Mount Maunganui’s scenic splendors will be on full display at this weekend’s Eastern Region surf lifesaving championships, thanks to a fleet of drones.
In a New Zealand first, the drones will live-stream coverage of the on-water action back to the beach, showcasing more than 1000 athletes taking part and supplying footage for television networks.
Napier company Altus UAS is overseeing the project, enabling spectators and the general public to see exactly what’s happening out on the water.
“Surf lifesaving is such an incredibly dynamic sport but a lot of that action and drama happens out in the wave zone and beyond,” Altus spokesman Simon Morris explained. “We’ve done a lot of filming work over water and that certainly doesn’t hold any fears for us but we are really looking forward to showcasing the athletes and the amazing skills they need out there.”
The championships are the second-largest on the surf lifesaving calendar, behind only the national championships, and are returning to Mount Maunganui after a two-year absence.
Event director Scott Bicknell said the drone fleet was one of several new initiatives at this year’s event.
“The championships have been running for 52 years and have so much history and meaning in the surf lifesaving fraternity,” Bicknell said. “It doesn’t mean they can’t move with the times, however. What we’re trying to do is create a memorable event for athletes, as well as help the public comprehend why surf sports are so vital to the wider surf lifesaving movement.”
The initiatives include a central hub with a mini surf lifesaving expo, while Bicknell has also tweaked the beach-based sprinting events so they have a late-afternoon carnival atmosphere.
With another sublime weather forecast, it also appears the Mount Maunganui waves are also coming to the party, with a 1.5-2m swell and ideal offshore winds predicted for both days.
Drone footage is starting to creep in overseas and the Altus team have covered motorsports and track days previously, although they’re looking forward to seeing what their craft can do in Mount Maunganui.
“We design and manufacture all our own drones, ensuring they’re tough enough for the harshest conditions and safe enough to fly in the strongest winds and rain,” Morris explained. “Flying over ocean waves is certainly a good test, with the tricky winds and salt spray, but this is a great way of testing what our limits for this sort of work are.”
Altus is a licensed Civil Aviation Authority operator and is the only operator in New Zealand with accreditation to fly at night.
The championships start at 8am on Saturday and finish on Sunday afternoon, with the club-based Super 9 carnival to follow at the same venue on Monday.
The Super 9 pits New Zealand’s best clubs against each other in an invitation-only event, to see who has the best athletes throughout a range of agegroups and disciplines.