TODAY |

Taranaki surfing competition forced to make new category for 'improbable' 80-year-old surfer

A masters surfing competition in Taranaki has been forced to introduce a new age-group category - for its first ever contestant aged over 80.

Adrian Pickering, the first 80 plus competitor at the Easter Masters. Source: rnz.co.nz

By Robin Martin of rnz.co.nz

Adrian Pickering of Whangaparāoa busted out of the "Immortals" section - for surfers aged 75 to 79 - into his very own, aptly named the "Improbables".

The Fisher and Paykel Easter Masters' Surfing Championships has been run in Taranaki for 28 years and attracts surfers from around the country.

Pickering, who recently turned 80, has been a fixture at the New Plymouth Surfriders Club event for as long as anyone can remember.

RNZ caught up with him shortly after his first heat at the Puniho reef break.

"It was a beautiful heat and I was out with four other very talented surfers and they were getting some amazing rides. I was getting some pathetic ones, but I got the rides that's the main thing.

"The hardest part was getting across those rocks and then getting back when you're exhausted. That was very slow and painful."

Pickering, who these days rides a kneeboard, was equally humble about the milestone he had achieved.

"Well, I've just been keeping on coming you see. I've been coming here for 23, 24 years every Easter and I've always been the oldest. I don't know why?

"When I first started I was 50 something and now I've just happened to get older, but it's getting near the end of my surfing life I can tell you."

But we reckon he'll be back next year regardless.

"Some people are unlucky and get health problems as they get older and I've been very lucky in that regard and I just love it so why not keep going."

Coromandel's Tony Keyworth at the Easter Masters. Source: rnz.co.nz

At 65, Coromandel's Tony 'TK' Keyworth was a mere pup.

And he had no intention of quitting surfing either.

"I've been surfing since I was 10 years old, so ever since I caught that first wave I've loved it and it keeps me fit and healthy and that's what I want to keep on doing."

It was the people that attracted him to the Masters.

"The camaraderie and the surf. Surfing a break like this with just a few people is always a bonus. Yeah, I just live to surf."

Linda Stent in action at the Easter Masters. Source: rnz.co.nz

Red Beach's Linda Stent was one of about a dozen women in the 80-strong field.

The 62-year-old stand-up paddle boarder had witnessed more and more women claim their place in the surf.

"There seems to be a lot more women coming through. I think that particularly if you're not going in with a great big team of gabby talkers there's a lot more acceptance."

Stent said the Easter Masters was unique.

"There's not many events that are surf based that are, you know, for the older group and it's a real surf event.

"I'm supping (stand up paddleboarding) but I'm SUP surfing and that's where I like to be."

Sam and Lara Quinn at the Easter Masters. Source: rnz.co.nz

Sam Quinn, 11, of Oakura was watching his dad, Karl, compete in the over 50's division.

But you'd better not let him into the judges' caravan.

"Yeah, he just went out. I think he went pretty good, but the others were really good though. I think he may have got in."

He could imagine himself surfing at 80.

"Maybe. Well, I mean, if you really like surfing you're just going to go surfing."

New Plymouth Surfriders secretary Allen Pidwell was steeped in Masters lore.

"The concept started in 1989 in Taranaki with the Great Surf Reunion where all the original surfers of the 60s got together and had a fun competition.

"It has a rest the next year and then they had another one call the Tray of Cans competition where the entry fee was a dozen cans which doesn't go down so well these days."

Allen Pidwell had to sit this competition out due to a recent operation, but plans to go up against Adrian Pickering next year. Source: rnz.co.nz

Pidwell said since then the New Plymouth club had hosted the Masters which attracted people from all walks of life.

"You make a lot of friends and you make new friends and you see people you haven't seen all year and you get to surf with them. It's a real fun event.

"People just enjoy coming. People from all different backgrounds. Lawyers to people like Adrian and me who are well retired."

The 79-year-old sat out competition this year after having an operation to insert a pacemaker.

But that was not about to stop him hitting the dance floor at the competition's wrap party.

"We have a prize-giving. Every division has it's four winners and then it's boogie time with a good band and everyone has a good party and it's just time to have a good time with your mates... it's a bit like the surfing once you get up on your feet it's all right."

One thing you can be sure of is that Allen will be aiming to give Adrian Pickering a run for his money in the Improbables section in 2022.