A 16-year-old Taradale High School pupil with barely two years' experience of lawn bowls has stunned the sport's followers in Hawke's Bay by winning the Bowls Napier club men's singles title.
Leaving in his trail at least one bowler with more than 40 years' experience, Nate Simes won the title on Sunday with a 21-15 win in the final against defending champion Jim Hagan at the club's greens off Herrick St, Marewa. Hagan had won three times in the past six years.
One of seven who qualified for post-section play with the prerequisite two-from-three wins on Saturday, Simes earlier on Sunday had 21-12 wins in the quarter-final and the semifinal, the latter against veteran former top Hawke's Bay player Fred Ellison.
Bowls Hawke's Bay senior men's selector and former multiple Bowls Napier and centre champion Dave Stevenson said Sunday's win by Simes was almost certainly the first time a Junior (player with less than five years) had won the title.
The club - the original Marewa club merged on its site with the Napier and Wairere bowling clubs – goes back about 67 years to the days when now sole-surviving original Greg Hook had to apply for an age-exemption to be able to play for the club.
Long belying the image that bowls is a game solely for senior citizens, it's more than 40 years since a teenager first played in a national men's championships playoff, and 12 years since former Napier Girls' High student Mandy Boyd became the first teenager to win a national title, as a 19-year-old member of a women's four in 2009, the same year she won the second of two national secondary schools titles.
Simes has similar aspirations, having had little history of competitive sport until "the man in the cafeteria" at school started playing and started encouraging a few pupils to hit the greens as well in 2018.
Simes had an introduction to indoor bowls and had "no idea" how many others would take up the challenge, but there were about 10 and a new era in Napier bowls had begun. By the end of their first season they'd competed at the national secondary schools championships in Auckland.
He's now one of a small group being coached and mentored by club honorary vice-president Doug White and fellow Hawke's Bay bowls stalwart Lorraine Beaufort, and says that while he's hoping to head to Victoria University to study something in the area of international relations and foreign affairs, he'd like to become a bowls professional.
But he's prepared to bide his time, and doesn't think he'll be in the club's revived Bowls Napier Classic fours tournament on March 9-10, which has a first prize of $4000. It's a midweek tournament and would need two days off school.
Bowls does, however, have credits as an NZQA physical achievement standard, although they're not on his own schedule.
He says he became more serious when he attended a club roll-up for the first time, soon joining the club membership of about 200 and realising that training was needed.
He now spends at least two hours a week practicing, and more when getting ready for the more testing ordeals, like a Saturday and Sunday on the greens in temperatures tipping 30 Celsius.
Already with one club title in the bag – filling-in in a mixed triple earlier in the season – has developed the right sort of "thinking" skills to have more than a starter's show in Sunday's final, according to those who've watched his progress.
He and Hagan traded shots and the lead until the halfway stage when the youngster started to pull away and eventually win by a comfortable six shots.
The winning form continued on Monday with a first-to-seven 10-1 win over a seasoned Hawke's Bay Today reporter just busting for a game of bowls (aka an hour out of the office). It featured the ageing novice (Doug Laing) taking a shot off the new champion on the second end, but capitulation in the fourth with a wrong bias and the surrendering of all four shots.
If it hurt to concede a shot to a novice – or give the reporter "a moment of glory", as Stevenson would put it - it didn't show. Depending who you were, it actually felt quite good.