Former world champ taking rowing skills to the beach

Paul Gerritsen (front right) and his Piha men's surf boat crew will take on Australian crew Bulli at this weekend's North Island championships and trans-Tasman challenge. Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services
Paul Gerritsen (front right) and his Piha men’s surf boat crew will take on Australian crew Bulli at this weekend’s North Island championships and trans-Tasman challenge. Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services
He’s been a world champion, a trans-Atlantic rower and a fire-fighting pin-up boy. Now Paul Gerritsen will add another representative honour to his resume this weekend when he and his Piha men’s surf boat crew take on Australia’s best at Waihi Beach.
The trans-Tasman test series is part of the North Island championships, which will draw 63 crews to the Bay of Plenty beach.
The Piha men and Red Beach women’s crews have been picked to challenge Australian crews Bulli and Tugun respectively, with development crews from Rarangi and Muriwai also taking part.
“We’ve raced Bulli a few times and been lucky enough to beat them but they’ve probably beaten us more,” Gerritsen, a Ponsonby firefighter (and Mr January 2012), said. “We’ve been told they’re more of a flat-water crew and not as strong on the waves, so we’re hoping that Waihi Beach turns on a good swell. We’re all pretty nervous and training as hard as we can but hopefully we’re in with a chance.”
The 30-year-old has been a strong part of Piha’s national title dominance over the last four seasons, although he missed the West Auckland club’s last representative row in 2013.
That was against Australian champions Austinmer and Piha were clean-swept 3-0, also at Waihi Beach. At the time, however, Gerritsen was halfway across the Atlantic with a 6-man team trying to set a new record for unassisted rowing the 4814.6km stretch from the Canary Islands to Barbados.
He was also part of the 2006 world championship-winning New Zealand under-23 coxed four skiff rowing team, while he and current Piha teammate Ben Scott rowed at club and national level together on flat water.
There are certainly no regrets about the move to surf boats, however, with Gerritsen, Scott, Jean-Paul Smit, Ben Richards and celebrated sweep Mark Bourneville focused on this weekend’s series.
“We just hope to train harder than anyone else and if we do that, hopefully the results will follow. Sometimes we get the races stolen off us and sometimes it’s us doing the stealing – but we try and make luck as small a factor as possible.
“I’m loving it – it’s all the good parts of flat-water rowing with less training, less politics and a lot more racing. There’s always the luck factor with surf, which is cool because if you’re a slower crew, you might be in with a chance if you’ve got some decent surf. It just brings everyone together and creates a little bit more of a casual atmosphere.”
The Red Beach women’s crew, swept by Bugsy O’Halloran and featuring Kelly Andrew, Katrina Gouldstone, Ashleigh Jenkins and Zita Talaic-Burgess, lead the national series after two of the four rounds. They were also the New Zealand representatives in the trans-Tasman series last year, narrowly losing to their Australian rivals in New South Wales.
Tugun are the Australian women’s title-holders and have been close to invincible across state and series competition in the last 12 months.
Bulli, meanwhile, are happy for Piha to think they are flat-water specialists, having dominated the recent Manly Carnival in six to eight foot-plus surf.
“I’m more than happy to fly under the radar with that one,” Bulli sweep Shane Geloven said. “The crew is right at home in big conditions and I’ve been working the boys pretty hard – I’m rapt at how well they are going at the moment.”
The crew of Adam Barlow, Ben Lowe, Heath Mercer and Dean Roberts have decent pedigree, with Mercer’s father Rod also having rowed for Australia.
None of the Illawarra-based rowers have ever visited New Zealand, although they have raced the Piha crews here in Australia. They will also be using mostly borrowed equipment – a surfboat and oars, to save time and transport costs.
This weekend’s racing features long-course action on Saturday, including the trans-Tasman series, with a Champion of Champions carnival on Sunday. Racing starts at 9.30am on Saturday.
Representative teams:
Men:
Piha (NZ):  Paul Gerritsen, Scott, Jean-Paul Smit, Ben Richards, Mark Bourneville (sweep).
Bulli (Australia): Adam Barlow, Ben Lowe, Heath Mercer, Dean Roberts, Shane Geloven (sweep).
Rarangi (NZ development): Michael Boon, Matt Jackson, Joseph Leper, Keagen Saul, Neil Watts (sweep).
Women:
Red Beach (NZ): Kelly Andrew, Katrina Gouldstone, Ashleigh Jenkins, Zita Talaic-Burgess, Bugsy O’Halloran (sweep).
Tugun (Australia):  Marianne Bassingthwaighte, Sascha Lahey, Lisa Webber, Genevieve Bassingthwaighte, Bruce Zillman (sweep).
Muriwai (NZ development): Anamaria Clarke, Alison Craigie, Ellie David, Jessica Parkin, Sophie Rowland, Ricky Butt (sweep).
New Zealand's best surf boat crews will take on their Australian rivals at this weekend's trans-Tasman challenge in Waihi Beach.  Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services
New Zealand’s best surf boat crews will take on their Australian rivals at this weekend’s trans-Tasman challenge in Waihi Beach. Photo by Jamie Troughton/Dscribe Media Services
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