The 2013 Billabong Grom Series springs into action this weekend at Mount Maunganui with the first of three events in the renowned series for junior surfers under the age of 16 (groms).
With the three event locations locked down, Mount Maunganui gets the show underway before the series heads to Whangamata (February 23-24) and finishes at Piha (March 9-10).
Newly crowned national champion in the Under-16 boys division, Korbin Hutchings (formerly of Gisborne), will return from Australia, where he currently resides, to compete at the event.
"I like coming back and seeing everyone and seeing how everyone is surfing, it is always fun," said Hutchings of his return. After winning his title on Saturday, the energetic natural foot surfer returned to Australia to take in a few days of school and get his year off to a good start.
"I didn't want to stay in New Zealand and miss the start of school then come back and not have my classes sorted and be a complete shambles," said Hutchings.
Hutchings won the title, his first, at Piha in big surf, and he couldn't be happier with the crown. The event this weekend could also see sizeable surf as a low pressure system bears down on the East Coast of New Zealand during the middle of this week.
With the event being so early in the year, all of the groms reshuffle and find their position in the pecking order after a number of surfers move up a division. Hutchings will face off against local favourite Kehu Butler who has been impressive, himself picking up a title at the national champs in the Under-14 boys division. The two surfers will be joined by in-form Harrison Whiteside (Chch), Taylor Hutchison (Rag), who placed in the final at the nationals along with Manu Scott-Arrieta (Sandy Bay), Isaac Kettle (Tara) and Tane Bowden (WGM).
Bowden still qualifies for the youngest age group at the event, the Under-12 boys division. Despite towering above most of his opponents, Bowden is happy to have another year left in the division but he hopes to do well in the older age groups as well if he gets that chance.
"My goal is to win the Under-14s and the Under-12s this year," said Bowden, who rates the surf at the Mount because "it is similar to Whangamata where I live, but not as good," he said cheekily.
The Under-16 girls division is shaping up to be a testing encounter with newly crowned national champion Dayna Story (Gis) focussed on the series after a stellar performance at the New Zealand Championships.
"I am stoked with how things went at the nationals and I am looking forward to the Billabongs this year," said Story. "The nationals win was my biggest goal and I did heaps of work toward that and it paid off so I aim to continue along the same path [this] weekend."
Story, along with New Zealand Junior Surfing squad representatives Jasmine Smith (Gis), Claudia Fraser (Piha) and Kea Smith (Mount), will have national selection deep in the back of their minds heading into the first Billabong Grom Series event. The four surfers are vying for only two places on the New Zealand team when it is announced on March 26. A second win on the trot for Story would help her cause immensely, while a win from any of the other girls would also see their stocks rise.
"It is definitely in the back of my mind, it has been the biggest goal of mine for years," said Story. "Competition is pretty intense at the moment, though, and we are all having a good battle with each other."
The 2013 Billabong Grom Series is the ninth year it has been held.
Many budding surfers have progressed through the series from the age of 10 through to 16 before the exit into older age brackets.
This year all the entrants will be aided by elite surfing coach Matt Scorringe, who will be at the event to give everyone guidance each morning before the event starts, as well as being set up throughout the day to give the groms tips on how they can improve technically and competitively.
Many groms will be competing in their first national event.