Whangamata's season of surf lifesaving is set to explode into action this weekend, with the host club's revitalised junior ranks expected to lead the charge.
Saturday's Whangamata Classic, jointly hosted by Surf Life Saving Northern Region and SLSNZ Eastern Region, will also double as the first round of the Sonic national series with a host of top open names coming.
But new Trust Waikato Whangamata club coach Bjorn Battaerd will be more focused on the younger ranks, where the likes of Madi Kidd, Nick Hamlin, Paul Clough and Tom Lowe are expected to feature.
"We're fairly strong on the beach and we'll hopefully give the under-16 men's beach relay a good nudge this weekend but we're not expecting too much from them at this stage of the season, as a lot of them have other sporting commitments still going at the moment," Battaerd explained. "We've definitely got a young squad with a lot of under-16 athletes but they're showing a lot of promise. It will be great for them to race on their home beach and they'll be used to the conditions so we're really looking forward to it."
The 22-year-old, in his first season as coach since joining from Mairangi Bay, will also race in the open division, where he'll come up against the likes of Kiwi world champion team member Steve Ferguson (Piha) and rising ironman star Cory Taylor (Midway).
Fergson, the four-time Olympic swimmer and kayaker, and Wainui's Laura Quilter helped New Zealand win the Rescue 2012 world championships in Adelaide last month, while Taylor was the spearhead of the New Zealand under-20 team that finished second to Australia.
Most of the national under-20 team will be racing as well, with Taylor joined by the likes of Danielle Mckenzie (Mairangi Bay), Toby Harris (Wainui), Sam Shergold (Mount Maunganui) and Papamoa's Natalie Peat.
The national champion Piha men's surf boat crew are also heading down - they'll be using the Classic as preparation for the second round of the national series in Whangamata on January 2, typically one of the most popular rounds of the national series.
Whangamata will also host for the first time the Eastern Regional championships on January 26-27, the second-biggest surf carnival of the season behind the national championships. The ERCs will also double as the third round of the Sonic series.
Taranaki will host the second round of the series, incorporating the Central regional championships at Oakura on January 12-13, with the fourth round hosted at the Northern Region championships in Ruakaka in February.
More than 520 athletes from 20 clubs all over the North Island will be represented on Saturday, with strong contingents from Wellington (Lyall Bay and Paekakariki) and Taranaki (New Plymouth Old Boys and Fitzroy) making the long trip up.
The first event starts at 9am, with the canoe and boat arenas starting at 10am.