An unusual and intriguing sight met visitors to Tauranga's waterfront at the weekend.

An inflatable water polo field was floating in the harbour, with lifeguards watching on, as dozens of broad-shouldered men swam and splashed, and then walked around in their colourful speedo-style togs.

Music was blasting, food, coffee and ice-cream trucks were set up and the tidal steps were full of curious spectators and cheering supporters braving the muggy conditions.

It was the inaugural Water Polo on the Waterfront, held over Saturday and yesterday.

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Organiser Danny Kayes, who was in the water and competing in between managerial duties, said the event was inspired by a similar one in Australia.

He said they had introduced a rugby-sevens-style format, changed the size of the field and a few rules, and decreased the number of players in each team.

About 120 players from around the North Island competed in 12 teams, each bearing the name and picture of an animal on their togs.

"I'm stoked. It's just skyrocketed and it's more than what we thought it would be," Kayes, 24, said on Saturday.

The event cost about $30,000 to run, with the Tauranga City Council and several sponsors helping with funding or by supplying gear.

Kayes said playing water polo in the sea was a different kettle of fish from playing in a pool.

"The tidal impact is massive. It's huge. The outgoing is coming into effect now and it's really strong.

"But it adds to the excitement, adds to the fun."

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Daniel Barron, 19, from the Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service, was sitting on the side of the floating field on Saturday, dressed in Baywatch red.

He was one of a group of lifeguards taking turns to watch over the games.

Barron said he volunteered to help out; this type of event was a first for him.

"It's definitely something different but it's still tidal, so we've still got a bit of feel for the beach here. It's good. It's a change."

Lifeguard Daniel Barron, 19, at Water Polo on the Waterfront. Photo / Andrew Warner
Lifeguard Daniel Barron, 19, at Water Polo on the Waterfront. Photo / Andrew Warner

He said the lifeguards were mainly there to make sure no one got caught under the jetties or under the inflatables.

One of the main sponsors of Water Polo on the Waterfront was Holland Beckett Law.

Partner Bill Holland was there watching and said it was one of the best events he had seen in Tauranga "for an awfully long time".

"I don't know how many people are here, but there are huge numbers of people really enjoying this fantastic set-up."

He said he had never watched a water polo game live before, and this event was a good way to attract newcomers to the sport, and to the central city.

"It's bringing water polo to the people of Tauranga."