Hawke's Bay's national under-19 beach sprint champion Ben Lewis was full of caution on the eve of his title defence expedition in Gisborne.

It had nothing to do with his recovery from a broken collarbone collected while playing for the Napier Boys' High School 1st XV rugby side last year. That got the big tick earlier in the summer.

"There are so many young guys coming into the under-19 ranks from around the country who were in the under-16 age group last year and they have heaps of speed," Lewis said shortly after checking out the sand for the national surf lifesaving championships which began at Midway Beach yesterday and continue until Sunday.

"But going back to back is the goal. Although I'm eligible for this grade again next year I might move up to the open grade so it would be good to leave the under-19s with a medal."

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In addition to the beach sprint Lewis, 18, will also compete in the under-19 beach relay, beach flags and short course canoe race team. A joiner with O'Briens Aluminium & Maintenance, Lewis, and Reece Akuhata are the only two members of last year's national title-winning relay team in the team again.

They will be joined by Kyle Corneilssen and either Adam Bibby or Grayson Hesketh. Wesley Akeripa was in the team earlier this summer but had to withdraw after breaking his ankle when he fell off an apple bin.

"The canoe race is something new for us," Lewis said.

Corneilssen, Bibby and Lewis will be joined by Akuhata, who has replaced Akeripa, in the canoe race crew.

At the January 26-28 Eastern Regionals in Mount Maunganui Lewis won bronze in his under-19 beach sprint.

"That wasn't what I was looking for but the sand there was softer than I like," Lewis recalled.

At last month's Central Regionals in New Plymouth Lewis won gold in the under-19 beach sprint and silver in the open beach sprint. He also won gold in the under-19 beach flags and in the open relay with Akuhata, Akeripa and Corneilssen.

"I've been coming back hard from that broken collarbone. Now it's time to try to get back to the top," Lewis added.

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The beach sprint contingent is among 51 athletes, 11 of them masters from Ocean Beach Kiwi at the champs. Long-time OBK beach sprint coach Greg Larsen, 68, won three golds and one silver medal yesterday.

Competing in the 65-69 years age group, Larsen won gold in his beach sprint, beach flags and run-swim-run events. He won silver in the surf ski.

His clubmate, Emma Akeripa, the mother of Wesley, won a gold and three silvers in the 35-39 years age group. She captured gold in the sprint and silvers in the beach flags, run-swim-run and surf race.

OBK's masters men's boat crew of James Nilsson, Adrian Barclay, Reece Kennedy, Bruce Bates and sweep Scott Mogey won silver. The club's masters surf canoe short course crew of Leonard Kay, David Kruger, Martin Barrett and Greg Ross were also celebrating a silver medal last night.

The club's open men's long course canoe crew which won silver last year has the potential to be among the medals again.

Waimarama have a 27-strong team, 10 of them masters, in Gisborne. Their strength is in open men's canoe events where they won medals last year.

Club officials will be surprised if under-19 ocean events competitor Jonty Laver and under-16 competitor Harriet Parkes don't travel home with medals on Sunday.
Hawke's Bay champions Westshore have a 30-strong team, 10 of them masters, competing. Their two boat crews, open women's canoe crew and under-16 girls beach relay team are tipped to be among the medal winners.

Yesterday's masters grade section of the nationals involved competitors as young as 30 and old as 78. Bay of Plenty's Omanu club won the masters section by 150 points from Mount Maunganui.

The points were: Omanu 313, Mount Maunganui 161, Lyall Bay 89, Whakatane 68 and Waikanae 64.