The national surfing championships have historically been an unhappy hunting ground for young Mt Maunganui talent Raiha Ensor. Heading into the event in Gisborne last week, the 18-year-old hadn't so much as claimed a national title at age-group level.

Now, she is New Zealand's women's surfing champion.

Ensor beat Auckland's Gaby Sanson, hometown hope Saffi Vete and fellow Mt Maunganui surfer Elin Tuwaru in the open women's final to claim her first national title.

"It was my first year out of the juniors so I wanted to do well," Ensor said. "All the girls were ripping, but I was determined."


It was a chasing game for the new national champion in the final of the Health 2000-sponsored event. While she struggled to find anything of substance on her waves in the opening five minutes - "they were all really bad" - Sansom started the final with a bang. The Aucklander scored two big scores early to go ahead of the pack.

"I was getting a bit panicky to be honest," Ensor said.

As it played out, Sansom's high scores helped Ensor, as she knew she had to be more picky in her wave selection and ended up with two quality rides - including a nine - to claim the title.

"I was so happy to get it done."

Ensor said she was hoping to see her momentum from the event carry over to the first World Surf League women's qualifying series (QS) event in Florida next week. While she'll be competing in the Florida event, Ensor was entering her first year at Waikato University this year so would be juggling competitions with full-time study.

Two-time champion Ella Williams and Championship Tour (CT) surfer Paige Hareb did not compete at the event.

In the men's field, former World Surf League CT surfer Ricardo Christie claimed his second national title with his family watch on from the beach.

Christie had missed the event for the past few years as he spent time in Australia. However, with this year's competition being hosted in his hometown, entering the event was a no-brainer.

The 29-year-old told the Herald he had set out to win the event, but all eyes fell on him after the quarterfinals.

Reigning champion Billy Stairmand, 2017 runner up Taylor Hutchison and Kiwi legend Maz Quinn were all eliminated in the quarterfinals

"I had a bit of pressure on me after that. It seemed like it opened up for me but you can't take anything for granted and you can't let your guard down," Christie said.

The Mahia product get the better of Piha's Elliot Paerata-Reid, Waihi Beach's Levi Stewart and Mimiwhangata's Paul Moretti in the final.

"It feels good just to win. It gives you that confidence. I set out to win this event and I did."

Christie will be hoping to hold onto that confidence with the men's QS gets underway in February, after falling just short of securing another berth on the CT in his 2017 campaign.