Daniel Kereopa – Raglan’s multi-talented waterman – has proven his mettle against the world’s best by bringing home the inaugural Ultimate Waterman title.
An emotional Daniel stood on the podium at Waterman Central, at Auckland’s Mission Bay, to receive his taiaha trophy in front of family, friends and supporters on Saturday.
He said he had spent years training for that moment. But all the time he had put into training – and the time spent away from his family and partner Renee – had all been worth it.
“It paid off. It was lots and lots of hard work,” he said the next day, feeling tired and sore. “It’s the hardest road I’ve been on but I’ve reached a pinnacle this week. So I’m happy.”
The competition, organised by Raglan-based Surfing New Zealand, ended with a 15km stand-up paddle (SUP) endurance race, in which Daniel came fifth, one place behind closest points rival Kai Lenny (Hawaii). The race was won by SUP world champion Connor Baxter, with American champion paddler Danny Ching second.
Eight elite athletes from around the world were invited to take part in the New Zealand event, travelling from Auckland to the Coromandel, Otago and Raglan over eight days to find the best conditions for the five surfing-related disciplines.
Unfortunately, conditions were not right for the sixth discipline that was planned – big wave surfing – despite Cyclone Pam’s appearance during competition week.
Kai Lenny came second overall in The Ultimate Waterman event, with Connor Baxter a close third.
Going into the last race Daniel had a third and a fifth placing for shortboard and waka ama endurance races respectively, plus two wins – for stand-up paddle surfing and for the longboard.
The longboard event was held at Daniel’s home break at Manu Bay last Thursday evening in front of an enthusiastic crowd of locals, surfers and RedBull television cameras.
“Once I won that [the longboard race] I knew I had a really good shot at winning,” he said.
During the last race on Saturday, Daniel was doing his maths along the way and knew as long as he stuck close to Kai Lenny, 2014 SUP World Tour champ, he had a chance at the title.
It meant a lot to Daniel to have his whole family waiting there at the finish line.
“Their message through the week was ‘just go out there and have some fun’. They just kept reminding me about that,” Daniel said.
There was no containing the pride that Daniel’s mother, Rangi Kereopa felt at the end, as she said: “We’ve done it!”
Surfing New Zealand chief executive Greg Townsend said it had been great for New Zealand to have such a high calibre range of elite athletes in the country.
“They loved the event, they loved the country and they all want to come back. The scene has been set for a great global event which could be developed in so many different ways,” he said.
Planning had already started on the 2016 event.
Daniel was currently living between Raglan and Orewa, where he ran a surf school. He and Renee were also developing the ‘DK’ range of SUP boards, t-shirts and caps, with his win giving his brand and credibility “a great kick start”.
But after a rest, he would back out there in the surf as all the competitors had decided to make it harder for each other next time.
“They said ‘you’re going to have to train twice as hard’, so I’m going to train three times as hard,” Daniel said. “It’s game on now for next year’s event.”