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  • Writer's pictureWill Boddy

2021 Tasmanian Schools Surfing Selection Trials

Once again, the annual Tasmanian Schools Surfing Competition was held over the weekend in small yet contestable waves at North Goats on Tassie’s South Arm Peninsular. A total of 26 entrants from 10 different schools from all corners of the state went head-to-head in what would determine the Nationals team headed to North Stradbroke Island in late November.

As the swarm of students and parents descended on the South Clifton car park in the early hours of the morning, they were greeted with typical Cliffy conditions, but organisers made the call just hours earlier to hold the contest a few minutes down the road at the northern end of Goats Beach.

As mere two-foot sets rolled through that were few and far between, the low tide made the odd one carry right through to the inside, allowing for some shreddable potential, while the large channel that ran through the middle offered the young surfers a rather fat, powerless right and a draining left that both met right at the shoreline’s edge.

With the sun already blistering through the clouds on the warm Autumn morning, Event Director and State Schools Surfing Coordinator Jo Goldfinch ran through the day’s proceedings, outlining the unique competition format, how scores would be awarded, and how important it was to surf your best, encourage your friends, and just enjoy the day socialising with other like-minded students and surfers.

Jo also noted that the event adopted a method similar to “Tag Team” surfing – for those representing their school in pairs – and this format would be how those progressing would surf in the Nation Titles on the mainland. However, with little integration in local competitions, it offered some excitement and pressure as each school/team had either their own pair of surfers working together, or, if there were not enough representatives, a singular surfer on their own working to post a modest total.

Each surfer would paddle out and do their best to notch up a decent score in their first half of the heat, and the second surfer would then tag in at the halfway point, surf their best, and the highest singular wave score of each surfer would give them their school’s overall score. Those individual representatives would have the whole heat to themselves, although only their highest scoring wave and half of their next highest score would give them their overall score.

As the students expressed their initial confusions about the scoring system – some not overly familiar with competitive surfing – the day’s proceedings would see a handful of Boys heats from both an Under 16 and Under 19 age group, while the girls would cluster to make combined heats. This would then follow with a final, determined by those initial heats, and then the individual wave scores from throughout the day would determine seeded heats, where each individual could compete for themselves for ultimate bragging rights.

Image taken from Surfing Tasmania Instagram page

As the first heat took to the water, the other students looked on as to what they themselves could expect when their own heats came around, and as they looked on and saw the small stature of Cowan Duncan from Rose Bay dominate in the smaller waves, it looked like the conditions may hinder the older, bulkier surfers who rely on power and speed to perform.

As Cowan was representing his school alone, it was the combination of Archer Peart and Charlie McHugh of Friends and Jesse Fleming and Noah Bennis of MacKillop who were to try and stop the onslaught in the first heat of the Under 16 Boys. As some solid initial surfing came from all those involved, along with teams hazardously switching surfers halfway through, they were also battling a rip for quite some time.

The second heat was much the same, with Tommy Lindell of Taroona looking ominous early, choosing to surf the left that was almost more appealing than the rights coming through, while Sammy de Salis and Henry Ward of Clarence took their turns trying out both peaks. However, the team from St Helens took the heat convincingly, as both Alex Mead and Miles Chisolm notched up some decent scores, ending the round with an assertive ride all the way to the beach.

As the sets continued to trickle in from the previous heat, the first of the Under 19 Boys paddled out in what was an entertaining display of surfing as Milo Langford of Hutchins wrangled almost every wave that came his way, making it look easy out there, railing up to four turns before disembarking at the shoreline. Gus Lockley and George Vanderkelen of Rosny talked tactics before their heat, but it was the duo from St Helens of Joe Pugh and Charlie Emmerton who, while staying quiet early, managed to link multiple turns in the second half.

Heat two had the formidable pair of Luka Booth and Will Van Dongen from Rosny managing to smash the lip early in the first half, as did Zane Bennis and Toby Lawrence of MacKillop, who looked comfortable but quiet over on the lefts. From Hobart College, though, Max Tracy set the mood, but it was the spectacle of his partner Max Bishop who caught the biggest wave of the day, mullet flapping so elegantly behind him in the breeze.

As there was only one school entrant from the Under 19’s Girls division, the Under 16’s were also combined, and they immediately paddled out for a finals heat in what was disappointingly the most inconsistent period of swell so far, making for slim picking for all the girls.

Ruby Stokely of Woodbridge and the team of Poppy Woodberry and Sienna Lawrence (MacKillop) snagged a few lefts when they could, eventually joining Ava Frey of Clarence and Lily Mereszka of MacKillop over on the right bank, where Ava and Lily were going wave for wave, riding a handful all the way to the beach.

The Boys finals began soon after, taking the four highest overall scoring schools into the rounds, starting with the Under 16’s where Cowan Duncan of Rose Bay again cleaned up, paddling rings around his competition, wrangling all he could in what was the most consistent heat so far.

The Clarence team of Sammy de Salis and Henry Ward, along with Archer Peart and Charlie McHugh (Friends) also capitalised on the surging swell and a few confident face rides right to the beach from St Helens’ Alex Mead and Miles Chisolm kept them well in contention.

The Under 19 Boys final then rounded out the Mark Richards Schools competition leg, as MacKillop’s Toby Lawrence and Zane Bennis hacked their way through a number of waves, and the St Helens team of Joe Pugh and Charlie Emmerton once again showed everyone that travelling all this way was not a problem for them – laying quite a few out.

But it was Clarence’s Luka Booth and Will Van Dongen who capitalised on a lot of Milo Langford’s (Hutchins) workable crumbs and, through another powerful demonstration of small, sloppy wave surfing, he managed some gouging cutbacks as the competition took a slight change in momentum.

In what was a slightly more entertaining heat than their last one, the girls kicked off the individual rounds, and were able to relax their styles a little more, only needing to surf for themselves instead of for their schools. Although, with their dedicated and encouraging dad’s looking on in agonising discomfort, it was still another very slow and wave-starved heat.

It was Sienna Lawrence who tried he luck over on the neglected left-hander, battling Ruby Stokely for waves until the two moseyed over and joined the likes of Poppy Woodberry – the youngest surfer in the competition – who caught some really nice face rides early in the heat. Doing all the work, though, was Ava Frey who managed a few snaps off the top, riding to the sand, and Lily Mereszka, who let an absolute pearler go, but made up for it soon after, chasing down another bomb and smacking five quick turns to the beach.

The Boys divisions were split into three seeded heats each. The “C” heat had all the boys tightly bunched on the right-hand peak as the tide started to fill in, and it was Noah Bennis who had some horrible luck out there, while Charlie McHugh got up and riding on a couple, as did Jesse Fleming, but it was Tommy Lindell on his backhand who gallantly pig-dogged through a section to eventually blow some spray on the face.

Heat “B” saw some inventive surfing from Archer Peart, finding a few cheeky lefts that only then started peeling off the right-hand bank, and then Henry Ward tried his luck also, splitting the peak with Miles Chisolm who, while the siren sounded, rode his best ride of the competition.

In Heat “A”, Cowan Duncan – who had dominated all day – lapped up almost every wave available, getting to his feet and throwing tail with ease and precision, while Sammy de Salis also opened his body up, using his arms to rack out a few turns, and Alex Mead managed quite a lengthy ride from way out the back, staying with it for much of its duration.

As the day stayed really quite appealing weather-wise, the waves slowed down considerably as the Under 19’s heat “C” entered the water, and it was Max Tracey who just couldn’t quite launch into anything meaningful, as he watched the smallest guy out there in Charlie Emmerton sail effortlessly across the face. To a boisterous crowd, Will Van Dongen dominated on his backhand, laying out some decent snaps, while over on the left, Max Bishop showed there were still some decent rides to be had over there.

Heat “B” saw a few inside runners claimed by Zane Bennis, as waves were few and far between, but George Vanderkelen finally capitalised, nearly blowing tail and exposing the fins, but most excitingly was the buzzer-beater from Joe Pugh who waited until the last few seconds to absolutely smash his last wave out of the park.

Finally, in what turned out to be a sluggish end to the day’s competition due to lack of waves, Luka Booth was kept quiet, resorting to a grovel on the inside, as Toby Lawrence’s backhand attack saw him going almost vertical on a few occasions, but Milo Langford had all the answers, whipping his board round in what was a textbook display of surfing in the unfavourable conditions, making it look so easy.

As proceedings came to an end, everybody pitched in and helped pack away the gear and gather in the car park for an informal presentation where school winners, individual champions and many thanks were observed in what was an excellently executed day of surfing.

Jo Goldfinch – the instrumentalist behind the event’s smooth transitions and an overall one-woman army – thanked the likes of Shayne Clarke of Surfing Tasmania for his efforts behind the scenes, not only with his involvement in the facilitation of the competition’s resources but his devoted actions in last week’s Surfing Tas event, The Paul Johannesen Memorial Competition, and even the upcoming East Coast Classic taking place next weekend.

Head Judge Michael Schmidt was deserved of a round of applause for his involvement and guidance with the judging on the day. Liz Woodberry and Krissie Lawrence were the quiet achievers, tallying every single score that came to pass, averaging them all out and arranging the next heats, one after another, so that winners and progressing surfers would have an idea of where they stood.

On the tools for most of the day, tirelessly cooking and preparing the BBQ and refreshments stand was, of course, the South Arm Board Riders Inc., led by none other than Ange Nordstrom and Ed Lawrence, keeping competitors fuelled and caffein-deprived parents from flying off the handle.

Even though she shrugged off most of the compliments that came her way, Jo Goldfinch was the real MVP of the day, keeping cool with the enormous amount of responsibility and organisation resting on her shoulders, keeping everyone entertained while also encouraging those inexperienced surfers from over the PA system all day. She will also be liaising with the Australian Junior Titles, being responsible for getting Tassie’s most competitive team along as representatives.

In the Mark Richards Schools Competition, in the Under 19 Girls, as there were no other schools, nor surfers besides Lily Mereszka in that division, MacKillop was announced the winner, while in the Under 16’s, MacKillop also secured first place, with Woodbridge – thanks to Ruby Stokely – taking second and Clarence High in third. Individual winners were in descending order were Sienna Lawrence, Ava Frey, Poppy Woodberry and then Ruby Stokely.

In the Boys Under 16’s, Rose Bay – represented solely by Cowan Duncan – owned first place, with St Helens securing second, Clarence High in third, and Friends rounding out fourth position. While individual winners were, of course, Cowan Duncan, Alex Mead was right behind, and Henry Ward in third.

And finally, in the Under 19 Boys, Mackillop secured their third out of fourth division win, taking first place, closely contested by Hutchins – in Milo Langford – with Rosny College in third and St Helens in fourth place. Individual winners were the dominant Milo Langford, with Toby Lawrence literally only a point behind and Charlie Emmerton in third place.

Image taken from Coastrider Surf Academy Instagram Page

Overall, the day exceeded expectation, with the sun shining, a cool and unobtrusive breeze blowing off the shore, small but more than workable waves, and a surfing community that works tirelessly to bring such exciting competitions to local beaches and encourages others to get in amongst the supportive and enriching environment.

The sponsors of the event, Woolworth, Surfing Australia and Surfing Tasmania, encourage all those winners to join the competition at North Stradbroke Island later this year, and Jo Goldfinch will contact those eligible in due course.

Cover image credit to:

Copyright © Will Boddy 2021

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