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Christie wins heat

Tokyo — The New Zealand men have made a successful start to the World Surfing Games in Japan, which doubles as a qualifier for the Tokyo Olympics.

Ricardo Christie and Billy Stairmand have won their opening round heats, while Kehu Butler has finished second in his to also advance.

They’re up against more than 130 surfers from 55 countries who are chasing berths at next year’s Olympics.

Christie, Stairmand and Butler are trying to emulate teammate Ella Williams, who has provisionally qualified for Japan by finishing as the leading Oceania surfer in the women’s competition.

Meanwhile, The World Surf League has announced that its new Challenger Series will visit Auckland’s Piha Beach in March 2020, the first of its kind to hit New Zealand in five years.

The combined men’s and women’s event, dubbed the Piha Pro, is expected to attract a huge international field of surfing’s biggest stars, up against some of New Zealand’s rising talent, and has been confirmed annually through to 2022. The competition will offer equal prize-money for both men and women.

The event will be one of a small selection of this rating on the WSL calendar, meaning the Piha Pro will provide a big opportunity for surfers hoping to qualify for the elite Championship Tour.

Trials will be staged in NZ before the main event, guaranteeing four Kiwi surfers the chance to compete at the event, alongside current tour competitors Ricardo Christie and Paige Hareb.

“It’s going to be awesome to have such a prestigious event come to New Zealand,” said Christie. “It will be cool for the whole country to see some really high-quality surfing again. We’ve had some big events in the past and they did wonders for the local surfing community, so it will be really cool to see that again.”

Hareb is equally enthused, particularly about the event’s ground-breaking approach to gender equality. “This will also be the first time I’ve competed in NZ for equal points and prize money, which will be amazing,” said Hareb. “The future is now. It’s been quite a few years now since NZ has had a major surf event and I definitely think we’re due for one. I can’t wait to see the positive effect it will have on surfing in NZ.”

— RadioNZ/Newshub

SURFING CHAMPS: Mahia’s Ricardo Christie has joined Taranaki’s Paige Hareb on the World Surf League Championship Tour this year. Radio NZ picture