World champions Steph and Carla Laughton will headline the North Island IRB championships in Whakatane this weekend, with the surf lifesaving event doubling as the second round in the national BP Surf Rescue series.
The St Clair sisters will make the long trip up from Dunedin for the inflatable rescue boat event, along with three other St Clair crews and three more from Christchurch, to compete against 45 North Island crews in the two-day carnival.
It comes just three weeks after the Laughtons returned from winning gold in the tube rescue at Rescue 2012 in Adelaide with patient Rachel Craythorn, which completed a unique haul for the siblings.
Over the past 12 months, they've now won New Zealand titles in the pool, on the beach and in IRB events, with the world championship crown the final jewell in the crown.
"We've had great support from our club and it's been an extremely satisfying year for us but we're definitely not going to relax anytime soon," Steph Laughton said. "Winning in Adelaide was amazing but we've come back, established some more goals for the upcoming season and we're keen to get back out and start racing again."
The pair dominated last season's North Island championships in Whangamata, though their worlds commitments meant they missed the first round this season at Waipu Cove in Northland and they've only resumed training in the last week.
Waimarama's premier crew of Mike Harman and Ben Cross were also in Adelaide, winning their second consecutive tube rescue silver after also finishing second in Egypt in 2010.
They'll add class to a competitive premier division, which also features strong crews from Muriwai, Papamoa, Otaki, Paekakariki and East End.
"It will be great to race at the North Island champs in our own boats and under New Zealand rules again," Harman said. "Racing in Adelaide was fun but also frustrating as luck played a major role - lane and boat selections were vital to getting good results. This year we've got our senior team of Tim Cox and Jason Harman joining us in the premier grade which is going to be a big help, as they'll be pushing us along in both training and racing."
Muriwai's ranks include Surf Life Saving New Zealand board member Andrew Lancaster, who will partner Stephen Butt, while young Papamoa tyros Mitch Brady and Troy Walsh took out the first round of the series at Waipu with consistent form.
Perennial powerhouses East End (Taranaki) will have seven crews competing, with Campbell Begg and Geoff Cronin racing in the premiers and three under-21 crews doing battle.
Sunset Beach, the West Coast club at the mouth of the Waikato River, continue their IRB resurgence with three under-21 crews and three women's crews, while Papamoa also have three under-21 crews, plus their premier and senior duos.
Racing starts at Ohope Beach at 9am on Saturday and continues until Sunday afternoon.
Steph and Carla Laughton will be
racing in Ohope this weekend as world champions.
Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Journalism