There is no time like summer in New Zealand and no better way to welcome the sun than with social sport at the beach.
Auckland's beaches are a playground for all athletes and there are plenty of ways to use the sea and sand on your doorstep.
We caught up with two event organisers, Scott Rice of the popular State Beach Series, and Troy Huston of the inaugural Jetts City Surf Series, to see how weekend warriors can get involved.
Rice, 35, swam competitively from the age of 10 to 23, and represented New Zealand in swimming from 1995 to 1999. Huston, 34, has a diverse water-sports background. His highlight was becoming a New Zealand representative for SUP (stand up paddleboarding) at the ISA Worlds in Peru.
"I was also the first person to SUP to Great Barrier Island, from Tawharanui, with my mate Bevan Gooch, which was a buzz."
They are expecting big names at their events. Elite athletes such as Jo Aleh, Lisa Carrington, Steven Ferguson, J. P. Tobin, Steven Kent, Maz Quin, Terenzo Bozzone, Nikki Tanner, Katie Glynn and Sam Warriner are expected.
"The social sportsperson gets the opportunity to mingle with top athletes," said Rice.
"Our scoring system allows competitors to gauge their progress compared with the race winner, and that gives people a lot of motivation to improve their performance."
What makes your event special?
SR: There is so much on offer for everyone - you simply pick an event based on your sporting preference, age and ability. We're fortunate Takapuna Beach is protected most of the time from the elements, and it's a nice place to hang out on a Tuesday evening. It's great that we can utilise a beach like Takapuna and keep the event off the roads. Plus, because of the size of the beach, we can have multiple activities at the same time.
TH: It is predominantly a board-and-paddle specific event across eight disciplines. There is something for the whole family to take part in and enjoy, starting from children of age 6 and up. For those who prefer to stay on the sand, we have beachfront fitness groups. The beautiful East Coast beaches of Auckland City truly are a playground for the kids and a dance floor for the open competitors.How long has your event been running and how has it grown?
SR: It started in 2005 with 150 entrants per night, and this year we are expecting 500 to 550 entrants per night. Each year we add further disciplines and events to keep up with trends and to keep things interesting.
TH: This is our first year in operation and with well over 100 registered participants already, this unique board and beach focused event is sure to reach capacity by event one on November 15.
What are the ages of athletes who compete?
SR: We cater for 4-year-olds to over 80-year-olds. We have the youngest kids running next to their parents in the run, with the swim popular with our older participants as it's non-weight-bearing.
For some people it's about winning the series competition, for others winning their age group, and then for some people it's just about having the opportunity to train and compete on a weekly basis. It is such a family-friendly event.
Although there is an elite vibe to the State Beach Series, the majority of participants are there to have a fun, enjoyable night with a bit of exercise.
TH: We are designed to accommodate the whole family. The city-nipper programme is to educate our youth (6-12 years old) on water safety. "Grommet" events are for 13-17 years including SUP, kayak and surfboard paddle. The open events (18-plus) across all divisions are for mum, dad and even grandparents to be involved. After each event we have a social get-together at a local venue.
Do you help athletes with training programmes/tips/techniques/incentives for bigger goals?
SR: Our email newsletters contain lots of great advice, along with great discounts and other special offers. Starboard, one of our sponsors, run free one-hour clinics for SUP beginners each week.
TH: Leading up to the start of the Jetts City Surf Series we have been running weekly SUP clinics to educate first-timers and further advance the skills set, safety, enjoyment and fitness levels of paddlers, with the foresight of upcoming championships plus overseas events.
What advice do you offer to newcomers?
SR: For first-timers it is a good idea to try one of our social events or maybe an event with a shorter distance until they are feeling more confident. Sometimes just watching for the first evening or participating with a friend can calm any nerves.
TH: Get involved and give it a try. Each of the 13 event dates we have free SUP, surf-ski demos and training clinics for the absolute beginner at Mission Bay. We have an area and staff on-site solely designated to assisting newcomers or beginners.By Peter Thornton