For top Taranaki surf lifesaving star Ayla Dunlop-Barrett, summer usually means a truckload of travel.
It's been six years since the swell-drenched province last hosted a national carnival but 24-year-old Dunlop-Barrett - a New Zealand team member - is delighted to be playing host when the Sonic Surf Race series heads to Oakura Beach on Sunday.
Oakura is also the venue for the third round of the BP Surf Rescue IRB series on Saturday in the biggest weekend for the sport in the 'Naki since the 2006 national championships.
"With Taranaki being a small and pretty isolated district, it's always a challenge to get tough racing leading up to the business end of the season, especially for our younger members in their development," Dunlop-Barrett said. "A lot of our competitors are from a swimming background too so for them with all the travel, they can go through an entire summer without getting a free weekend at home. It's pretty tough and costly for a family but I know i'm very excited to be able to finish the day of racing and get to sleep in my own bed this weekend!"
The new Sonic series is a five-round competition, which kicked off in Whangamata with a national trial event last month. It incorporates the Central regional championships at Oakura, 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 to be eligible for prizes, with the top-10 ironmen and women qualifying for the decider during the Oceans 12 championships at Mount Maunganui on February 25.
New Plymouth Old Boys club member Dunlop-Barrett has had a slow start to the season, taking a break after November's German Cup campaign in Europe and knowing there's still a long way to go until the world championships in Adelaide at the end of this year.
The outstanding swimmer - who became the first Kiwi to win an Australian belt race title last season - will be mixing things up this weekend as she shows off her versatility.
"I've had a very full racing schedule without much of a break in the last couple of years so I'm only really getting back into training now. In saying that, I train with a pack of teenage boys at New Plymouth Old Boys and they're pretty quick to tell me if I'm slacking off so it shouldn't take too long to get back the fitness. I'm pretty keen to try out a few different events this weekend that I wouldn't normally do, like the board race and even the ironwoman - I'm just hoping it's high tide so i don't have to carry my ski very far!"
Her NPOB coach, New Zealand teammate and fiance Glenn Anderson is delighted the series is visiting one of the provincial powerhouses of the surf lifesaving movement in New Zealand.
"At the last World Champs, the Central Region boasted seven of the 12 athletes in the New Zealand team and six of them won world championship titles so it's great for us to be able to showcase our local athletes at Oakura Beach," Anderson said.
SLSNZ sport development manager Brad Edwards said athletes had been asking for a national series of this sort for a while and SLSNZ had introduced it in a way that boosts the existing events in the process.
"In the past, the NRCs (now the Eastern Regionals) have been right up there with the nationals, for our top athletes," Edwards said. "Ultimately we'd love to lift the standard and profile of the Central, Northern and Southern regional championships to get them up to the same level."
Action in the IRB racing starts at 9am on Saturday, with the Central regional championships starting on Sunday at 8am.