Papamoa twins Kirby and Chad Wheeler made the perfect debut in the premier ranks of surf lifesaving’s IRB racing, clean-sweeping a dramatic North Island championships in Taranaki today.
In the face of howling cross-shore winds and a building swell, the 22-year-old siblings snatched victory in the assembly rescue, mass rescue and teams race finals before racing was abandoned because of the conditions.
Their teams race win, joining with Tomee Berthelsen and Liam Smith, was doubly sweet, with clubmates Nick Coulter, Jake Cowdrey, Troy Walsh and Mitch Brady also finishing third behind Waimarama.
It helped the reigning world and national champions to retain their North Island club title, closing with 70 points, well ahead of second-placed Sunset Beach on 43.
Papamoa coach Justin Martin said the Wheeler twins were still learning but their innate teamwork set them apart.
“There are always one or two standout crews who come through the grades each year and do really well and this is only a stepping stone for them,” Martin said. “Their strength is in their ability to just work together without even communicating. I’ve never seen a crew like it– they don’t even talk but they know exactly what the other is doing and it just happens so naturally for them.”
Waimarama’s Mike Harman and Ben Cross were the next best premier crew, picking up two silvers and a bronze.
Papamoa’s senior crew of Nathan Smith and Simon Malu were just as dominant in their division, winning two golds, while East End’s Liam Cole and Joe Bracegirdle and Opunake’s Thomas Bell and Jordan Hooper shared spoils in the under-21s.
Meanwhile, the host club’s gun female pairing of Katie Watts and Jamie-Lee Reynolds dominated the women’s division, collecting two golds, with former New Zealand ironwoman champion Reynolds relishing her new discipline.
“The wind and the chop were pretty challenging and it was really hard to keep the boat flat and maintain speed,” Reynolds said. “At one point, I just felt like a rag-doll – I know how good a driver Katie is so it must’ve been bad. It was a lot of fun though and racing in these sort of conditions really gives you a good test and it’s only going to make us better when it comes to real-life rescues.”
Many of the crews are eying up the Papamoa IRB Classic at the end of January as the next big event on the racing calendar, with Martin hoping his squad will continue to build on their home beach.
“I don’t think our crews are where they should be at the moment and we didn’t have a great start after the first race today, with a DQ, but we had a gathering and a chat and everyone got back to the basics.”
Premier: Papamoa (Kirby Wheeler, Chad Wheeler, Laura Dennehy) 1, Waikanae Matt Kemp, Alan Thorpe, Katie Kirkpatrick) 2, Waimarama (Mike Harman, Ben Cross, Luke Davis) 3.
Women: Fitzroy (Katie Watts, Jamie-Lee Reynolds, Megan Wheeler) 1, Sunset Beach (Robbie Shrimpton, Nikayla Poole, Samantha Coughlin) 2, Papamoa (Steph Botting, Meg Fisher, Hayley Elmsly) 3.
Senior: Papamoa (Nathan Smith, Simon Malu, Sam Johnston) 1, Sunset Beach (Mark Edwards, Shane Edwards, Gaby Marshall) 2, United North Piha (Leif Neilson, Miles Regal, Simone Hollier) 3.
Under 21: Opunake (Thomas Bell, Jordan Hooper, Kallum Whitehead) 1, Westshore (Ryan Ennor, Taylor Dick, Jess Ennor) 2, East End (Liam Cole, Joe Bracegirdle, Reef Robinson) 3.
Premier: Papamoa (Kirby Wheeler, Chad Wheeler, Laura Dennehy) 1, Waimarama (Mike Harman, Ben Cross, Luke Davis) 2, Papamoa (Troy Walsh, Mitch Brady, Jamie Vulgar) 3.
Women: Fitzroy (Katie Watts, Jamie-Lee Reynolds, Megan Wheeler) 1, Opunake (Jemma Pentelow, Courtney Keech, Marlene Ruka) 2, Sunset Beach (Robbie Shrimpton, Nikayla Poole, Samantha Coughlin) 3.
Senior: Papamoa (Nathan Smith, Simon Malu, Sam Johnston) 1, Waimarama (Luke Harman, Rhys Harman, Aries Moore-Wilson) 2, Sunset Beach (Mark Edwards, Shane Edwards, Gaby Marshall) 3.
Under 21: East End (Liam Cole, Joe Bracegirdle, Reef Robinson) 1, Papamoa (Nick Coulter, Jake Cowdrey, Aidan Smith) 2, Opunake (Thomas Bell, Jordan Hooper, Kallum Whitehead) 3.
Teams race: Papamoa A (Kirby Wheeler, Chad Wheeler, Tommee Bertelsen) 1, Waimarama (Mike Harman, Ben Cross, Geoff Cronin, Campbell Begg) 2, Papamoa B (Nick Coulter, Troy Walsh, Mitch Brady) 3.
Final points: Papamoa 70, Sunset Beach 43, Waimarama 31, Opunake 22, East End 20, Fitzroy 16, Westshore 9, Waikanae 8, United North Piha 5, Foxton 5, Paekakariki 4, New Plymouth Old Boys 3.