Kiwi surf lifesaving champion Cory Taylor is putting team ambitions ahead of individual races at this week’s TSB national championships in Mount Maunganui - although there’s still one race he’d dearly love to win.
The 25-year-old Midway member is nearing the end of an incredible season, having become just the second Kiwi - behind his Gisborne namesake Cory Hutchings - to win a round of the professional Australian ironman series last month. Winning the Ocean 6 Series round at Surfers Paradise helped boost him to fourth overall in the series, by far his best result.
He’s also skipped a potentially lucrative payday this weekend - the $100,000 Shannon Eckstein Ironman Classic in Queensland - to come back and race the New Zealand titles, determined to give something back.
“My goal is still to do the best I can at the individual events but the team stuff takes priority for me,” Taylor said. “I’m lucky enough to be in a position where I can influence younger people in the sport and help them stay in it and that wouldn’t work as well if I was to just fly in, do three individual races really well and then fly out again. I love New Zealand nationals so much and it means a lot, especially after that win, to come home and help keep the sport growing and keep those pathways open to the Black Fins.”
Taylor has won three New Zealand ironman titles since his breakthrough win in 2014, including the last two in a row. His all-round ability has also seen him win two tube rescue titles, the run-swim-run, surf teams race, 6-man taplin, board relay and an open ski race crown in 2017.
But his most astounding statistic is tinged with silver - he has finished second in the board race final for each of the past five nationals.
“Cory Hutchings is always hitting me up, asking me how many board races I’ve won (Hutchings won nine during his illustrious career), but I can always get him back by asking how many ski titles he won - I’ve only got one but that’s one more than him! Five board seconds in the last five years is definitely in the back of my mind but it’s also just another race around the cans where I hope to do my best. There are still 12-15 guys back here who could compete with anyone in Australia and any board race is a hard race to win because of the nature of it.”
Taylor’s team focus means he’ll get to line up with the likes of rising under-16 star Ruben Bromlund in the Midway taplin relay team, along with good mates like Matt Scott and Shaun Pahina, who has just completed the Coast to Coast last month.
It also means he’s unlikely to ever challenge Hutchings’ extraordinary record of open men’s titles - aside from his board success, Hutchings also won 11 ironman titles between 1991 and 2002. Other notable streak-holders include South Brighton ski paddler John Creighton, recently named as a New Zealand selector, who won eight ski race titles between 1993 and 2003 and the extraordinary deeds of beach flagger Morgan Foster.
Foster won the first of his 11 national titles in 1995, has collected six silver medals and picked up his second bronze medal in the event last year at the tender age of 42. He will again line up this year, trying to edge far younger stars in Daniel Rippon (Piha) and Murdoch Finch (Omanu).
Another active competitor, Mairangi Bay ski paddler Travis Mitchell, has also collected six men’s double ski titles, three open men’s ski crowns and seven ski relay titles.
For Taylor, however, every year is another in the bank, learning to race smarter and leaning on his Australian clubmates Eckstein and Kiwi Kevin Morrison for support.
“That’s something that’s definitely changed for me - I’m getting to the age where I’m trying to work out how to make things easier and I’ve been using Kev to help me figure out smarter ways to train and to race. It’s hard in surf to see that year-on-year progression because you’re never really in control - you may think you’re ready for an amazing race but the ocean will always have the last say and you could get hit by three waves in a row and that’s you done. It’s humbling and sometimes frustrating but at the same time, that’s what makes the sport so exciting.”
The TSB-sponsored New Zealand surf lifesaving championships start on Mount Maunganui’s Main Beach on Thursday, with the national masters competition, and continue through the weekend until Sunday.
Chris Emmett, TSB Nationals Event Manager
Phone 027 457 1023