Omanu are looming as dark horses at this week's national surf lifesaving championships in Mount Maunganui, having been bolstered by a trio of top Australians.
The club already boasts defending New Zealand ironman champion Max Beattie, Dan Hooker and national under-16 ironman titleholder Ben Cochrane but the addition of Northcliffe's Zac Orchard, Alicia Bain and Eliza Smith has given an intriguing edge to the three-day carnival.
"I'm stoked to be given the chance to race over here against a lot of strong competition and feel pretty lucky to be racing alongside two superstars of New Zealand surf in Dan and Max," Orchard said. "I'm coming over to fill out as many teams for both the under-19s and opens as possible."
Omanu finished 16th overall last year in Gisborne, with Ashley Cochrane, Dannielle O'Connor and Siobahn Wright also picking up valuable points. Hooker and Beattie are based on the Gold Coast, while Hooker's girlfriend Bain competed for New South Wales in last year's Surf League and was also in the Australian under-20 team who won their division at Rescue 2012 last year, finishing second in the ironwoman and board.
"I can't wait to come back over after having such an awesome time at Surf League and we're keen to make up some teams with the Omanu girls," Bain said. "I'm really excited to compete in the team events, particularly the board rescue as it is mine and Eliza's first time together."
Several other Australian stars will also compete this weekend, with world champion beach flagger Melissa Howard competing for Fitzroy, as is young Jake Mispelhorn, while another Aussie flyer Hayley Whyper will line up with Mairangi Bay. They're among nearly 1700 athletes from more than 48 clubs attending the championships, which start with the masters (30+) on Thursday.
While Omanu's massive 71-strong masters team is expected to dominate their competition and the club has a strong under-14 contingent, chairman Donal Boyle is hoping the Australian influence will be the spark needed for the open ranks.
"We've got a five-year strategy in place to get Omanu competitive in the open arena and Dan is the first of our home-grown, locally-raised athletes to come through the junior ranks in the last few years and graduate to open," Boyle said. "It's really hard to come through those grades as an individual, however, so when Alicia, Zac and Eliza approached us wanting to compete, we were delighted."
Beattie will face stiff competition in the ironman, with Chris Moors (Red Beach) having competed in the Kellogg's Nutrigrain professional series in Australia over summer. Moors won the ironman last time Mount Maunganui hosted it in 2011.
Wainui's Ollie Puddick has been the star of the New Zealand domestic scene this season and has recovered from an ankle injury suffered last month, while Great British representative George Haynes will also be in the mix, competing for Mount Maunganui.
Papamoa finished third last year in the overall points tally, picking up 89 points and finishing just behind Gisborne's Midway (102.5) and Mount Maunganui (98). Their charge will be led by young stars Natalie Peat and Ben Johnston, while New Zealand and Australian beach sprint title-holder Kodi Harman will make his competitive return after a long spell out with injury.
London Olympians Steve Ferguson (Piha), Lisa Carrington (Mount Maunganui), Darryl Fitzgerald (Waikanae) and Andy McMillan (St Clair) are all competing this week, in the 91st running of one of New Zealand's oldest national championships.
Caption: Omanu's home-grown star Dan Hooker will lead his club's
charge at the New Zealand surf lifesaving championships this week.
Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Journalism