The cream of New Zealand surf lifesaving talent is heading to Whangamata on Saturday for the first round of the new Sonic race series.
Just six days after the best IRB crews in the land competed at the same venue, a full program of ironman racing, beach sprinting, boats and crafts will be hosted by Surf Life Saving Northern Region.
New Zealand team members Glenn Anderson, Kevin Morrison and Nikki Cox are also expected to attend the carnival, which doubles as a national trial. Teenaged sprinting star Kodi Harman, who has just won the New Zealand secondary schools 100-200m double in Wellington will also compete in the beach events against triple world champion Morgan Foster.
The series will offer prizes and bragging rights, with the Whangamata event the first of five rounds, with ironmen and iromwomen getting six rounds, including a grand final at the Oceans 12 under-14 national championships.
"After the success of the centenary season, it's important to keep moving in the right direction and add an edge and something new to the surf sports calendar," SLSNZ sport development manager Brad Edwards said. "Athletes have been asking for this sort of thing and we've managed to introduce it in a way that will boost the existing events in the process which has also been identified as a strong priority for the sport."
The series will also take in the four regional championships, starting with the Central Regionals at Oakura on January 15, followed by the Eastern Regionals - formerly the NRCs - at Mount Maunganui on January 28 and 29 and the Northern and Southern championships on February 18 and 19.
Athletes will need to compete at three of the five rounds, with the top-10 ironmen and women qualifying for the decider during lunch time on the third day of the Oceans 12 championships at Mount Maunganui on February 25.
The winners of the grand final races will receive $1000 prizes.
A working group including John Bryant, Matt Sutton, Travis Mitchell and Andrew Newton brought ideas from athletes and clubs to help shape the race series concept.
With the Rescue 2012 world championships less than a year away the introduction of more top level racing couldn't be more timely.
Edwards is confident the series will have double benefits - as well as providing more high quality racing and the added incentive of series titles and prizes for athletes, the events themselves will get a boost with elite-level racing.
"In the past, the NRCs (now the Eastern Regionals) have been right up there with the nationals, for our top athletes. Ultimately we'd love to lift the standard and profile of the Central, Northern and Southern championships to get them up to the same level."
Action will get underway on the beach at 9.30am on Saturday.