Waihi Beach surfer Levi Stewart and Whangamata's Luke Baxter put the Coromandel to one side to surf for their tribe, bringing pride with a podium finish for each at the 2020 Aotearoa Māori Surfing Titles.
From the Ngāti Awa tribe originally of Whakatāne, both Levi and Luke were among competitors at the titles on October 24-25 organised by Ben Kennings of Surfing NZ and the Ngāpuhi iwi.
Levi finished in second place in the open men's division while Baxter placed fourth in the over-45 men's grade.
The event was held in Te Tai Tokerau and began with a moving pōwhiri by hosts Ngāpuhi at Roma Marae, concluding the event with the poroporoaki and a hangi for everyone in attendance.
It was only the second time that Luke, a builder from Whangamatā, had competed at the event and it's the only surfing contest he has entered. He only competed for the first time last year because his two sons Otis and Sam are into competitive surfing.
"They are supposed to do as many comps as they can and I was going really just to support them, and thought if I'm there I might as well enter. And I managed to make the final.
"You are competing for your tribe, and ours got seventh overall. It helped that we had Levi in our tribe, who got second. To be honest I got wasted in the final but it was a really cool experience and I'll definitely do it again."
Due to flat conditions at Ahipara, competitors drove north to The Bluff where the surf was a solid 1.5m-plus swell with offshore winds and sun all day.
"Everyone drove up in a big convoy and we camped there for the day by the bluff and set up on the beach where Ngapuhi provided food for the day. The surf was big all day, it was a solid 4-5ft grunty swell and out of control out the back, and everyone was free-surfing on the other side of the bluff which was offshore all day long," says Luke.
"The tide was low enough that evening that you could drive all the way back to Ahipara on the beach, about a 50-minute drive. That was a cool experience for the kids."
Tauranga Moana surfer Kehu Butler (Ngai Te Rangi) was the overall men's winner, with young Taranaki surfer Natasha Gouldsbury (Te Atiawa) taking out the women's division.
Kennings says Waihi Beach local Levi was the only surfer to push Butler for the win, posting a high-scoring ride in the opening minutes of the final and finishing with a 13.7 point heat total.
In the over-45 men's grade, Darren Kiwi (Ngai Te Rangi) came out on top after opting to surf the outer banks and posting a 12.43 point heat total for a dying seconds win in the final. The Tamati brothers Dawson and Mitchell finished in second and third respectively, with Luke Baxter fourth.
Local Te Tai Tokerau surfer Indi-Lee Ruddell won the under-14 girls' division with some brave surfing, taking on the large waves out the back.
Kora Cooper (Ngai Tai) won the under-18 boys' title, fellow Raglan surfer Navryn Malone (Mahaki) claimed the under-16 boys' honours and Ryder Pennington (Te Atiawa) won the under-14 boys' division. Brie Bennett won the under-18 girls' title with Natasha Gouldsbury second, Jaya Reardon third and Sky Gundry fourth.
James Atutahi (Te Arawa) won the longboard title while Chris Karaitiana (Kahungunu) won the stand up paddleboard division.
- additional reporting Ben Kennings, Surfing New Zealand
Iwi of Origin
1. Te Atiawa
2. Ngai Te Rangi
4. Nga Puhi
5. Ngai Tahu
6. Te Rawara
7. Ngati Awa
8. Ngai Tai
9. Ngati Porou
10. Ngati Hine
11. Te Arawa
13. Ngati Whatua
14. Ngati Wai