The second round of the Billabong Grom Series at Whangamata at the weekend proved to be a breakthrough competition for Tauranga surfer James Ririnui.

The Under 14 surfer, still only 12 years old, defeated national champion Thomas Robinson (Whangarei) after he rode to a 6.27 point ride with five minutes of the final to go that jumped him in to the lead. He hung on to take his first win at national level.

"(James) has had to surf Under 14 for the last three years," says dad Barry. "It's been tough with the likes of Kehu Butler and a few others, but now they've moved up a division it's better - although there are still other good surfers in the division."

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Ririnui senior says his son's form was patchy last season.

"He was making semis, but getting bumped from them - it's a hard sport because it's all about what happens on the day and he's more of a power surfer, but you don't always get the conditions for that so he has had to learn to surf the smaller stuff."

Conditions last weekend were "not flash" and "a bit mushy".

"But when the tide changed James managed to get onto some good waves and in the quarters scored sevens on both waves - he surfed solidly all weekend and was rewarded for it."

Dad has been impressed with his son's resilience.

"He's been working hard - he got knocked at the nationals, but got back up. It can be hard for a kid, and all last year he was up against really good surfers and his confidence took a bit of a knock, but he's come back."

James is also an accomplished rugby player and has played at both Roller Mills and Tai Mitchell levels - but the older he gets, the more clashes there are likely to be between the two sports.

"If there's a surf comp then that's his priority."

Last year James was named in the New Zealand squad for the world junior championships while still only 11.

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While he was never likely to be in the final travelling team, it showed he is on the selectors' radar.

"He's still young and it shows they've got him identified and it was a reward for the way he was surfing."

The third round of the Billabong series takes place in Piha on March 5 and 6 and a good result could see James take out the Under 14 title.

Also at Whangamata, Jonas Tawharu won the Under 17 boys division and Raiha Ensor placed second in the Under 17 Girls Division just missing out on a fourth title.