Report: The Blanktees 2021 Piha Challenge.


By Jason Spence.

All đź“·’s @jeanpi_g

It’s been, to say the least, an interesting twelve months worldwide. The plans and routines of roughly seven billion people were thrown into wild disarray, with many routine events & happenings postponed if not completely cancelled. Competitive sports circuits worldwide were hard hit, surfing (across all disciplines) included, with many tours currently on indefinite hiatus. Strange times indeed!

Fortunately for the inhabitants of Aotearoa, the combination of an early, swift, and decisive lockdown together with the country’s geographical isolation has resulted in a return to a life of relative normality. Events and festivals are back on the social calendars, and fortunately for us boogie freaks, the New Zealand Bodyboarding Association was able to hold its Blanktees 2021 Piha Challenge. Yay!

Similarly to the bodyboarding scene worldwide, the New Zealand boogie community is scattered across a relatively large area, somewhat concentrated into smallish hotbeds of talent and froth centered around the islands’ more powerful & heavy waves. The contests provide an opportunity for these separate tribes (and individuals) to come together to share a few laughs, a few waves, and a few good times, as well as pitting their skills against each other in the serious business of competition. The standard of surfing in this country is high and the happy camaraderie on land was replaced with serious competitiveness once the heat-sirens sounded.

Being on New Zealand’s notoriously wild & weather-exposed West Coast, Piha Beach receives almost constant swell, but it also gets plenty of wind, which can sometimes howl onshore for weeks at a time. With this in mind, the competition organisers ran the competition within the window of two consecutive weekends, and studying the forecast a few days out from the first potential weekend, the call was made to pull the pin and run the event at the end of the window. This decision indeed proved fortuitous, for while the previous weekend was a howling-onshore washout, Day One, the following Saturday dawned with a pulsing six-foot groundswell groomed by light offshores. Organisers and competitors alike were stoked!

Strictly speaking this is a New Zealand contest, but the inclusion of competitors from Argentina, Chile, Spain, South Africa, & Australia ensured that this was truly an international affair. The depth of talent on display was high, and with clean overhead waves on offer, tuberides and big moves were richly rewarded. The contest organiser was heard telling the contestants to “send it”, and send it they did, with round barrels and launchable sections available to everyone who wanted them. It was a pretty cool showcase of what bodyboards are capable of when presented with the right waves. Being that it was the first weekend of good conditions in some time and the fact that the contest site was on a bank that is heavily patronised by local rippers, the comp area was fairly busy with guys (& a few girls) on surfboards, as well as the competitors, all hunting the bombs. But bad vibes were nowhere to be found, in their place was a mutual respect between everybody in the water, and people hooting each other into sets, regardless of surfcraft. Whether it was due to the high standard of the competitors, the high standard of local surfers, or just the fact that there were more than enough bombs to go around, it was cool to see and experience. Just after lunchtime the onshores crashed the proceedings, and with the swell forecast to drop overnight, the call was made to reconvene at the north end of the beach early the next morning. Barbecues & catch-ups were had, the day’s waves were relived, and most people turned in early in anticipation of the next day.

Sunday revealed a smaller swell, a lower tide, and a series of hollow A-frames bombing a shallow sandbank. With semis & finals still to be run, the organisers wasted no time in setting up and sending the competitors into the water. Again the standard was high, with many heats won & lost by the narrowest of margins. The early clean & hollow waves started to give way to junky onshore conditions by finals time, which while slightly disappointing, served to show that good competitors need to be able to perform in all conditions, and perform they did. The Women’s Division was won by Anna Lucena from New Zealand, while the Dropknee Division was taken out by South African ripper S. Tickner, and Jason Spence from Australia won the Masters.

The Open Division was hotly contested, and the finalists were separated by only a few points, but in the end it was won by multiple NZ champion and Piha stalwart Adrian Bray, with Northland legend Blair Dowman a close second. In third place was Chilean ripper Enrique Marquez, with the technical brilliance of Canary Islander Laurent Lopez earning him Fourth place.

As far as weekends go, it was a good one, and as far as contests go, most in attendance would agree that it was well-run, fairly-judged, and for the most part held in waves conducive to good bodyboarding. And (to this observer at least) it feels that the bodyboarding scene in Aotearoa is undergoing an organic reinvigoration of sorts, fed in no small part by scattered yet thriving enclaves of enthusiasts, all happily keeping the flame burning for our favourite little sport/art/lifestyle/diversion/obsession. Viva Le Sponge!

A huge thank you to the New Zealand Bodyboarding Association for running the event, and to the sponsors JeanPics, Kaos Graphics & Apparel, CORK Bodyboards, Manoa Tours Samoa for the support, and to all the competitors, for showing up & blowing up. Can’t wait for the next gathering!

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