Omanu are looming as dark horses at the national surf lifesaving championships beginning today with the masters (30+) at the Mount Main Beach.
The club already boasts defending New Zealand ironman champion Max Beattie, Dan Hooker and national under-16 ironman titleholder Ben Cochrane, but the addition of Zac Orchard, Alicia Bain and Eliza Smith from Northcliffe, Australia, has given an intriguing edge to the four-day carnival.
Omanu finished 16th overall last year in Gisborne, with Ashley Cochrane, Dannielle O'Connor and Siobahn Wright also picking up valuable points. Hooker and Beattie are based on the Gold Coast, while Hooker's girlfriend, Bain, competed for New South Wales in last year's Surf League and was also in the Australian under-20 team who won their division at Rescue 2012, finishing second in the ironwoman and board.
Several other Australian stars will also compete this weekend, with world champion beach flagger Melissa Howard competing for Fitzroy, as is young Jake Mispelhorn, while another Aussie flyer, Hayley Whyper, will line up with Mairangi Bay.
While Omanu's massive 71-strong masters' team is expected to dominate their competition and the club has a strong under-14 contingent, chairman Donal Boyle is hoping the Australian influence will be the spark needed for the open ranks.
"We've got a five-year strategy in place to get Omanu competitive in the open arena and Dan [Hooker] is the first of our home-grown, locally-raised athletes to come through the junior ranks in the last few years and graduate to open," Boyle said. "It's really hard to come through those grades as an individual, however, so when Alicia, Zac and Eliza approached us wanting to compete, we were delighted."
Beattie will face stiff competition in the ironman, with Chris Moors (Red Beach) having competed in the Kellogg's Nutrigrain professional series in Australia over summer. Moors won the ironman last time Mount Maunganui hosted it in 2011. Papamoa finished third last year in the overall points tally, picking up 89 points and finishing just behind Gisborne's Midway (102.5) and Mount Maunganui (98). Their charge will be led by young stars Natalie Peat and Ben Johnston, while New Zealand and Australian beach sprint title-holder Kodi Harman will make his competitive return after a long spell out with injury.