A gloriously sunny day, a light SE breeze, and clean and glassy mast high waves – there could not have been a better setting for the 2012 NZ Nationals (and this was with a forecast that constantly deteriorated over the preceding week!).
An epic two week lead up of almost constant mast high waves and wind in Taranaki (and the usual ‘day before a comp circus at Pungarehu’) meant that competitors were frothing to get this year’s nationals started. The 2012 event saw one of the best collections of wavesailing talent gathered in Taranaki for sometime, including Taranaki guru James Dinnis coming out of retirement for his first wave event in twenty years.
The Pungarehu overlook was busy early, with Taranaki’s local Spanish import Ferran Crespo (El Torito Rojo) and Austrian interloper Stefan on the water well before 8 am. From then the parking area filled up rapidly and competitors and free sailors alike hit the water to take advantage of the awesome conditions.
A 9:30 am briefing let competitors know that the first of the 15 minute heats would start at 10 am, with the best two waves counting. Crazily enough the wind increased well over and above the forecast maximum of 12 – 15 knots and went from being comfortable with a 5.3 m sail to a level where a 4.5 m would have been a lot better! This caused a flurry of re-rigging from some sailors, only to have the wind drop just before the start of the first heat, forcing some to re-rig yet again. As the competition got underway the marginal wind meant competitors were only just getting enough waves to fill their score sheets, and some sailors failed to do even that. Getting one good wave was not enough, as a few unlucky competitors found out the hard way. Meanwhile, keen junior sailors Luke Holiday and Hamish Dunnin-Beck got their first ever experience of Pungarehu, taking on the mast high sets with an audience to add to the pressure – what an initiation!
By the fourth heat the wind was so light only Thomas Davies was managing to catch any waves at all, while the other competitors were left slogging hard downwind. The decision was made to rerun the heat and extend the heat times out to 25 minutes. Light winds (and epic waves) continued into the first quarter-final round and the upwind skills of Paul Barron and Paul Hunt came to the fore as they each snagged several quality waves to advance to the four man semi-final.
The second quarter-final round saw some great waves caught by all competitors, including Thomas Davies, who was on fire with multiple rides and the set wave of the round. Drama also ensued as Spanish import El Torito Rojo had his universal joint fall apart halfway through the heat, leaving him swimming while having only just caught two waves. Fortunately the Spanish Fly’s scores for his riding and a solid aerial were good enough that he didn’t need any other waves and advanced to the semis with James Dinnis, who had pulled out some trademark powerful turns to storm home.
The high class semi final revealed that El Torito Rojo had kept his powder dry in the earlier heats as he stepped up and stood out from the rest of the crowd to claim a place in the final. Paul Barron and James Dinnis led the running for the second finals berth, with Paul’s clinical riding and wave selection getting him through to the final by 0.5 of a point. Such was the intensity of the light wind heats that James Dinnis and Paul Hunt promptly declined the opportunity to sail off for 3rd and 4th place, opting instead for the beer, bbq and tales of the downward dog…
An excited crowd was on hand to witness the final between Paul Barron and El Torito Rojo (including some suspect pressure brought to bear on the judges by an unnamed spectator called Jill Barron). The standard of sailing from both sailors made for one of the most impressive New Zealand National’s finals ever seen at Pungarehu, however there could be only one winner and El Torito Rojo pulled out several great waves with multiple huge aerials to claim victory in the first elimination. Well done and well deserved Ferran!
From the finish of the contest into the evening the wind lifted and masses of sailors hit the water for some classic Pungarehu conditions. Thanks goes out to the locals for immense amounts of self control and not sailing through the middle of the heats!
Day two saw the possibility of a second elimination, with a huge swell breaking on the outer reef at Kina Rd, however the wind failed to materialise. By 1 pm Ferran was declared the overall winner of the 2012 New Zealand Nationals, with bbq, beers and prizegiving held at Pungarehu after some quality surfing in awesome waves.
Thanks to all those in the Taranaki Windsurf Club who organised this fun event and to all the great sponsors, especially Carbon Art and Rogers Dental for their continued and valuable support. (photos copyright http://www.surfphotonz.com. See more photos here)