When it comes to surf life saving events, the Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service is a juggernaut and they proved it again during the Champion of the Bays at Ōhope Beach.

At the weekend, 241 surf life savers from 14 Bay of Plenty and Gisborne clubs competed in a wide range of running, swimming, board, ski and IRB races to discover who was the best of the Bays.

Mount Maunganui were the clear winners, finishing on 338 point in the overall club rankings, more than 200 points ahead of Waikanae Surf Life Saving Club in second (132). Pāpāmoa Surf Life Saving Club were third with 84 points.

Points earned by Bay of Plenty teams at the event also decided who took home the Bay of Plenty Top Club Trophy. Mount Maunganui cruised to victory in that as well, finishing on 463 points ahead of Whakatāne Surf Life Saving Club (144) in second.

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Surf Life Saving NZ interim sport manager Scott Bicknell said the event was a valuable opportunity for the athletes to have a hit-out ahead of the Eastern Regional Senior Championships in two weeks as well as the BP Surf Rescue New Zealand Championships in five week's time.

Claye Williams and Michael Esterhuizen dig in during the under-19 men's double ski at Champion of the Bays in Whakatāne. Photo / Karen Esterhuizen
Claye Williams and Michael Esterhuizen dig in during the under-19 men's double ski at Champion of the Bays in Whakatāne. Photo / Karen Esterhuizen

"There's definitely a pride factor between the clubs, but it's also a bit of a testing ground in preparation for those other events.

"This is really all about getting a lot of racing in, racing against some good competitors - not necessarily the best in the country, but some good people."

Bicknell said, historically, Mount Maunganui were always strong. They have won seven of the last 10 club titles at the national championships, including the last six in a row. They have also won the last two national pool rescue championships; the first club to win both titles in the same year.

"They were leagues ahead of everyone else."

Ashleigh Jackson and Carla Reid in action during the open women's board rescue. Photo / Karen Esterhuizen
Ashleigh Jackson and Carla Reid in action during the open women's board rescue. Photo / Karen Esterhuizen

He said, as well as being a sporting event, it was an opportunity for up and coming lifeguards to practise their life saving skills. Those skills were highlighted when, during the event, a group of surf life savers rushed from the beach to help save the life of a cyclist who suffered a heart attack and stopped breathing after being involved in a crash with a car.

"We had pretty good conditions, it was nice to see a little bit of a wave, creating more challenging conditions and really testing their skills. Ōhope has a bit of a sand bar which creates a sweep through which can drag them left or right. It's all about teaching lifeguards, giving them the skill and experience to get out into the water the quickest possible way.

"We also had IRB racing and, while there were only a few crews, that was selection for the Coromandel team so we had Waihi and Whangamata racing and that was very intense."

Open men's canoe competitors Cambell Reid, Craig Julian, Rex Humpherson and Scott Christie race out of the water. Photo / Karen Esterhuizen
Open men's canoe competitors Cambell Reid, Craig Julian, Rex Humpherson and Scott Christie race out of the water. Photo / Karen Esterhuizen

Event manager Mark Inglis paid tribute to those who made the event possible.

"I wanted to thank the volunteer club officials, water safety crew, and the Whakatane SLSC event helpers who gave up their time to assist at the 2019 Champion of the Bays. We obviously cannot run these events without them and they all did a fantastic job over the weekend."

2019 Champion of the Bays - Overall Club Points

Mt Maunganui Lifeguard Service 338, Waikanae SLSC 132, Papamoa SLSC 84, Whakatane SLSC 77, Midway SLSC 73, Omanu SLSC 70, Waihi Beach Lifeguard Services Inc 19, Pukehina Surf Rescue 17, Orewa SLSC 16, Whangamata SLSC 8, Opotiki SLSC 5, Red Beach SLSC 3, Paekakariki Surf Lifeguards 2, Wainui SLSC 2.

2019 Bay of Plenty Top Club – Bay of Plenty Senior Championship points

Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service 463, Whakatane SLSC 144, Omanu Beach SLSC 107, Papamoa SLSC 106, Pukehina Surf Rescue 20, Whangamata SLSC 18, Opotiki SLSC 9.