European champions Piha have emerged as the team to beat at the opening round of the New Zealand Surf Boat series in Wellington this weekend.
The two-day Wellington Super Surf Boat Spectacular begins in Titahi Bay on Saturday and ends in Oriental Bay on Sunday, with 14 open men's crews, 23 women's crews and nine under-23 boats competing.
Piha's crack crew, swept by Mark Bourneville, comfortably won the European championships in Biarritz, France, in September and have kept training hard throughout spring with the New Zealand series and national championships in Gisborne in mind.
Last season Piha was edged out in the national series by perennial favourites Titahi Bay, who also went on to the national championships.
But Titahi Bay are missing key sweep Paul McVicar this weekend, and have instead enlisted Byron Malcomson, while Chris Middleton is new into the squad this year.
The other contenders come from the strong Mount Maunganui Makos crew, who also made the finals in Biarritz, while Red Beach were the only crew to threaten Titahi Bay last season, after calling back trans-Atlantic rower Steve Westlake into their boat.
The Mount women's crew also have a new face, with Janine Brennan replacing Michelle Olsen, but otherwise have the same lineup which narrowly beat Titahi Bay and Orewa for the series crown.
The first races on Saturday starting at 12.30pm include a series of long course events following on Sunday starting at 8.30am with a short course series involving each crew racing two laps in each heat.
The following rounds will be on Friday, 2 January at Whangamata, Saturday, 31 January at Piha and the final round as part of the North Island championships at Waihi in early February.