The final surge to make the 2016 Rio Olympics is about to begin for six Tauranga residents.
New Zealand Aquaferns swimmers Sarsha Younger, Eva Morris, Jazzlee Thomas and Amy Lowans, along with team coaches Julieta Diaz and Suzanne Ribeiro, leave on Sunday to compete at the Spanish Open, Swiss Open and the Fina World Champs in Russia.
The Russian event is where they hope to qualify for the Olympics as the top Oceania country. Australia has always won this spot but this is the first year New Zealand has competed.
The Aquaferns did four public team displays at the Synchro Swim New Zealand North Island Championships and North Island Intermediate and Secondary Schools Championships held at Mount Maunganui's Baywave over the weekend.
Synchronised swimming is a combination of swimming, dance and gymnastics that requires great strength in the core, upper body and legs. Competitors must be flexible and have the endurance to hold their breath underwater doing intensely physical moves.
The sport is definitely physical - at Baywave during weekly training the Aquaferns have suffered a concussion and three black eyes over recent months.
Swimmers involved work harder than any other athletes, according to a US Olympic Committee finding.
Head coach Diaz is confident all the hard work of training for 35 hours a week in Tauranga, Hamilton and Invercargill will pay off with qualification for the Olympics.
"We are working really well together. I think on the day if the team puts all their passion together we can achieve our goal," she said.
The Aqua Ferns receive no national funding so finding $25,000 per athlete to compete in Europe has been a massive challenge.
Diaz, who came to Tauranga from Argentina in 2011, says they have to earn the right to be funded first.
"It is part of the reality of being an up-and-coming sport in New Zealand. You have to first show the results before you can get the money, which is fair enough. Luckily we have a group of parents who are really dedicated to the sport and are really supportive to helping fund the team along with some sponsors."
Assistant coach Ribeiro is from Brazil and says the sport has a strong following in the Western Bay.
"Everyone can see the effort that the girls are putting in here at Baywave with two sessions every day," she said.
"The sport is growing and getting more respect from everybody but it still needs a lot more. Some people don't understand how it works and they think it is like ballet in the water but it is much more than that."