It started with 7-year-old Raiha Ensor trying to stand up on her boogie board at Mount Maunganui beach.

She had better luck on her dad's longboard. After he saw her trying to imitate surfers he popped her on his board.

With a little push and shout of encouragement from dad, Raiha stood up first go.

For the next 10 years Raiha's life has revolved around surfing.

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She's tackled waves all around New Zealand, Australia, Portugal, Brazil, Costa Rica, Hawaii and California.

Her life story so far is one of determination, strength and natural ability. Not just anybody stands up on a surfboard first go, often it's only after several awkward and wobbly attempts that one finds themselves up and riding that memorable first wave.

"I felt like a pro because I did it first go and brother had been struggling so hard," she says with a slightly smug smile anyone who ever one-upped their sibling would recognise.

But Raiha is one of those teenagers who puts your life into harsh contrast- she's packed more into her 17 years than most people do in triple that time.

Yet this teenage girl is still just that - a teenage girl.

Sitting on the couch, yawning and stretching after a long day at school, her bikini peeking out from the collar of her school uniform, she has homework to finish and friends to text.

Like any teenager, Raiha juggles school work, friends and family - though with her athletic grace and easy smile she seems to have skipped through the awkward adolescent phase.

She giggles when asked about boys and her mum pipes up from cutting vegetables for dinner in the kitchen - "she doesn't have time for them!"

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But once she's out on her board on the waves she's anything but your average teenage girl.

Raiha Ensor tackling waves in younger years. Photo/Daisy Day
Raiha Ensor tackling waves in younger years. Photo/Daisy Day

A few weeks is the longest hiatus she's had from surfing since she was 7, spending hours on end at the beach catching wave after wave before and after school and all weekend until her first competition when she was 11.

The NZ Women's Open in Taranaki broke Raiha into the world of competitive surfing. After placing second to a good mate of hers she was hooked and her competitive nature kicked into high gear.

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Paradise locations around the world have become battle grounds for the young surfer.

Raiha's first time representing the New Zealand surfing team was at Oceanside Beach in California at 15.

At the Vissla ISA World Junior Surfing Championships in California Raiha was battling hundreds of international surfers in the Under-16 girls' division. She made it to the qualifying rounds and ended up placing 25th - not too shabby a result for a grom.

Raiha missed out on representing the national team the year before when she was 14 - narrowly getting beaten and selected to be non-travelling reserve - which pushed her even harder to get into the team in 2015.

When you have a competition on you focus so much on that - there's nothing else.

Her standout performance was at the 2015 NZ Rip Curl GromSearch at Fitzroy Beach in Taranaki, which sent her to the international finals in Brazil.

"There was so much on the line, so much pressure so to pull it off was super satisfying," Raiha says, remembering the elation at heading to Brazil with fellow Mount surfer Kehu Butler.

Raiha powered through a foot injury early on in her trip, and in a free flowing performance she battled hard to finish third place at Maresias Beach in Sao Sebastiao.

"When you have a competition on you focus so much on that - there's nothing else," she says.

Sometimes it got a bit too serious, with everyone wanting so badly to win.

"You just have to make sure you can keep up."

Last year Raiha was propelled further into the world surfing stage - heading to Hawaii, Costa Rica and Portugal for comps.

In a pool of seriously talented young surfers coming out of Mount Maunganui, Raiha has asserted herself as a force to be reckoned with.

At 16 she was the youngest member of the New Zealand women's team competing in Costa Rica.

Double New Zealand surfing rep Raiha Ensor has been surfing since she stood up on her boogie board when she was 7. Photo/John Borren
Double New Zealand surfing rep Raiha Ensor has been surfing since she stood up on her boogie board when she was 7. Photo/John Borren

"There's a good bunch of us surfers here. We all push each other to get better and better."

The competition from her friends and fellow Mount Maunganui College class fuels her to not let up - "if there's good surf I have to be out there".

For Raiha, that is the thrill surfing brings. It is all about trying to progress and try new things with her surfing technique and style.

Despite fierce competition on home turf - getting selected to represent the national team depends on your performance at national comps - the Kiwi kids have each others' back overseas.

"We have good country spirit, it's not just about you but the whole team. We come in to comps chanting louder than all the other world teams," she says.

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Living the surfing dream has not come without sacrifice.

Though a self-confessed "nerd" Raiha misses a lot of school. Mount Maunganui College works with her to keep her grades up, allowing her to drop a subject this year, and through extra study she hasn't fallen behind despite missing whole weeks of class at a time.

"If there's no surf, I study."

For every event Raiha competes at every penny to get there has to be raised. For international events she has to raise anywhere from $4000 to $6000 for travel, competition feeds, food and accommodation.

Her friends and family only have pockets so deep so Raiha started up an isport page, where people can donate online.

We have good country spirit, it's not just about you but the whole team. We come in to comps chanting louder than all the other world teams.

Gender inequality in sport is as old as sport itself and at only 17 Raiha is no longer shocked when it rears its ugly head in her surfing world.

Her frustration is visible as she tells of how at events the boys' division get the better conditions.

"If it's going to be a good tide or good conditions at a certain time they will straight away put the boys out to compete at that time," she says.

It is not unusual for the girls' divisions to be surfing in poorer conditions but it has become expected now, Raiha says.

In the New Zealand team there were four boys in both Under-16 and Under-18 divisions and two girls in each.

"I guess there just isn't as much interest in surfing from girls but it's starting to get bigger and maybe one day we will see more girls competing."

Raiha has already been selected to represent New Zealand at the ISA World Surfing Games in France this May.

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Despite surfing in exotic locations and becoming a top surfer in the country Raiha remains grounded.

With a hint of pride she says she's a true Mountie - her passport even says Mount Maunganui because she was born in her Valley Rd home 17 years ago.

"My family has been crazy supportive, all the trips I've gone on is because my family has allowed it to happen."

"If there is surf, I'm surfing." Local Tauranga surfer, Raiha Ensore. Photo/John Borren

The first surfboard she called her own was a Christmas present when she was 9.

"I was using Dad's but I couldn't hold it because my arms weren't long enough."

Since then she's gone through at least three surfboards a season.

Her dad got her started with surfing and when his teaching limit was reached the buck was passed to local coaches Matt Scorringe and Kahn Butler.

The conversation in Raiha's new family home on Tui St, naturally just a couple streets over from the beach, keeps coming back to surfing. Her life is framed around her love of surfing.

Raiha says no matter where she might end up in her life, either surfing professionally fulltime or pursuing university, surfing will never leave her.

"No matter what happens, if there is surf, I'm surfing."

RECENT PLACINGS
1st at 2016 Rip Curl GromSearch National Final
3rd at 2016 Rip Curl GromSearch International Final
22nd at 2016 ISA World Surfing Games
7th at 2016 ISA World Junior Surfing Games