The battle for national surf life saving honours begins with the highly competitive masters division at picturesque Ohope Beach today.

The clash of the over-30s is the opening salvo for 1500 athletes from 49 clubs who will compete over four days of intense competition at the 2016 Eastern Bay Energy Trust New Zealand Surf Life Saving Championships.

Teams have travelled from Omaha Beach in the north and Kaka Point in the south, with the largest group of 141 competitors coming from Red Beach. Mount Maunganui (86), Omanu (72) and Papamoa (43) lead the Western Bay charge this year with competitors from Australia and Italy adding international flavour.

Mount Maunganui will again be the club to beat in the open ranks as they look to win the prestigious Allan Gardner Memorial Trophy for the fifth year running. Last year they won with 213 points, more than double that of Gisborne's Midway in second and Mairangi Bay in third.


But today the attention will be on the masters division and Omanu, who have won the relatively new grade for the past seven years.

Club president Simon Oldham says the key to their success is the club's culture with the emphasis on family and everyone getting involved.

"Because we have a really big nippers programme, people end up getting more and more involved in the club. People can do competitive lifesaving as a master now with our club and it is a serious sport for some people," Oldham said.

"They want to carry on doing surf. The inclusive family and social culture is important. Other clubs are just catching on really about how much (masters) can give back to a club. You end up retaining a whole lot of experience in a surf club if you can keep your masters interested or get them back into surf life saving."

Oldham is happy with the quality of the Omanu team but is expecting Mount Maunganui to be a threat.

"We have had bigger teams but we have strength in all age groups in both female and male teams. We have an ex-Olympian kayaker, ex-New Zealand surf Ironman champs and some pretty elite athletes in John McDonald, Paul Bassett, Mike Williams and Jackie Reid, who is a former world champion in surf life saving," Oldham said.

"Mount Maunganui are putting a really serious effort in to their masters programme. They have seen the benefits of what it can do to a surf club and they are serious about trying to take the cup off us.

"So it is going to be very, very close. They have good athletes as well and the rivalry is getting more and more intense and harder each year, which is great because that means people train harder, more people get into it and take it more seriously."