Surf lifesaving's new breed have their first big chance to impress at the Eastern Regional championships in Mount Maunganui this weekend.
The two-day ERCs carnival doubles as the third round of the new Sonic series, with athletes like 17-year-old Mairangi Bay ironwoman Danielle Mckenzie eager to capitise on a fast start to her season.
Mckenzie leads the open women's board series and lies second in the ironwoman behind clubmate Madison Boon, although the pair face arguably the strongest ironwoman field assembled in New Zealand for several seasons this weekend.
"The Sonic series prompted me to enter the open races this year, which I wouldn't have considered doing previously," Mckenzie, who is also a New Zealand agegroup triathlon champion, said. "I surprised myself with my achievements in the first few races and having had a podium finish previously, I'm keen to do that again this weekend.
As well as Boon, Mckenzie's competition will come from current national ironwoman champion Aimee Berridge (Mount Maunganui), as well as previous national titleholders Nikki Cox (Westshore) and Orewa's Rachel Clarke, who has just finished a stint at Police College.
Mckenzie and fellow 17-year-old Natalie Peat (Papamoa) lead the teenage charge, along with Mount Maunganui's Jess Miller, Lyall Bay's Brooke Watt and Piha's Kirsty Wannan. Also in the quality field are current New Zealand team member Ayla Dunlop-Barrett (New Plymouth Old Boys), French star Emmanuelle Bescheron and her Mount Maunganui teammate Johanna O'Connor.
Rangitoto College schoolgirl Mckenzie, who will also compete in the under-19 division, has had a busy schedule ahead too, competing in the Kinloch sprint triathlon next weekend, followed by the Lion Foundation New Zealand Surf League the weekend after.
"Luckily triathlon races and surf lifesaving are on alternate weekends this year - I manage to juggle both and because I have already qualified for the world agegroup triathlon championships later this year, I've been able to concentrate more on my surf. My ultimate goal for the year is to make the New Zealand under-20 team for the world surf lifesaving championships in November."
The Sonic series features five rounds of racing in iron, board, ski, swim, sprint and flags, with the top-10 ironmen and women having a bonus grand final round during the Oceans 12 event in Mount Maunganui in late February.
The ERCs are the second-biggest carnival of the season, behind the national championships, with more than 900 athletes expected to compete in Mount Maunganui, across beach, craft, canoe and surf boat events.
Another teenager, 17-year-old Midway prodigy Cory Taylor, currently leads the ironman series after a fourth in Whangamata and a win at the Central Regional championships in Taranaki a fortnight ago. New Zealand team veteran Glenn Anderson (NPOB) is second, although an influx of Australian-based athletes will add huge interest.
Mike Janes (Midway), Max Beattie (Omanu), Daniel Nelson (East End) and current national champion Chris Moors (Red Beach) are all heading back from their Gold Coast bases, with Moors also looking to defend the ERC ironman title he won last year.
There's also a long-awaited battle on the beach, with national schoolboy sprint champion Kodi Harman (Papamoa) competing against current world flags champion Paul Cracroft-Wilson (Fitzroy) and evergreen South Brighton star Morgan Foster.
The carnival gets underway at 7.45am on Mount Maunganui's Main Beach tomorrow, with the same start time for Sunday's racing.
Mairangi Bay teenager Danielle
Mckenzie has been juggling surf lifesaving and triathlon
season and will look to take another step up at this weekend's Eastern Regional championships in Mount Maunganui.
Photo taken by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Journalism.