Gisborne's Ricardo Christie has returned to New Zealand waters to clinch the open men's title at the Health 2000 National Surfing Championships completed in his hometown on Saturday.
Christie was joined by Mount Maunganui's Raiha Ensor who claimed the open women's title, both surfers winning in dramatic fashion at Makorori Beach.
Christie's win helped local Gisborne Boardriders Club claim the top boardrider club in New Zealand taking the title from Raglan.
The final day of the event was contested in 1.0m waves with early offshores making way for sea breeze winds by mid-morning. However, the waves remained good throughout the day with New Zealand's best surfers putting on a phenomenal show for the packed-out beach.
It is 13 years since Christie claimed his first title as a 16-year-old and today he had to come from behind in the last minute to clinch the win with a near perfect 9.93 ride toppling Piha surfer Elliot Paerata-Reid.
“It's been a long time between drinks I have done a few things between then and now but I am happy to get my name on the trophy again. I have a way to go to catch up to my mate Billy (Stairmand) but I am just stoked to come out on top this week.
Paerata-Reid had previously led the final after posting an excellent 8.9 point ride to jump into the lead and he had one hand on the trophy until Christie stepped up with a clutch performance. The 9.93 comprises three searing backhand turns on a lefthander.
“Oh, I just wanted a wave so bad, me and Elliot were having a bit of a paddle battle with no priority and I suckered him into that wave before mine and I knew it was going to be a burger and I didn't think he was going to go for it but he did which gave me just enough time to catch that last one,” says Christie of the last seconds in the final.
“He quickly paddled back out and he kind of had my inside but I was going to go no matter what and I was lucky not to kook that wave.”
Christie finished with the highest heat score of the entire event in the final – 17.96 out of a possible 20 points besting Paerata-Reid's 15.87.
The finals disappointment on Paerata-Reid's face was evident despite receiving the award for overall most outstanding performance of the week, which he dedicated to recently deceased Piha local Bruce Smith.
“Yeah I kind of knew I didn't have it yet,” says Paerata-Reid talking about his 8.9 point ride and the lead with two minutes to go. “I made a mistake and if you don't win you learn I guess.
“I was stoked to put on a good performance and have a good battle with the best surfer in New Zealand at the moment but obviously it is a tough pill to swallow.”
Placing third and fourth in the final were underdogs Levi Stewart (Waihi Beach) and Paul Moretti (Northland). Despite their tag, both surfers challenged for the early lead with Stewart holding down first at the start of the heat. However, when the pressure went on, the two World Qualifying Series campaigners in Christie and Paerata-Reid stepped it up to another level with their surfing.
In the Open Women's Division, Raiha Ensor followed a similar path to Christie in the final fighting back from a slow start and overcoming Gabriella Sansom (Auck) during the latter stages of the final.
The turning point in the final came with a 6.83 point ride that that she followed up with a near perfect 9.67.
“It is such a good feeling, there were a few years in the junior divisions where I came second, third and fourth but to actually win the open division just means that much more,” says Ensor in near disbelief, adding, “It is almost relief for finally getting one.”
“I was nervous up until that wave because Gaby had got a six and an eight. Then I got a high six and it gave me confidence to wait for waves and get the right one and when I got that nine, I knew it would be hard for Gaby to come back and the other girls were combo'ed too so I'm just super happy.”
Ensor finished with a 16.5 point heat total to win the final with Sansom finishing in second place.
Dual finalist Elin Tawharu (Mnt) had to settle for third in the final with Saffi Vette (Gis) finishing in fourth.
Tawharu had previously won the Under 18 Girls Division in convincing fashion posting a 13.1 point heat total to secure her second title in the division defeating Brie Bennett (Rag), Georgia Wederell (Mnt) and Zhana Hutchison (Tara) who finished third through fourth respectively.
Christchurch surfer Conor McLennan took a well-deserved win in the Under 18 Boys Division posting a 15.77 point heat total in the final to overcome triple finalist Kora Cooper (Rag), Elliott Brown (Dun) and Jay Piper-Healion (Whitianga).
Piha's Zen Wallis defended his longboard title staving off stiff opposition from the local trio he was up against. Wallis posted a 15.6 point heat total in the final edging out Sam Johnson by 0.20 points.
Wallis travels to China next week to compete at the ISA World Longboard Championships being held on Hainan Island.
Placing third in the longboard final was Daniel Procter with Guy Burns finishing in fourth.
Raglan duo Kora Cooper and Brie Bennett won their respective under 16 divisions. Cooper dominated his final posting a 16.17 point heat total to combo his opponents. Finn Vette (Gis) posted a 7.67 in the last five minutes of the final to challenge for the lead but was left requiring an 8.51 for the win. Jack Lee (Whaka) placed third in the final with Tom Robinson (Whangarei) in fourth.
Bennett also had a convincing final posting a 6.33 point ride on her first wave, leading from the outset and finishing with a 12.4 point heat total. Georgia Wederell (Mnt) finished in second place with Stella Smith (Gis) in third and Estella Hungerford (Chch) in fourth.
The senior divisions kicked off the morning with titles going to Geoff Hutchison (Rag) in the Over 50s Maz Quinn (Gis) in the Over 40s and Nick White (Mnt) in the Over 30s.
The draw for all divisions can be found on the Surfing New Zealand website.