Proudly watched by his father and decked out in green and gold, Heath Mercer enjoyed the finest day of his fledgling sporting career on Saturday.
The 23-year-old second stroke helped his Bulli men’s boat crew – representing Australia – to an emphatic win in the trans-Tasman series at Waihi Beach, New Zealand, beating Kiwi crew Piha 3-0.
Making it even more special was the presence of Mercer’s dad Rod, who also rowed for his country in New Zealand in 1991, the year Heath was born.
“It’s been one massive goal in life and I’ve ticked that off,” Mercer Jnr admitted. “I’ve made him a very proud dad and this morning, he was privileged enough to present all our caps to us. That was a really touching moment and one I’ll always remember. I couldn’t wish for anything more than my dad to be here watching me row for Australia.”
The Mercer family have a long and storied association with the New South Wales club – Rod’s father, brothers and nephews have also rowed for Bulli at one time or another.
Together with Adam Barlow (bow), Ben Lowe (second bow), Dean Roberts (stroke) and sweep Shane Geloven, Mercer and his crew had the polish to see off the challenge of big-wave chargers Piha, with only a small half-metre wave to challenge teams.
Instead, it came down to teamwork and acceleration off the cans, with Geloven steering cunning lines all the way home in each of the three races, eking out every hint of swell.
Their closest race was in the decisive second test, where Barlow out-sprinted Piha’s Jean-Paul Smit up the beach after Smit tripped in a hole.
“Luckily Adam’s the quickest of all of us across the sand – it would’ve been even closer if the New Zealand guy hadn’t tripped running up the beach but I had high hopes for Adam holding him off regardless,” Mercer said. “We came into this event feeling a lot of pressure and to get the first two races under our belt really eased it a lot and meant we could enjoy ourselves a lot more.”
Meanwhile, Queensland’s Tugun women’s crew also managed a clean-sweep over their New Zealand rivals Red Beach, the with Tugun second stroke Sascha Lahey admitting the day couldn’t have gone any better for them.
“We’re pretty stoked – we had five races and won all five but we had to work very, very hard,” Lahey, the older sister of champion surf swimmer Dev, said. “The Red Beach girls definitely gave us a run for our money today. They’ve just improved out of sight since we raced them last year and we were a bit taken aback by the that.”
Although several races were only decided in the last few metres, Lahey and her crew of Marianne Bassingthwaighte, Lisa Webber, Genevieve Bassingthwaighte and sweep Bruce Zillman relied on their strength around the turning cans and in the back half of races, which saw them through each time.
It was the second year Red Beach had represented New Zealand and they were delighted with progress.
“We’ve made a lot of improvements from last year and worked on our starts and were able to keep up with them and put them under a bit of pressure,” Zita Talaic-Burgess said. “The calibre of racing over there is pretty high so we’re happy to at least match them today. We’re holding our heads high.”
To add further misery to locals, the two Australian crews also dominated their finals at the North Island championship, held in conjunction with the trans-Tasman event.
View all photos at: on.fb.me/1Kq5fz9