What lifeguards regard as a fun sporting event is on a different level to most athletes.

But even by their extreme standards, the aptly named Mount Monster is a superior test of mental toughness, physical courage and range of skills.

The event that starts and finishes on Mount Main Beach from 10am tomorrow has four gruelling parts — a 5km beach run, 1.5km ocean swim, 12km surf paddle to Omanu and back and a 6km board paddle before the sand sprint to the finish line.

What makes the Mount Monster so unique is athletes have to run to the end of Moturiki (Leisure) Island and leap off the end of the blow hole into the turbulent swell below to start the ocean swim. Scary? You bet!

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Despite all of this — or maybe because of it — record numbers have signed up to the fifth running of the event. There are 75 individuals, 216 teams and 30 juniors taking part.

Event manager Steve Bird says the Mount Maunganui environment makes the event so special.

"You couldn't ask for a better playing field to be fair. It just offers everything we need," he said.

The odds on a Western Bay lifeguard winning tomorrow have been shortened due to a clash with the third round of the Ocean6 series in North Wollongong this weekend. This means those who are unavailable include top New Zealand ironmen and previous champions Cory Taylor, Max Beattie and Ben Cochrane, 2016 winner in Australian Luke Cuff and two-time female winner Danielle McKenzie.

This opens the door for local talent such as Papamoa's Scott Cowdrey and Mount Maunganui's Hamish Miller, Declan Dempster and Sam Shergold. Whakatane multisport star Sam Clark, who won his second Coast to Coast title earlier this year, is another to watch.

The women's field is boosted with newly-crowned world surf ski series champion Rachel Clarke entering after claiming the title in Australia last weekend.

Saturday also marks a new innovation in the first 3.2km Mini Monster for an invitation-only field of under-14 athletes.

Bird says they have a vision for the Monster to grow both in size and in its scope.

"We are aware that the overall aim is to create a pathway for athletes to move on to be the best they can be anywhere in the world.

"For us to bring the junior event live is the next natural progression in creating that pathway. We would like the elite end of the surf athlete programme to stretch right down to the junior ranks.

"While we have it as a test concept this year, our expectations are that this time next year when we open up the junior event to all comers we think it will be bigger than the Monster itself."

Organisers of the Mount Monster are delighted the owner of sponsors Dexion International, Mr Yang from Singapore, will be on the beach to start the race and at the prizegiving.


■Previous Mount Monster winners:
2016: Luke Cuff (Australia), Danielle McKenzie (NZ)
2015: Ben Cochrane (NZ), Kirsty Wannan (NZ)
2014: Max Beattie (NZ), Kirsty Wannan (NZ)
2013: Cory Taylor (NZ), Danielle McKenzie (NZ)