A surf lifesaving champion has been suspended after testing positive for cannabis.

Wellington surf lifesaver John Elsmore won't be able to compete until nearly Christmas following the positive test, and it's expected the team he competed with will be stripped of their national title.

Surf Live Saving New Zealand chief executive Paul Dalton said Elsmore was a masters athlete, meaning he was over 30, and the result had been a "wake up call" for older competitors that it was not just the younger competitors who had to meet regulations.

He was tested after winning the Surf Canoe Long Course - Open Male event at the 2020 TSB New Zealand Surf Life Saving Championships.

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The Sports Tribunal has given him a nine-month suspension, backdated to March 14 when he was tested.

Dalton said it was expected the team Elsmore competed with, part of Wellington's Lyall Bay Surf Live Saving Club, would be stripped of its title, but the move was not yet confirmed.

"There is a little bit of flexibility around that," he said.

They were in the process of clarifying the "fine print" .

While cannabis is "not generally performance-enhancing", it is still on the World Anti-Doping Agency's prohibited list, said Drug Free Sport New Zealand chief executive Nick Paterson.

"Because cannabis is prohibited in sport, we are required under the current rules to proceed with a case where a positive test for cannabis is received.

"If you are an athlete, the best way to avoid a positive test is not to use cannabis."

The agency requires that labs do not report and anti-doping organisations not pursue action against low concentrations of cannabis in an athlete's sample. Concentrations under 180 nanograms per millilitre (ng/mL) do not trigger an adverse analytical finding.

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Elsmore's result was 1543 ng/mL.

Dalton said it was a "good lesson" that it was not just the younger, high-performance competitors who would be subject to testing.

"It's just been a wake-up call for some of our masters athletes."

There was "some comfort" in the fact that the testing had not revealed any performance-enhancing drugs.

Now it was time to "take it on the chin unfortunately and learn from the experience and move on".

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