The New Zealand surf lifesaving championships at Mount Maunganui's Main Beach this week have attracted nearly 1700 competitors from 48 clubs across New Zealand, with a number of international athletes also attending.
For the past four months, the Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service has become something of a United Nations, with a handful of English, French and Canadian lifeguards basing themselves in the clubhouse to patrol, race and train under Mount coach John Bryant.
French trio Julien Lalanne, Mickael and Adrien Lambolez, English representative George Haynes and countrymen Steven Gregory and Robert Sheard and Canadian Marie-Hlne Paquette will all turn out for their adopted club at the nationals, with Lalanne and Haynes targeting top performances in the open ironman.
But it hasn't just been performances in the water winning over the locals. Last Sunday, all the international crew were on duty, helping run the junior surf club championships, while Lalanne has taken an active part in coaching under-14 athletes. At 31, Lalanne is the senior partner of the crew, having spent a handful of seasons at top Gold Coast clubs Northcliffe and Kurrawa but his experiences at the Mount have blown him away.
"It's way different than Australia because I feel so much more part of the surf club here," Lalanne said. "The club and the people here are so supportive and it's so easy to keep training and racing when you have people cheering and supporting you."
Mount chairman Paul Treanor said he believes the club has been enriched by hosting their foreign legion and is keen to ensure it's a regular occurrence.
"We've all learned just as much from them as they have from us and they've been fantastic ambassadors and leaders for us in the community," Treanor said. "There's a danger of getting stale and too narrowly focused in a club environment but our foreign friends have given us a great outside perspective and some fresh ideas which is hugely beneficial."
Haynes took out the first two rounds of the Sonic Race Series ironman finals last week and finished third in the decider. He is eager to test himself against New Zealand's best this week with defending champion Max Beattie (Omanu) and Kellogg's Nutrigrain series contestant Chris Moors (Red Beach) both returning from the Gold Coast.