Overcoming tough weather conditions and strong competition to start a sporting season with a win is a good confidence booster for any athlete.
Mount Maunganui beach volleyball team Shaunna Polley and Julia Tilley have done just that, opening the G.J Gardner Homes New Zealand Beach Tour with a win over American pair Ivey Schmitt and Sarah Seiber in the final of the Mauao Slam.
The weather tested athletes throughout the two-day event at Mount Main Beach, with maximum wind gusts of 52km/h recorded in Tauranga on the final day on Sunday.
"It was definitely a little bit challenging with the high winds that kind of came through on the sunday," Tilley says.
When athletes are faced with difficult conditions, Tilley says, they're forced to change strategies and be more tactical in their game.
"The wind definitely created a little bit of frustration for all the teams playing I think," she says.
"You can win points off shots that normally wouldn't be very good and things like that, and serving so yeah I think it does definitely open it up and level the playing field, and kind of creates a few more opportunities."
Starting the season with a win is a good confidence booster and Tilley hopes it will continue throughout the tour.
"It felt good to get a win under the belt and get those points in the bag now that we've got the six tour stops, so to start with a win is really helpful for us and just a confidence booster as well just to know that we can kind of start like that and hopefully continue it on.
"We really enjoyed being back on the sand and just playing in the tournament and getting the win was kind of the icing on the cake."
Tilley says the standard of play in the women's competition was strong, especially Schmitt and Seifert, who arrived in New Zealand last Thursday from California.
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"The women's side was really strong, especially for the start of the season. The top eight, all the quarter finals and all the semifinals, there were some really good games."
For the visitors, it wasn't the jetlag that impacted their game, but more so the seashells on the sand and the winds.
"Playing in the wind can definitely get in your head because you just never know where the ball's going to go," Seifert says.
"We actually ended up dropping a game on Saturday that we were supposed to win but we weren't used to playing these conditions and we let the wind get the best of us while the other team was able to use it to their advantage," Schmitt says.
"There were a lot of sea shells so we have actually, and I'm sure all the players kind of feel the same way, lots of cuts all over our bodies [on Monday] just from diving and running around in the sand, and then of course with the wind, it changes how you approach the game. It's anyone's games, just whoever has more experience playing in the wind."
The pair felt evenly matched and hope to stay strong and improve as the tour progresses.
"Our main goal is just to improve as a team, we made it to the finals this weekend, part of that was just you know sheer will. There were some moments of very ugly volleyball ... I think moving forward throughout the tour I think we would like to clean up our game and just make sure that when we're winning, we're winning more cleanly.
"We did really well in our first tournament but there are definitely things that we can improve on," Seiber says.
This week, they'll be getting in as much training as possible before the next tour event in Gisborne on December 28-29.
Tauranga's Mike Watson and partner Johann Timmer took out the men's competition, which was missing Tauranga's 2018 Commonwealth Games bronze medallists Sam and Ben O'Dea.
Tour organiser Dave Miller, from BeachedAz Events, says the quality of the men's games weren't as high as expected with Watson and Timmer unable to be evenly matched.
He says some of the men's teams had gone into the tournament without training, using it as a warm-up for the season.
He hopes the O'Dea brothers will be back and ready to play the next event of the series, which also heads to Nelson on January 10-12, Northland's Ruakaka Beach on January 25-27, Mount Maunganui on February 7-9, and finishing at Auckland's Mission Bay on February 21-23.
Miller says opening the season in December instead of January, as in previous years, has proved challenging but overall he was pleased with the first tournament of the three-month, six-date tour.
Crowd numbers were down, which he put down to the weekend's rough weather and the time of year not falling within the traditional summer holiday period.
"Overall really good start to the tour. We had 94 athletes, I think half and half basically on the juniors [Junior Joust] and the adults [tours] so really, really good to have that number of juniors on the first junior tour," Miller says.
Women's Division 1 final:
Seiber/Schmitt lost to Polley/Tilley: 13/21; 21/15; 11/15.
Men's Division 1 final: Watson/Timmer def Muller/Kapa: 21/17; 21/18.