The Mount Monster, a challenging but thrilling endurance surf life saving race, draws some of the finest athletes in the sport to Mount Maunganui each year. Among them in 2019 was a young man desperate to improve on his previous efforts.

Leading up to the Mount Monster, Fitzroy Surf Life Saving Club's Joe Collins was living on the Gold Coast and doing 14 training sessions a week.

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It seems a big ask but he had all the motivation he needed in the form of a silver medal from the 2018 edition of the race, a reminder of how close he came to a win.

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His hard work paid off when he crossed the finish line in first on Saturday, completing the 12km ski paddle, 5km run, 1.5km swim and 6km board paddle in 2h 29m 32s, ahead of Waikanae's Lachie Falloon (2h 32m 49s) and Mount Maunganui's Hamish Miller (2h 35m 44s).

"It was a relief to finish the race, it was so good," Collins said.

Joe Collins takes the win at the Mount Monster endurance surf life saving race. Photo / George Novak
Joe Collins takes the win at the Mount Monster endurance surf life saving race. Photo / George Novak

"In the first leg I just tried to conserve my energy, stay with the pack and then just went for it in the run and tried to keep it going after that."

He took the lead on the run and never looked back, seemingly cruising to victory and leaving the others fighting for second place.

While there were times his training regime got tough, his desire to stand atop the podium kept him going.

"I just think how gutted I was last year that I didn't get the win and use that as motivation. This is definitely one of my favourite races to come to, I do enjoy the longer distance stuff.

"I love coming to the Mount, it's always warm and one of the best places to race in New Zealand."

New Plymouth's Claudia Kelly sprints across the finish line. Photo / George Novak
New Plymouth's Claudia Kelly sprints across the finish line. Photo / George Novak

Meanwhile, in the open women's race, East End Surf Life Saving Club's Claudia Kelly produced a monstrous performance to beat last year's winner Ella Kingi, of Otaki, by more than four minutes.

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Kelly finished in 2h 44m 37s, ahead of Kingi in 2h 48m 39s and Mount Maunganui's Olive Pearce in 2h 55m 50s.

"I was so stoked to take the win," Kelly said.

"It was a beautiful paddle out there, fantastic conditions. Personally, it's such an achievement just to do the whole thing myself. I've been injured the last few years so haven't been able to do the whole thing but I'm really stoked to take it out today."

Claudia Kelly was
Claudia Kelly was "stoked" to be the first woman home at the Mount Monster. Photo / George Novak

Many of those on the men's and women's podiums were young athletes brimming with potential. Kelly said it was an exciting generation of athletes to be a part of.

"The field was really young, there weren't too many adults - I know the Nutri-Grain series is on in Australia at the moment which takes out a few older competitors. I feel like the young ones are good at giving it a good crack though.

"I'm pretty nervous for the under-19 season coming up, there's a lot of great talent coming through. It was also cool just to see so many girls out there doing it and giving it a crack, it was awesome."

When asked how she would celebrate the win, she replied, "I'm getting the biggest icecream of my life." Few would argue she deserves it.

Mount Monster Results

Men:

1st Joe Collins (Fitzroy SLSC) 2h 29m 32s, 2nd Lachie Falloon (Waikanae SLSC) 2h 32m 49s, 3rd Hamish Miller (Mt Maunganui Lifeguard Service (2h 35m 44s).

Women: Claudia Kelly (East End SLSC) 2h 44m 37s, 3rd Ella Kingi (Otaki SLSC) 2h 48m 39s, 3rd Olive Pearce (Mt Maunganui Lifeguard Service) 2h 55m 50s.