Northland's Ruakākā beach could be New Zealand's next beach volleyball hub after a successful national tour event was held over the weekend.
The G.J. Gardner Homes New Zealand Beach Volleyball Tour, which was in its fourth leg after competitions were held in Mount Maunganui, Gisborne and Nelson, featured more than 40 domestic and international teams competing in a best-of-three-sets competition on Saturday and Sunday, before a social tournament was held yesterday.
The event, which doubled as New Zealand's championship beach volleyball competition, was thought to be Northland's first tour competition since 1994 and the first national championships played in the north.
The senior women's national title went to Julia Tilley and Shaunna Polley, from Bay of Plenty, who beat Francesca Kirwan and Olivia MacDonald in two sets, 24-22, 21-16.
The win for Tilley and Polley was a reverse result from last year's nationals which saw Kirwan and MacDonald take out the title. Both teams will be playing for New Zealand in an Olympic Games-qualifying event in Mount Maunganui on March 10-12.
In the senior men's division, North Harbour pairing Alani Nicklin and Tom Hartles triumphed in three thrilling sets (22-24, 24-22, 15-12) over Mike Watson (BOP) and Johann Timmer (NH).
With New Zealand favourites Ben and Sam O'Dea unavailable for the tournament, Nicklin and Hartles played some of their best to secure their first national title.
In the girls' under-19 Junior Joust, North Harbour's Domi Menoita and Tamara Nu'u beat Bay of Plenty's Blayze Waddicor and Stella Trevett in two sets (21-14, 21-14). In the boys' division, James Sadlier and Niko Leitz, from North Harbour, beat Sam Cooper and Sam Lowe, from Auckland, in two sets.
Eleven Northland beach volleyballers took part across different divisions in the competition. Junior competitors Maya Juarez and Tarquala Whittaker-Stone finished highest with a fourth in the girls' under-19 competition.
Tour organiser Dave Miller said the event had been unbelievable with people already dubbing the area the best venue of 2020.
"The sand, the setting, the water, how it looks on the beach, everybody was just raving about it," he said.
After working at beach volleyball events across England, Spain, Sweden and Germany, Miller said none compared to the idyllic scenes of white sand, clear water and the towering Whangārei Heads in Ruakākā.
"Every beach I've been to so far I've had issues with sand or clearing driftwood or the tide being too high. Every event has had one day of crazy wind and here it was perfect."
Miller planned to see the tour return in 2021 and he hoped he could relocate one of two existing tournaments to Ruakākā or start new school competitions in Northland to boost the sport's profile in the region.
"I want to take one of those events to Nelson and one to [Ruakākā], so we'll see what we can do with that.
"After [this weekend], there's no way we wouldn't [come back]. We'd be stupid not to."