The New Zealand Open surf lifesaving team are about to battle the world’s best lifeguards, with hopes of bringing home a fourth-straight world championship title against teams from 44 other countries from around the world at the Lifesaving World Championships (LWC).
Dubbed the Black Fins, the Open team boast among their ranks athletes who have produced strong international results in athletics and swimming, alongside surf lifesaving world champions and record holders.
They have been training furiously to compete in the bi-annual carnival in which more than 4,000 top competitive lifesaving athletes from more than 44 countries take part, and who will gather at Adelaide’s Glenelg Beach and the nearby South Australian aquatic centre, from November 20 to December 2, for what is expected to be the biggest international lifesaving competition ever held.
The Lifesaving World Championships are held every two years. The Black Fins brought home the open title from Adelaide in 2012, France in 2014 and then again at the Netherlands in 2016.
Four Kiwi national teams are headed to the World competition this year. As well as the Black Fins, the Junior Black Fins team (youth team) is expected to give their Aussie counterparts some tough competition. Two Inflatable Rescue Boat (IRB) teams are also set to make the trip, with 2018 marking the first year New Zealand has sent both a men’s and women’s team.
A number of clubs from around the country are also sending teams to the event, where they will compete in the world interclub championships that run alongside the national team events. Over 60 competitors are registered to take part from around the country, boosting the number of Kiwis competing at LWC to nearly 100.
The 12-strong Black Fins team includes a swathe of experienced competitors, including Olympic swimmer and Captain Steven Kent (Titahi Bay Surf Life Saving Club) who has already competed at six lifesaving world championships, and was Black Fins vice-captain at the 2014 and 2016 LWC competitions.
“We have good experience in our team with seven of the athletes having raced in at least one world championship event in the past. This means there is a solid core of experience in the team which is invaluable,” said Black Fins Coach Jason Pocock.
“It has also been great to have the enthusiasm of the athletes making their Black Fins debut this year, who have reminded all of us on many occasions how special it is too be called a Black Fin,” he added.
“It comes through really strongly in their unity that they are working for each other, not just for themselves, in the races. And you can see it in their times from the pool. The new swimmers are well on track, and their times are some of the best in the world,” he added.
The Kiwis traditionally compete strongly in the pool events starting the competition, and over recent years have also developed a very strong beach team.
The Kiwis have an especially strong all-round contingent this year, Surf Life Saving New Zealand Sport Manager Mike Lord said. “A collection of personal best times were set by Black Fins athletes at the SLSNZ Pool Rescue Championships in October, and their beach performances are also looking dangerous,” he said.
However, competition heats up more and more at each World Champs, with a number of international teams from traditionally less dominant countries starting to find their strengths.
“There can be upsets, Japan is coming through strongly across the whole event – they've beaten us in the tube rescues on the beach before, and the European countries come through really strong in the pool,” Lord said.
“Training has been intense. All of the teams have really focused on the micro-details and being the top technical team, working on all those little things and working on their race plans. What we’ve done is been just really clinical with each competition and event, so we do all the basics right.”
Lord is also pleased with the “exciting” young talent being developed in the Junior Black Fins, whose 12 athletes will compete in 43 events.
The Junior title is currently held by Australia, who have traditionally dominated it, but at last year’s International Surf Rescue Challenge the Junior Black Fins began to find their feet scoring the most points of the teams on the second day of competition, and their coach Matt Cairns hopes they will build on that in this competition.
“We have a nicely balanced team between the pool and the beach with 12 awesome youth athletes who are really excited to get into the worlds environment and start racing” said Cairns.
“We are a hard-working team who have a great team culture. Our focus will be on taking the event one step at a time and laying down performances we can be really proud of while having fun as a group and enjoying the excitement of a major world event. We are well aware that our opposition will all be well prepared and ready to go so it will be a really exciting challenge for us – we can’t wait!”
This is the first time the National Teams IRB event has been held at the World competition, meaning it is the first time New Zealand has had the opportunity to send a national team who will don their black uniforms to represent their country.
And this is also the first New Zealand women’s IRB team ever formed, marking an exciting time for the sport.
Both the New Zealand men’s and women’s IRB race teams are from Sunset Beach Lifeguard Service in Port Waikato.
“Our men’s and women’s IRB crews have put in a phenomenal amount of training and preparation for this event. As a group, each athlete has looked to fine tune their skills and are looking forward to the challenge ahead,” New Zealand IRB coach Jaron Mumby said.
Surf Lifesaving competitions emerged from the growth of surf lifesaving clubs in New Zealand and Australia thanks to the intense training lifeguards maintain to enable them to keep their skills and fitness up for real-life rescues.
The various races reflect this, with events such as an obstacle swim and manikin tow for swimmers, a line throw, and a board rescue race which can often be seen in the lifeguarding environment when lives are saved. The competition is divided into pool and beach events, and the IRB competition.
“This is a group of lifeguards that also patrol on our beaches. This is the sport part of our organisation, and it comes from being part of a country where enjoying the ocean and the water and the beach is important to us,” Lord said.
The Kiwi contingent to the Worlds totals 32 athletes, 17 managers and support crew, and Lord says they’re expecting a swathe of Kiwi supporters, including family members and club supporters.
“It’s always good to have a little sea of black in the background cheering people on.”
The New Zealand teams also want to thank their partners who have made the campaign possible: High Performance Sport New Zealand, Under Armour and Endeavour Sport.
2018 Black Fins team:
Steven Kent (captain) - Titahi Bay, Wellington
Andrew Trembath - St Clair, Dunedin [debut]
Carina Doyle - St Clair, Dunedin [debut]
Chris Dawson - Midway, Gisborne
Cory Taylor - Midway, Gisborne
Danielle McKenzie - Mairangi Bay, Auckland
Max Beattie - Omanu, Tauranga
Murdoch Finch - Omanu, Tauranga [debut]
Madison Kidd - Papamoa, Tauranga [debut]
Natalie Peat - Papamoa, Tauranga
Olivia Corrin - Midway, Gisborne [debut]
Olivia Eaton - Mount Maunganui, Tauranga
2018 Junior Black Fins team:
Claudia Kelly (co-captain) - East End, New Plymouth
Oscar Williams (co-captain) - Piha, Auckland
Aidan Smith - Papamoa, Tauranga
Briana Irving - Waikanae, Gisborne
Declan Dempster - Mount Maunganui
Lochlainn O'Connor - Mount Maunganui
Lucy Makaea - Piha, Auckland
Macy Burns - Lyall Bay, Wellington
Mitch Cowdrey - Papamoa, Tauranga
Sasha Reid - Fitzroy, New Plymouth
Tessa Bradley - Mount Maunganui
Zac Reid - Fitzroy, New Plymouth
2018 New Zealand IRB team:
from Sunset Beach Lifeguard Service, Port Waikato
Alana McIsaac, Media & Communications Manager
Phone 027 515 7157