New Zealand's top ironmen and woman will get one final crack at qualifying for the national surf lifesaving series finals at the Northern Region championships in Ruakaka this weekend.
The NRCs event, which will feature nearly 600 surf athletes from 17 clubs, doubles as round four of the Sonic Surf Race series. The ironman and ironwoman race series will culminate next week in Mount Maunganui, where the top-10 qualifiers will race in a three-round eliminator finale.
Gisborne's Ollie Puddick is the clear leader in the ironman series, having won all three previous rounds, meaning the 21-year-old Wainui club member has the luxury of skipping this weekend's round.
Those lined up behind him will have plenty to race for, however. Red Beach star A J Maney, second to Puddick at the last round in Whangamata, will be a warm favourite, though he's likely to face stiff competition from a Mount Maunganui pack including England's George Haynes, France's Julienne Lalanne and New Zealand representatives Andrew Newton and Sam Shergold.
The women's line-up includes series leader, 17-year-old Katie Wilson (Mount Maunganui), who will resume her battle with 18-year-olds Natalie Peat (Papamoa) and Danielle McKenzie (Mairangi Bay). With small waves forecast, former New Zealand ironwoman titleholder Rachel Clarke should also feature with her accomplished swimming background.
There will also be interest in the return to competition of Mairangi Bay's Maddie Boon, who has spent much of the season traveling overseas.
McKenzie and Shergold will also join other recent New Zealand representatives at the two-day carnival, including world champion national team member and Olympian Steve Ferguson (Piha) and Papamoa's rising star Ben Johnston.
Northland clubs will be represented by an eight-strong Ruakaka squad racing on their home beach, while Omaha also has a couple of competitors racing.
Red Beach and Orewa have the largest squads heading north, with nearly 100 competitors each, including surf boat and canoe crews. There is also nearly 60 masters athletes racing, with a full program of events planned over the two days.