27 Mar 2015

Surfing elite descend on Taranaki

9:05 am on 27 March 2015

More than 200 of the world's best surfers have descended on Taranaki this week for the New Zealand Surf Festival which has attracted record entries this year.

Ellie-Jean Coffey in action at the Hainan Pro event in China.

Ellie-Jean Coffey in action at the Hainan Pro event in China. Photo: WSL

The festival includes New Zealand's only two World Surf League events. Surfers from as far as away as Hawaii, Japan and South America - as well many from Australia - have come to compete.

This is the sixth instalment of the New Zealand Surf Festival, which until two years ago included a leg of the Women's World Championship Tour.

Here's what it looked like last year.

This year, due to demand, organisers have increased the number of entrants into the Port Taranaki Pro - a qualifying event for the women's world tour - from 72 to 92 competitors.

The line-up includes six surfers who are currently competing on the championship tour: Bianca Buitentag (SA), Laura Enever (AUS), Sage Erikson (US), Tatianna Weston-Webb (HAW), Dimity Stoyle (AUS), and Nikki Van Dijk (AUS).

At the next level down, there are about 65 competitors in the under-20s boys North Beach Pro Junior event, and about 50 in the girls' competition.

World Surf League general manager for Australasia, Steve Robinson, said the events in Taranaki this week were designed to create a pathway to a career in professional surfing.

"This is a really important event, particularly the Open Women's 6000 - the Port Taranaki Pro. It's a second-tier event on the world professional surfing circuit.

"The girls competing in that particular event, they have aspirations of making the World Championship Tour which is the very elite top 16 surfers in the world."

New Zealand's best chances in the Port Taranaki Pro are Oakura's Paige Hareb, who is trying to re-qualify for the world tour, and Whangamata's Ella Williams, a former junior world champion.

Mahina Meada

Mahina Meada Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Steve Robinson however is keeping a close eye on two Hawaiians.

"Mahina Maeda is a 17-year-old young surfer from Hawaii. She's the world pro-junior champion at the moment and she's a sensational surfer.

"And there's Tatianna Weston-Webb who is also from Hawaii. She placed really highly here last year and she's since gone on to qualify for the elite world tour."

A first-time visitor to New Zealand Mahina Maeda is enjoying the similarities with the culture back home, but not so much so the temperature.

"You know New Zealand is somewhat near Hawaiian culture where there's a lot of Polynesians. It's really cool to be part of that ideal islander scene and I love being here, but it's a lot colder here than in Hawaii and I'm kinda struggling with that part."

Fellow competitor Australian Ellie-Jean Coffey perhaps surprisingly has only nice things to say about the Taranaki climate.

"I love New Zealand. I love the weather actually. It's so nice and cold, cause I'm from the Gold Coast and it's just so humid and hot there.

"I'm just loving this weather it's so fresh and crisp and hopefully we have some waves for the contest."

The New Zealand Surf Festival incorporates men's and women's events for the under-17s right up to surfers aged 70-plus who will take to the waves during the New Plymouth Surfriders Club's annual Easter Masters competition

Surfing Taranaki organises the festival and hopes to inspire young surfers to take the sport more seriously and aim to be the best they can by exposing them to international competition.

Millie Crewe

Millie Crewe Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

That was certainly the attraction for New Plymouth surfer, Millie Crewe, 17, who is competing in the pro-juniors and the Port Taranaki Pro.

"It's on like my home break so I really want to do well and just surfing with the girls who are really, really good it just pushes you and this is what I want to do when I'm older so it's real cool.

"Whenever we get a professional here everyone like froths over them and looks up to them so having so many girls and guys here it's just really inspiring."

Competition was continuing on Friday at Fitzroy Beach in New Plymouth and the festival culminates over the weekend, when the finals of the Port Taranaki Pro are due to be surfed.