New Zealand pro surfer Billy Stairmand never dreamed of representing New Zealand at the Olympic games growing up because it wasn't an Olympic sport.
But it will be in the next 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games, and Billy, who's based at Raglan, has provisionally qualified to compete at the games.
He told Lynn Freeman that the waves in Japan suit his style of surfing, and he’s excited for the competition.
“I've had a few contests over there before and the waves are pretty small and just small beach breaks and not really refined banks ... so it's really hard to read and surf but the smaller waves kind of suit my surfing, I'm quite small anyway so that's really good to me.”
He says his small stature compared with other surfers is an advantage to him in several ways.
“I think my small, short little legs and my small stature has been really beneficial for me because I’ve got a low centre of gravity, as a surfer you kind of want that, if you're tall and lanky and you land funny, you could tweak a knee or an ankle, but for me, I've been really fortunate with injuries and hopefully it stays that way.
“Usually some people are more heavy footed than others. For instance, they’ve got a bit more weight behind them on the front foot and [the boards] break or they crease and they have big pressure dents in the top of them.
“But like I said, I'm pretty lightweight, and I don't try and destroy my board. So they last a pretty long time ... and usually most of us have about four or five backup boards on the beach, just in case anything happens in a heat.”
Stairmind has previously placed third at a surfing event held in Chiba, Japan. But there’s many factors to take into account when surfing, and Stairmind says he’s trained himself to read the waves well since he started at the age of nine.
“I really try my hardest to read each and every wave that comes to me and adapt on my feet, and I like to sit in the ocean and try and read for instance, how many seconds in between big waves ... for maybe an hour or two before my heat and watch the conditions.”
He competed at the ISA World Surfing Games in Miyazaki earlier this year to earn his qualifying spot at the Olympics.
“One of us three males and one of the three females had to finish in the top 25 I think in the whole competition [to qualify].
“So it was me and Kehu Butler and Ricardo Christie, which both are my good friends ... me and Kehu, on the last day we really were battling each other, like we were going heat to heat, and we're all kind of getting the same results.
“And luckily for me, I got further than Kehu Butler and achieved my goal of provision and qualifying for the Olympics.”
He says achieving eighth place in the whole competition is a huge result for any New Zealand surfer in the ISA Worlds.
The competitors will be judged on a number of things including ability to stay on the board, maneuvers, speed, power, flow.
“They like it if you get the bigger waves and complete your waves. So say for instance, I'll take off and do an air, a turn and a floater and complete a whole wave and I'll get between an eight and 10 point ride, and each wave is judged between a zero and 10, 10 being the best,” Stairmind says.
“Your two best waves are counted at the end of each heat. Usually there's four people in the heat and two progress."
Stairmind has gone through his fair share of hardships to get to where he is today. After about 12 years with a major sponsor, he was let go when his results weren’t coming through up to expectations, he says, which was understandable to him.
“So I kind of had to start from scratch and I lost my mother as well to breast cancer. So that was a bit of a hard one.
“I had to really fight for what I really wanted and what I believed I could achieve, and this year has been a total turning point. I've got a few minor sponsors that look after me like Backdoor Surf Shop and Curve Surf.”
He says he’s happy with what he’s achieved this year, and is going to keep working on his condition and skills to try and get an edge over his rivals.
"I'll practice a lot of different maneuvers over the summer and going into next year and obviously got a few events in February.
“And growing up here in Raglan, we're really fortunate to have a lot of waves and a lot of good surfers around which push me to my best.”