For four of New Zealand’s most promising young surf athletes experiencing big Cloudbreak, a surfbreak on a reef in Fiji’s Mamanuca Islands, was more than just a rite of passage. It was the keystone in an eight-day high-performance camp led by Surfing New Zealand president Chris Fougere, of Auckland, and Box of Light surf photographer Derek Morrison, of Dunedin.
Jonas Tawharu (18), of Mount Maunganui, Elliott Brown (17), of Dunedin, Kaya Horne (16), of Mount Maunganui, and Caleb Cutmore (15), of Hamilton, were selected to take part in the camp based on their drive to succeed along with their results in the New Zealand Surfing Championships and other high-profile surfing competitions.
“The purpose of this camp is simply to put Kiwis back on the World Surf League World Championship Tour,” said Fougere. “That’s where we belong. We’re an ocean nation with great waves and great talent.”
New Zealand has only ever had three surfers make the World Championship Tour (WCT). Paige Hareb, of Taranaki who competed on the tour for six years, Maz Quinn, of Gisborne, and Ricardo Christie, of Mahia, the guys both spending one year on tour.
Fougere said that as a sport, surfing needed to step up to support its top athletes.
“Cloudbreak in Fiji is one of the destinations on the tour, so familiarising our best young talent with the region and putting them out in surf that challenges them technically, physically and mentally is so important,” Fougere adds. “And it’s only a short flight from home.”
The World Surf League (WSL) staged its fifth event for the 2017 season at Cloudbreak in June.
“We’re trying to remove some of the barriers to getting these best young surf athletes into these types of environments,” explains Fougere. “And we are also trying to develop a real Kiwi sense of patriotism – to help them work together, bond and create a team that can be more competitive on the world stage and in the lead up to the 2020 Olympics.”
Fougere said that when big swells came to Fiji some of the best watermen on the planet come out to play. He said rubbing shoulders with them was important and helped open doors for the young Kiwis.
“There are a lot of barriers to success in this sport at the moment,” Fougere offers. “One of the biggest ones is having the funding that we require to push our best surfers to the top. We’re also here to raise awareness, let the public know that we’re motivated, capable and able to put our best athletes in the right places and to connect them with the right people for them to succeed.”
Australian surf athletes have benefited from a high-performance strategy for many years and this was underpinned with the opening of the Hurley Surfing Australia High Performance Centre (HPC) near the Gold Coast in 2012. It’s the world’s first facility dedicated to surf athletes.
“The Gold Coast is a simmering cauldron of surf athletes right now and is poised to dominate the sport for the next few years with the depth of talent coming through,” said Morrison. “The sport has matured and the stars are now complete athletes. For our best young New Zealand surf athletes to reach that level, they have to start now with the right structure in behind them.”
The Fiji high-performance camp has had input from several leaders in the field of sports science. Sports psychologist Jhan Gavala, who works with the Blues Rugby franchise, has given his time to the four young surfers. All Black and Olympic athlete dietitian Dr Kirsty Fairbairn has helped the athletes with nutrition planning and Oliver Farley, currently working with High Performance Sport New Zealand athletes, has contributed to the strength and conditioning planning for the four surf athletes.
“Olly spent several years helping the Hurley HPC develop its programme and has since returned to New Zealand,” offers Morrison. “He has a wealth of knowledge and is very motivated to see these young surfers take this new path to success.”
For the four selected athletes, the workshops are set to a backdrop of long days out on the reef breaks surfing some challenging waves, including several demanding big wave sessions at Cloudbreak. Each surf is about capturing footage and images for review sessions and to help grow the athletes’ profiles.
Morrison said their journeys were just beginning, but with the right structure and the tools of an athlete to support them, they had a far greater shot at success. Morrison also looks forward to extending the camp in future years and catering to a wider range of athletes.
“Physically and mentally they’ve been faced with some seriously big and scary surf this week,” said Morrison. “But they’ve all thrived in those conditions and that’s a great start to what we are trying to achieve here.”
Fiji Launchpad 2017 was funded with private support and thanks to Surfing New Zealand, Box of Light, New Zealand sungel company Skinnies, Vunabaka Resort and Jono Smit Productions.