surfing community.

Other young surfers looking to impress will be Brie Bennett (Raglan), who surfs outside the age-group divisions for the first time, and Liv Haysom (Piha), competing in her final age-group year.

Gabrielle Paul (Piha), Natasha Gouldsbury (Taranaki) and Anna Brock (Mount Maunganui) will also challenge for the title, the three youngsters each finishing in the top five of the NZ Surf Series in 2021.

Stairmand will fend off the likes of Taranaki’s Daniel Farr, who has reached the final before.

Since 2010, only three surfers other than Stairmand — Jay Quinn (2011 and 2013), Ricardo Christie (2018) and Elliot Paerata-Reid (2020) — have won the men’s title.

Defending women’s champion Saffi Vette (Gisborne) has jumped the ditch early to prepare for the regional qualifying series, as has 2021 men’s runner-up Kehu Butler (Mount Maunganui).

It is expected that one of Westport’s greatest exports, Jai Earnshaw, will make a comeback to the competitive arena.

The last time the event was held at Westport in 1997, Earnshaw came out of nowhere to win the under-18 boys division and become one of New Zealand’s best.

He will be one of several locals participating in the event along with a big line-up of the South Island’s best.

"The nationals is the type of event where we wouldn’t be surprised if a number of participants from 1997 make their way back to Westport with fond memories and take part, most likely in the senior divisions now” Surfing New Zealand spokesman Ben Kennings said.

"Not only will they compete, but they will bring their family and children who will carry on the summer tradition."

Westport has a thriving surfing community underpinned by the Buller Boardriders club, which is eager to bring the event to town.

"It’s been 25 years since the nationals were last held at Westport and we look forward to welcoming everybody back,” club president Steve Lee said.

"Everybody is excited to host the event and have the best surfing in the country take place on our waves. The event window in early January often provides great conditions and we have plenty of waves for everyone to explore both for the event and free surfing."

Gisborne Boardriders will defend the club title which will be hotly contested by several leading clubs from Raglan, Auckland, Mount Maunganui, Christchurch, Dunedin and the hometown Buller Boardriders.

Also up for grabs at the championships is the Peter Byers Award for overall performance.

A total of 29 divisions will be contested including the premier open men and women plus age groups from under-14 boys and girls through to over-60s for males and females, as well as longboard, stand-up paddleboard, bodyboard and kneeboard disciplines.






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