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40 Frames: Jai & Ava Win Cape Classic

Ava Henderson and Jai Earnshaw prove too good in the solid waves for Westport’s 32nd Edition of the FT Dooleys Cape Classic.

T Bay turning it on for the 2023 Cape Classic. Photo: Derek Morrison

A new south swell filled in on the heels of the Westport Grom Comp to see the FT Dooleys Cape Classic staged at Tauranga Bay. With waves in the 2-5 foot range and a light cross-offshore wind the bay looked at times like a perfect contest venue. But it wasn’t as easy as it all looked with some deceptively big and fast rights on some tides.

The Cape Classic is an iconic event with a beautiful trophy acknowledging Barry O’Dea, who was an original Buller Boardriders Club member and Cape Classic driver, and Greg Burgess who always gave his time to the Cape Classic before he was taken way to young by cancer.

The trophy captures the event’s iconic status with Manu Schafer having won it five times (and his brother Tony twice), Anthony Hema four times and Levi O’Connor four times. It also features wins by Tim Barton, Lee Morris, Lynden Kennings, Felix Dickson and Elliot Brown.

A lineup of legends on the Cape Classic trophy. Photo: Derek Morrison

The quality surf usually draws a big field and this year that included Ryan Hawker, a top Piha surfer who now lives in Christchurch, Ava Henderson who has spent her summer on the coast, Levi O’Connor who made the trip across from Kaikoura, seasoned vet Nick Black and a bunch of fresh-faced Christchurch surfers including Rakiatea Tau, Jack McKenzie, Myka Black, George Roberts, Kona Eru Te Whata, Estella Hungerford, Jack Wilson, Campbell Heasley, James Millar and Darcy Dougherty. They met with local powerhouse surfers: Jai Earnshaw, Anthony Hema and rising star Jacob Fitzgerald.

With Steve Lee, Pana and Youngie on the organisational side of proceedings the surfers knew they were in good hands.

Ryan Hawker was first to put everyone on notice – dropping into a big barrel before bursting out and going straight into an air reverse. If anyone wasn’t sure exactly who he was before that – they certainly knew now. The quiet, humble surfer turned a lot of heads. So too did Rakiatea Tau, Myka Black, Campbell Heasley and Jack McKenzie with some flawless free-surfing moments and quality heat play in the Open Men’s.

Jai Earnshaw reveling in the conditions at Tauranga Bay. Photo: Derek Morrison

But the waves were always going to suit Jai’s powerful surfing style. As the heats progressed he just got more and more comfortable. In the final he was on another level and left Myka Black and his father Nick scratching their heads along with Westport finalist Jacob Fitzgerald.

Jai was going top to bottom on a red T Patterson 2+1 on some of the best rights of the whole contest. He had power, variety and flow – he even linked in a taildrop floater that was a very cool nod to the days of old. Jai had four of the best waves in the final and on his last one, as he leaned into the bottom turn with every watt of power he possessed, he popped the inside fin box and slid out.

Ava Henderson thriving at the 2023 Cape Classic. Photo: Derek Morrison

The Open Women’s saw Ava Henderson and her sister Estella Hungerford go head-to-head with Dunedin 15-year-olds Rewa Morrison and Tessa Gabbott making their first Cape Classic final.

Estella was quick to fire and opened with a 6.5. Ava quickly answered with a 7.17 setting up a family showdown that gave the crowd plenty of exciting moments. Estella was unable to find a second running wave to match her first while Ava went on a wave frenzy with the 8th wave of her nine giving her the win. Rewa and Tessa finished 3rd and 4th.

Estella had already won the Women’s Longboard beating Anna Hawes, Amelie Wink and Lucy Macefield in the final.

Hugh Ritchie took, the top gong in the Men’s Longboard ahead of Aaron Surgenor, Raphael Nistelberger and Nick Tuhikarama.

Donna Henderson won the Senior Women’s with Ryan Hawker landing the Over 30 Men’s and Richard Ayson recovering from a bout of heat-stroke induced gastro to win the Grandmaster Over 45s.

The club and participants wanted to offer a huge thank you to the generosity of the sponsors from the beautiful Buller community.

“We want to say our heartfelt thanks to you all for making this event possible; judges, food, prizemoney, logistics … we couldn’t do it without your sponsorship,” smiled Pana.

2023 Cape Classic winners Jai Earnshaw and Ava Henderson now $1000 richer thanks to the event’s sponsors. Photo: Derek Morrison

A highlight this year was equal prizemoney for the premier divisions of the Open Women and Open Men with the winners each taking home $1000.

“This was only possible due to the main sponsor FT Dooleys for the Open Men and Electro Services Limited who pushed for equal prizemoney and followed up with matching the Open Women’s 1st prize to make it happen,” explains Pana. “That a great step forward.”

All women’s champions will also be added to the Cape Classic trophy which will be shared between both genders.

Thank you to Buller Boardriders Club and the people of Westport and the Buller region for sharing your waves and beautiful whenua with us for this iconic event.

Here’s what went down in 40 Frames …

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