It started off as a way of filling a hole in the racing calendar but Saturday’s Papamoa IRB Classic has quickly grown into something far bigger.
Nearly 50 crews will be racing at the carnival, which used to be a regular event in the hey-day of IRBs, making it bigger than the recent North Island championships and on the way to surpassing the nationals.
The secret, organiser and Papamoa coach Justin Martin explains, is in the emphasis on fun.
“IRBs are a serious and vital piece of surf lifesaving equipment and everything we do is geared to saving lives on the beach but it also needs to be fun to keep our crews keen,” Martin said. “We’ve focused our entire event around that philosophy and the clubs have responded – we’re completely stoked to attract 46 entries in our first year back.”
That’s reflected in the spread of entries – while the premier ranks include Waimarama national champions Mike Harman and Ben Cross and three strong entries from the host club, there are also 12 teams in the ultra-competitive under-21 division and 13 in the seniors.
Organisers have also included a novice division, which has attracted crews from New Plymouth Old Boys, East End, Westshore, Mount Maunganui and Papamoa.
And one of the Papamoa crews will be particularly intriguing – Tauranga City Councillor Matt Cowley has roped Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller into his crew, with the political pair eager to make a splash.
“I think we’ll surprise a few people – we’ll surprise ourselves if we manage to stay in the boat!” Muller quipped.
Matt rang me up and asked me to get involved. (Wife) Michelle and I used to live in Papamoa and that was our local beach so it’s a fantastic cause. The worst thing that can happen is total humiliation and that’s pretty minor! I’m delighted to be involved – the work the surf club does in that community is just extraordinary in terms of the hours they put in and the lives they’ve saved, not only for the locals but the incredible influx of people who pour in there every summer.”
While Cowley is a regular patrolling member of Papamoa and has competed at a high level, Muller – who recently joined the club – has at least had one of his main worries solved – that of the vexatious issue of whether to wear speedos or not.
“I saw some fine-print which said wetsuits were appropriate attire for such an event, which I was pretty pleased about. That should save me from some embarrassment although I’m not sure I’ll be safe completely.”
The last major surf lifesaving event at Papamoa was the North Island IRB championships in late 2013, which Papamoa won to kick off a dream run. In the past 12 months, they’ve won national and world titles and defended their North Island crown in Taranaki November. Other top clubs racing this weekend include Sunset Beach, East End and Waikanae.
Racing gets underway at 9am on Saturday.