The final event of the New Zealand Pro Series for summer is heading to Raglan this weekend (16-18 March) with the Rip Curl Pro presented by Nature Valley willing some good conditions to prevail for the season finale.
The Rip Curl Pro presented by Nature Valley will play host to New Zealand's best surfers and with the waves at Manu Bay being such a draw card, the field of surfers is expected to be the finest to compete this summer.
Not only will the surfers be competing for the big prize purse, the winner of the Open Men's Division wins a trip to Indonesia and the chance to compete in the Rip Curl Padang Cup, an exclusive invitational event that plays host to some of the best surfers in the world.
The Padang Cup has a month long waiting period and is held at Bali's fabled Padang Padang, a wave which needs a massive swell to bring out its true colours.
Morehu Roberts (Gis) is the only New Zealand surfer to have competed in the event after winning the 2010 Rip Curl Pro at Manu Bay. That year the Padang Cup was cancelled due to lack of waves but Roberts got a second chance to compete at the event in 2011 unfortunately exiting in the first round.
Current ratings leader Tim O'Connor (Mnt) won the most recent event of the New Zealand Pro Series held at Gisborne leap frogging Bobby Hansen (Gis) for the number one ranking. Both surfers are expected to put up a strong challenge at Raglan to claim the Series title. O'Connor has based himself at Raglan all summer and may well have the upper hand.
Competition will come from all directions though with Maz Quinn (Gis) back in the fold after missing two of the three events so far this summer. Raglan's own Luke Cederman has returned to New Zealand and is a likely starter in the event. If he gets on a roll, he could be lethal with his powerful forehand attack. Likewise Leon Santorik on his backhand will be eager to successfully compete in the waves he grew up surfing.
It will be touch and go whether several of New Zealand's top surfers will be able to compete at the event with the likes of Billy Stairmand (Rag), Jay Quinn (Gis), Richard Christie (Gis) and Matt Hewitt (BOP) all competing at an international event in Australia this week.
The Open Women's Division has a new look about it with four of the top five ranked surfers being under the age of 20. Only current New Zealand Champion and second ranked Thandi Tipene (Tara), 25, is giving the young girls a run for their money. 17-year-old Ella Williams (WGM) leads the way for the girls after winning the last two events. Again it may be a local surfer that pushes through for a big result and that could easily come from Jessica Santorik (Rag) or Alexis Poulter (Rag) given their local knowledge of the Raglan line up.
The Under 20 Men's Division could see any number of surfers take out the title but front runners Sean Kettle (Tara) and Tane Wallis (Piha) are the two that have got the jump on the rest of the field. Kettle will use his raw talent to impress on his backhand while the more measured Wallis will know exactly what he has to do to push for his first win of the year after placing second and third respectively at the first two events.
With several of the top Under 20 surfers in New Zealand having missed some of the events this year, the likes of Johnny Hicks (Gis), Alex Dive (Mnt) and Ben Poulter (Rag) will be out to upset proceedings and grab an event win before returning to international duties in Australia and beyond at the end of the month.
The Rip Curl Pro also plays host to the Rip Curl GromSearch final. The final is for the top four boys and girls from the 2011 New Zealand Grommet Series ratings. The winners of each division get a trip to Australia to compete at the international final which is held as part of the Bells Beach Rip Curl Pro ASP World Tour event. Finalists to contest each division are Dune Kennings (WGM), Elliot Paerata - Reid (Piha), Adam Grimson (Gis) and Sean Kettle (Tara) for the boys and Jayda Martin - Fitzharris (Gis), Ella Williams (WGM), Hannah Kohn (Gis) and Dayna Story (Gis) for the girls.
On top of this, Kiwi Surf Magazine and Hughes Surfboards have teamed up this year to bring the Kiwi Surf/Hughes Surfboards 'Boost For Cash.' This will be an expression session in which New Zealand's best aerialists will use jet ski assistance to perform one big move to walk away with $500. See how you too, can win a brand new Hughes surfboard by picking your preferred winner of the expression session.
The Rip Curl Pro will include the Saturday night gathering at the YOT Club thanks to Stoke Beer and Jagermeister as well as the highly popular Sunday Session again at the YOT Club after the finals have been contested.
The Rip Curl Pro is a six star rated event with $12,500 in prizes on offer.
See below for the top surfers on the New Zealand Pro Series after three of four events. For full ratings go to the Surfing New Zealand website.
Open Men's Division
1, Tim O'Connor (Mnt)
2, Bobby Hansen (Gis)
3, Larry Fisher (Rag)
4, Chris Malone (Gis)
5, Zen Wallis (Piha)
6, Billy Stairmand (Rag)
7, Dune Kennings (Whmata)
8, Ben Kennings (Whmata)
9, Mike Banks (Rag)
10, Matt Scorringe (Whmata)
Open Women's Division
1, Ella Williams (Whmata)
2, Thandi Tipene (Tara)
3, Jayda Martin-Fitzharris (Gis)
4, Grace Spiers (Whmata)
5, Jasmine Smith (Gis)
Under 20 Men's Division
1, Sean Kettle (Tara)
2, Tane Wallis (Piha)
3, Dune Kennings (Whmata)
4, Waretini Wano (Piha)
5, Adam Grimson (Gis)