BP New Zealand Championships Waikouaiti, Dunedin 6th & 7th April
It was a nail-biting finish at BP New Zealand IRB Championships, Dunedin. The current IRB racing world-championship holders, Sunset Beach Lifeguard Service clawed back a win in the last few nail-biting races of the weekend, to retain their national title in a weekend of fast and technical Inflatable Rescue Boat racing.
About 310 surf lifeguards from throughout the country took part in the annual BP New Zealand IRB Championships at Waikouaiti Beach, north of Dunedin, on Saturday and Sunday. Going into the competition, event organiser Scott Bicknell said Port Waikato’s Sunset Beach LS were the ones to beat. In November a team of eight IRB racers from Sunset Beach claimed the inaugural gold medal in IRB racing at the Lifesaving World Championships in Adelaide. But Dunedin’s St Kilda and St Clair SLS clubs, and Auckland’s Mairangi Bay SLSC were also putting forward large and skilled teams, and had done well in the North and South Island rounds earlier this year.
Bicknell says St Kilda SLSC led the club points for much of this weekend, threatening an upset, but in the final few races Sunset Beach overtook them on the scoreboard. St Kilda SLSC held second place, and East End SLSC, from New Plymouth, took third, with some good “gnarly waves” mixing the challenges up on Saturday, and gentler waves for Sunday’s racing. “It was pretty fast racing, it really came down to the wire. St Kilda was sitting in the front up until the singles races. Which Sunset came out in top of – one of the last few races, and they pulled it back.”
IRB racing, is fast and technical, and thrilling to watch - with boats hitting the waves as they race from the beach out to the sea, to carry out simulated rescues. All the athletes are surf lifeguards, and it mimics real rescue skills they use when they spring into action to save lives.
Waikouaiti locals were impressed with the display – Bicknell says a number of people out walking on the beach went home to get their families, then came back to watch the racing. “It’s about skills and technical ability – it’s a finely tuned discipline, and any errors can result in quite substantial changes in your points, so we had a few upsets. “It was quite impressive, everyone was glued to the points table.” Sunset Beach SLS showed intensity with a “high performance” determined focus. Whereas St Kilda SLSC has an up-an-coming team especially strong in the younger age groups, with “a lot of depth” and new skills emerging, Bicknell said. The high strength of skills throughout the competition is a bonus for surf lifesaving skills throughout the country, with these same skills being put to good use throughout the year saving people’s lives on our beaches, he said.