Whangamatā's Ella Williams emerged victorious from a tough two-way tussle in the Open Women's surfing final at the Backdoor King and Queen of the Point event at Raglan's Manu Bay last weekend.
Williams came back from a 12-month break from the competition arena to find her best form in the final on Saturday, surfing to a 15.76-point heat win and defeating local surfer Brie Bennett (14.40) in the final.
"I am so happy, it is great to be back and competing in good waves and to come away with the win for the weekend is amazing, I am so stoked," said Williams.
Williams has not put on the coloured jersey since the Tokyo Olympics. "The last 12 months away from competing has been good, I have had plenty of family time and I have been free surfing a lot and being at home more often than not, putting away the suitcase, it has been refreshing."
Bennett pushed Williams all the way in the final with Estella Hungerford (Chch) finishing in third and Natasha Gouldsbury (Tara) in fourth.
"A good finals challenge is what makes comps fun, it is what makes it good for the spectators too, having a close match up. All the finalists were surfing great all weekend and Brie was especially pushing me in that final, she knows the wave well and I am happy to get the win today, next time she will be knocking on the door again I am sure."
With the swell expected to decrease further with a strengthening easterly wind, it was decided to push through to the finals of each premier division on day two of the event on Saturday, leaving the junior divisions for the final day on Sunday.
Billy Stairmand (Raglan) snatched a come-from-behind victory in the men's division. His win came at the expense of three fellow Raglan surfers and none more so than Caleb Cutmore who led until the final minute of the final.
On his final wave, Stairmand posted a 6.47 to edge past Cutmore 14.30 to 14.00 for the win.
"I think as competitive surfers, that is the type of the win you dream of, knowing you can get the win and surfing a clutch wave to just get the score," Stairmand said.
The MR Twin Fin Expression Session went down in small but running lefts with eight surfers taking the opportunity to ride the classic Mark Richards twin fins. Whitianga surfer Jay Piper–Healion showed the most poise on the retro boards to walk away with his height in Workshop Beer. Jay was pushed to the final wave of the 30 minutes by wildcard Simon Fritchley and the lone female of the eight, Elin Tawharu.
The finals of the men's and women's divisions were flanked by several rounds of junior divisions. Standouts included Soren Bucka-Christensen (Tara), Ash Rogers (WGM), Navryn Malone (Rag) and Kalani Louis (Tara) in the boys divisions. In the girls divisions, Maya Mateja (Rag), Alani Morse (Rag) and Chloe Groube (Pau) all showed good form heading into Sunday.
A clean 1m swell and offshore winds prevailed all day on Sunday, producing groomed waves that held throughout the tides at the backup location of Ruapuke Beach.
The under 20 girls division was flipped in the final five minutes with seasoned campaigner Natasha Gouldsbury (Tara) eventually claiming the win over double-finalist Chloe Groube (Pauanui) 13.25 to 13.1 points.
It was Groube who got off to a flyer with some big forehand power hacks for a 6.83 before backing it up with a 4.67. Gouldsbury took the lead with a heat-high 7.4 late in the battle. Groube fought back with a last-ditch effort, but requiring a 6.41, came up short with a 6.27, giving Gouldsbury the win.
Maya Mateja (Rag) ran away with the under 16 girls division despite being away from her favoured Manu Bay. Mateja posted a 10.83-point total in the final punctuated with a clean two-turn combo at the end of the final that netted a 6.0 ride. Up until the final wave, it was a close tussle with all finalists. Groube fought her way into second place on 7.17, narrowly edging Pia Rogers (Whangamata) in third and Lani Frazerhurst (Rag) in fourth.
The Backdoor King and Queen of the Point presented by Quiksilver is an SNZ3000 event and boasts $15,000 in prizemoney as the richest event of the year and with maximum national ranking points on offer.