SIX TRIM bodies trip effortlessly across the sand, stepping sideways over shells and nursing their bare feet across the clawing rocks.
All the while a steady stream of conversation ensues, a smattering of giggling, a shriek or two, drowning out the thin wash of wind-blown Mount Maunganui surf.
Mount coach John “Spindles” Bryant shakes his head in mock frustration, failing to suppress a grin which creeps across his face as he watches his straggling troops.
“Some days it’s like trying to herd cats,” he chuckles.
“But they’re a great group and they’re all great friends. There is no rubbish between them, they come down the beach and talk, they get along with each other and they know how to train.
“They’re really lifting the profile, not only of the club, but of the sport in Bay of Plenty.”
Six teenage girls are the new face of the Mount Lifeguard Service and with them on board, it’s a club on the rise.
Beneath the froth and merriment, Katrina Madill, Helen Curtis, Megan Grey, Chelsea Maples, Brooke Shergold and Maddie Drake each have a brooding competitive streak, a loyalty to their club and, above all, a truckload of talent.
“There’s a good bit of competition between us – we’re all at a reasonably high level and when we all train together we push each other along,” Maples explains.
“My training’s a bit more serious but the others definitely have a bit of fun. If you put us all together, there’s always going to be a laugh.”
There’s always going to be some action, too.
Earlier this year, the six sealed Mount’s first-ever Northern Regions Championship title, anchoring two under-16 girls taplin teams to first and third in the final event, enough to win overall by a single point.
This season, the club is hunting bigger silverware.
BRYANT, also the national surf coach, moved north from Christchurch three years ago perplexed why Bay of Plenty clubs had never dominated the national scene. He set Mount a target of winning the Allan Gardner Trophy, awarded to the top club at the national championships.
Mount finished third behind Red Beach and Midway last summer but Bryant is growing increasingly confident.
“Hopefully we can jump ahead of our predictions and win it this season. We probably weren’t ready to win the Allan Gardner this year but our depth is certainly better this time around.”
Along with world beach sprint champion Holly Moczydlowski and world-class surf racer Johanna O’Connor, the club has attracted some top talent over the winter months. They’ve picked up classy ski paddlers Lisa Carrington and Jaimee Lovett from Whakatane, along with Bay of Plenty under-16 captain Darcy Vercoe.
Rebecca Lockwood has again crossed the Tasman to live and compete for summer, linking with Mount this year after a stint with Omanu last season.
And board paddlers Andrew Newton and Heath Ratten will venture north from Dunedin for another season, seeking Bryant’s coaching and most likely sheltering from iceberg-infested waters.
A younger cluster of male athletes – the likes of Hayden Whitley and Paul Schmidt – and experienced boat crews provide some resonance to Bryant’s confidence.
“It’s great to have the top people training alongside us, right at our fingertips so we know what’s out there – people like Johanna and Holly,” Maples explains. “They’re people who have done well and we can look up to them.”
CURRENT chairman Brendon Whitley admits the age-old struggle between the lifesaving service and the competition element is a delicate balancing act but some intense introspection and strategic planning have helped turn fortunes around.
“There have been some changes and the club is rebuilding now,” Whitley said. “Some people can’t seem to give it away but that’s something I want to dispel in the club.
“We’ve got a five-year plan that’s now entering its fourth year. Some of our goal-setting was to strengthen the club up to where it was years ago and winning the NRCs was a big help.
“Spindles’ involvement has really accelerated that plan. He’s a guy that lives and breathes surf, seven days a week, 23 hours a day. He’s always thinking outside the square and he’s got that drive.”
With a fleet of new surf craft tucked away in the basement thanks to local sponsorship and gaming funding, Whitley and his board are intent on re-establishing the strong culture in the club.
They want the likes of their female teenage stars to return to the club when they’re away at university and to continue competing for the club that many started with as nippers.
Maples is one who’s convinced. Some of her fiercest rivals are also her closest friends and the clubbies that play together, generally try to stay together.
Katrina Madill, 15, board/ironwoman; Helen Curtis, 15, ski; Megan Grey, 17, surf race; Chelsea Maples, 16, sprints/board; Brooke Shergold, 16, ski/board Maddie Drake, 15, sprints/board.
Battle of the Bays, Napier, Dec 23; Owen Chapman Cup, Red Beach, Jan 6; NRCs, Mount, Jan 27-28; National Surf League, Mount, Feb 11; NZ Nationals, Gisborne, Mar 16-18.