Story and photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services.
New Zealand ironman champion Max Beattie will have a top-class field to contend with in his first race of the season on this side of the ditch.
Gold Coast-based Beattie is heading back to compete in the Whangamata Classic this weekend, the first of three intriguing events on the national surf lifesaving calendar over consecutive weekends.
His rivals will include Australian Jackson Maynard, who finished third in the Australian ironman final earlier this year, Great Britain's George Haynes, French athletes Julien Lalanne and Adrien Lambolez and Spaniad Rafael Lopez Moreno, who are all based at the Mount Maunganui club over summer.
The contingent will also line up in next weekend's 25km Mount Monster endurance event, with the annual Omanu Classic - featuring the prestigious Ian Porteous Memorial Ironman - ending a huge month of racing.
This year's Whangamata Classic has attracted more than 560 entries, a sharp rise from last year's record 480 competitors, and will once again be jointly hosted by Surf Life Saving Northern Region and SLSNZ Eastern Region. The carnival has 21 clubs attending, coming from as far south as St Clair in Dunedin and all over the North Island.
SLSNR sport manager Simone Spencer is delighted with the entries, especially the way they're spread over a range of events.
"We've got 41 competitors lining up in the open men's ski race, which should result in some incredible racing, but we've also got 60 under-16 girls in the board race and nearly 40 boat crews coming," Spencer said. "Normally there's a big drop-off from the under-16 ranks but we're delighted with the quality of the under-19 and open divisions this year."
The boat events will be of particular interest, after the first round of the national series was abandoned because of horrible Kapiti Coast weather a fortnight ago. Whangamata will also host the second round of the series - the Whangamata Surf Boat Spectacular on January 2 - with selectors picking New Zealand representative teams to compete in Australia next year straight after.
The Coromandel holiday spot is also the venue for the Eastern Regional championships later in January, typically the second-largest surf sports carnival of the year behind the national championships, although the Whangamata Classic may soon challenge that status.
"We're having to look at putting a fourth arena in this weekend just to get through all the events," Spencer said. "It means a bit more organising but it's a nice problem to have."
Action from last year's Whangamata Classic. Photo: Jamie Troughton/Describe Media Services