New Zealand’s most successful surfer, and current World Tour athlete, Paige Hareb (Tara), will lead the New Zealand Surfing Team at the International World Surfing Games that are being held in Japan this September.
Hareb leads New Zealand’s strongest team entered in the event in over a decade. She is joined by Ella Williams (WGM) in the Women’s Division while Ricardo Christie (Gis), Billy Stairmand (Rag) and Kehu Butler (Mnt) will compete in the Men’s Division.
All six surfers will be looking toward the Tokyo 2020 Olympics for which the World Surfing Games will become a significant qualification pathway from next year.
The World Surfing Games are being held at Tahara Beach, Japan from the 15 – 22 September. Approximately 250 athletes from fifty countries are expected to attend the event this year. It is the first year that the event features an even mix of male and female athletes.
All six Kiwi surfers have extensive experience competing around the globe on the World Qualifying Series with Hareb and Christie both having competed at World Tour level.
Hareb missed the last two World Surfing Games events but finished eighth in 2015, the same year Williams secured her best ever result at the event finishing third overall. Williams has been part of the team on five occasions including 2017 where she was the highest ranked Kiwi finishing seventh overall.
Mount Maunganui’s Raiha Ensor is the youngest of the female surfers and at 18 years of age, Ensor is spending her first year at Waikato University where she secured a Sir Edmund Hillary Scholarship. Ensor has been part of the team for the past two years.
It will be the first time that Ricardo Christie and Kehu Butler will compete at the event, both surfers having only contested the ISA World Junior Championships previously.
29-year-old Christie’s has been primarily focussed on qualifying for the WSL World Tour, a feat he achieved in 2014. He spent 2015 contesting both tours before being relegated back to the World Qualifying Series in 2016.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is 18-year-old Butler who is contesting his final year of junior events. Butler currently sits in fourth on the WSL Australasian Pro Junior Series with three events remaining this year. Butler has been part of the New Zealand Junior Surfing Team for the past four years.
Rounding out the men’s team is Raglan’s Billy Stairmand, winner of the most recently contested Rip Curl Pro held at Raglan at the start of the month. Stairmand makes a return to the New Zealand Team after missing the 2017 event in France.
The Kiwi team will be competing in a number of international events between now and September with several athletes travelling to Japan directly from Europe where they will be competing in the World Qualifying Series.
Athletes will use the recently established Mount Maunganui based high performance camps in preparation for the World Surfing Games. The first camp was staged in April with 30 aspiring athletes in attendance.
In home waters, France trounced the world in 2017 taking the gold medal over Portugal and Spain. New Zealand placed 14th overall. From 2019, the World Surfing Games becomes compulsory for all surfers aspiring to go to Tokyo 2020. Therefore we can expect the powerhouse nations of Australia, USA and Brazil to climb back up the rankings and vie for podium finishes over the next three years.
The 2018 New Zealand Surfing Team is as follows:
Billy Stairmand (Raglan)
Kehu Butler (Mount Maunganui)
Ricardo Christie (Gisborne)
Reserve – Elliot Paerata – Reid (Piha)
Ella Williams (Whangamata)
Paige Hareb (Taranaki)
Raiha Ensor (Mount Maunganui)
Reserve – Elin Tawharu (Mount Maunganui)
The Olympic qualification process starts with the World Surf League (WSL) where ten males and 8 females on the 2019 World Tour will directly qualify for Tokyo 2020. No more than two athletes per nation can qualify via this process.
2018 marks the lead-in to Olympic qualification via the International Surfing Association (ISA) World Surfing Games. A good team result in 2018 will set up nations with a good seed for their first qualification attempt at the 2019 World Surfing Games. The top ranked male and female from the Oceania Region at the 2019 event will qualify for Tokyo 2020. The selections will then need to be ratified by the New Zealand Olympic Committee before being confirmed.
Athletes have a further chance to qualify for the Olympics at the 2020 ISA World Surfing Games where the final four males and six females in each division will be determined by the top placing athletes at that event.