Gisborne's Cory Taylor won the inaugural Mount Monster by a surprisingly comfortable margin over Omanu's Aussie import Max Beattie at the Mount Main Beach on Saturday.
The extraordinary test of stamina and all-round surf lifesaving skills involved four separate legs for more than 130 athletes, including 53 individuals taking on the entire challenge rather than as part of relay teams.
At 10am the large field began with a 5km beach run, then ran to the top of Moturiki Island and a heart-stopping 10 metre leap from the blowhole into the pounding surf to begin a 1.5km swim back to the beach.
Without a minute to rest, the competitors took off on a long 12km surf ski paddle to Omanu and back before the final gut-busting 6km paddle board race in the ever-strengthening surf.
It was dramatic, spectacular and captivating viewing for the large crowd of onlookers - many of whom openly wondered if the lifeguards would finish.
But lifeguards are a special breed and relished the opportunity to test themselves.
Taylor, 20, had an unsteady debut in his first season as an open competitor last year as he struggled with the step-up after a stellar junior career. Determined to turn things around, he shifted to the Gold Coast in June and has spent the last six months training with Australia's best.
That work ethic paid off in style on Saturday as the former New Zealand junior kayaking rep powered away over the stunning 25km course to beat New Zealand ironman champion Max Beattie by nearly 5 minutes to win the Steve Bird Wines-sponsored event in 2hrs 21mins 22secs.
Taylor led from the start and was the first one to jump into the blowhole which is not something the Midway lifeguard has done before.
"I was a bit hesitant and stopped for a little bit before I leapt off but the adrenalin takes leap of faith tame ultimate monster
PRE-RACE THOUGHTS: Amy Barron awaits the start of the Mount Monster. PHOTO/JOEL FORD 211213JF01BOP
LOVING IT: Jade Humphris from Orewa during the inaugural Mount Monster surf lifesaving event. PHOTO/JOEL FORD 211213JF30BOP
I definitely felt it and started cramping up near the end because I am not used to it.Cory Taylor, winner
THEY'RE OFF: Competitors run down the beach at the start of the Mount Monster surf lifesaving event on Mount Main Beach. PHOTO/JOEL FORD 211213JF03BOP
over while you're racing and you just do what you gotta do," Taylor said.
"I wanted to stay ahead from the start and not look back. Going around Rabbit Island I could see I had a little gap so I could ease off but it was still a hard race the whole way."
He says the board leg was the hardest part of the event.
"It was tough because it was last and you are using your whole body the whole time. I definitely felt it and started cramping up near the end because I am not used to it.
"I haven't done long stuff in a while so it was a bit of a change. It was good though. It was different, it was fun and I think it is what the sport over here needs to try to compete with diversity."
Taylor pocketed $2500 for his troubles which he says he desperately needs.
"I will be back next year if the money is still there. I need it as I don't have a job."
Mount Maunganui's Sam Shergold was fourth in the open and the first homegrown athlete to finish.
He finished 25th at the Coolangatta Gold in October and much of the heavy base work he did for that event paid off on Saturday.
The New Zealand under-20 team member is hoping to get to the world championships in France next year and put in a gutsy performance in front of New Zealand selectors.
"I didn't have a great run and the swim was pretty tough," Shergold said. "Even the first part of the ski was hard but the more I got into it, the more I started to enjoy it. I relaxed into my work, kept up my fluid intake and by the time I hit the board leg, I was flying.
"I would've liked to have kept going and made the podium but just missed out - though fourth was very satisfying considering where I was halfway through."
The women's race turned into a thriller, with Mairangi Bay's Danielle McKenzie needing a sprint to hold off Mount Maunganui local Katie Wilson.