While the rest of us are fast asleep, 9-year-old Kaia Derbyshire already has her bag packed and swimsuit in the car ready for another 5.30am trip to swimming training.

Kaia, a Year 5 pupil at the Bay of Islands International Academy, travels more than an hour with mother Trudy from their home in Kerikeri to Whangārei's Northwave swimming club three times a week and once or twice to Kawakawa, about 30 minutes away. That's almost 10 hours of travel a week.

It may seem like a waste of time, money and fuel but Kaia and her mother are keen ocean swimmers. Both will be competing in this weekend's Duke of Marlborough Hotel Bay of Islands Classic in the Banana Boat Ocean Swim Series in the Bay of Islands.

Kaia and Trudy have just returned from their latest swimming competition in Fiji, the birthplace of Kaia's father Patrick, where Kaia placed fourth in the 1km swim in the 20-year-old and under category and eighth in the entire field of about 50 swimmers.

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"I like the activity and sometimes you get to go places and meeting new people which is really fun," Kaia said

"Sometimes you can see fish and you don't know what's underneath you and that's cool."

Trudy said her daughter's interest in swimming blossomed from taking part in Weet-Bix triathlons and she had achieved well in school tournaments since then.

Trudy and Kaia Derbyshire have been training for the Ocean Swim series event this weekend, with the work bringing the mother and daughter even closer together.
Trudy and Kaia Derbyshire have been training for the Ocean Swim series event this weekend, with the work bringing the mother and daughter even closer together.

"Kaia has just gone from strength to strength. Her first event was at 7 years old, where conditions were terrible, there were big waves and she just went right in and came third in the 7 to 8 age group."

Kaia would go on to win the same age group last year in just her second Ocean Swim Series event before taking part in the Fiji race, a place that is proudly part of her heritage.

"It was great because some of my relatives live over there," Kaia said.

Trudy said she wasn't able to see Kaia cross the finish line in Fiji as she was still swimming but she was amazed by how Kaia raced against cousins she previously didn't know she had.

While swimming has been a source of fun and exercise for the Derbyshire family, they know better than most of the dangers of the ocean. Trudy's father, Dennis, drowned at Baylys Beach when she was 5 but she said this may be why swimming was so important to the family.

"Swimming and water safety is just a no-brainer, that's why we've encouraged swimming so much. Anyone can swim up and down a pool but swimming in the ocean is a different story.

"Maybe [her father's passing] is the underlying reason why we got into ocean swimming. For her to be confident and so successful in swimming at her age is very cool."

Trudy said this probably contributed to her desire to train and compete alongside her daughter.

"If she's going to swimming I would always want to be there because I would never forgive myself if something happened. They have no idea how dangerous it is with tides and rips. You only get one shot with these things."

Kaia's upbringing in the water has led to an impressive resume. She has repeatedly succeeded at Interschool swimming meets and recently set two record times for backstroke and freestyle. She has also excelled in tennis placing third in Northland's 10 and under category and has been a keen equestrian.

"I want to go to Olympics in swimming and horse riding and I want to represent Fiji," Kaia said.

Trudy, a Kerikeri police officer, said her work needed to be flexible to fit the training and travel time in.

"It's a juggle. I work 32 hours a week and some nights I'll finish at 3am and be up at 5am to go to Kawakawa for both of us to train then I'll go back and get some sleep. It's hard but it's the way we make it work.

"It's a testament to Kaia. She gets up at 5am and she wakes up with a smile. Its her own drive, her own dedication. I'm just trying to keep up!"

Trudy said the help from role models in the swimming community have been integral to Kaia's success. Fellow Northwave club member Nathalie Hull, 14, who was top 10 in NZ for breaststroke for her age group, and Kerikeri police officer Rebecca Brothers, who swam in the 2004 Athens Olympics and was the Northland Olympic ambassador, have both given sound advice.

For this weekend's race, Trudy will swim the 750m race while Kaia will swim the 250m as the event does not allow swimmers under 10 to enter the longer races.

For Trudy, she will be focused on getting through the race but Kaia has another reason to look forward to the event.

"Swimming makes me feel happy and excited because sometimes I get [personal bests]. It makes the early mornings okay and it's exciting beating mum and then playing with my friends!"