Stoked to have done Gisborne proud
18th January 2021 The Gisborne Herald Jack Malcolm
Tears flowed as Gisborne teenager Saffi Vette won her first open women's national surfing title at Piha Beach yesterday — a victory she dedicated to her late father, Andrew.
“He'll have a big grin on his face up there. Hopefully, I've done him proud,” said the 19-year-old, whose performance was made even more special by brother Finn winning the under-18 boys' final immediately before her.
The siblings were jointly awarded the Byers Trophy for best overall performance at the nationals and they were integral to Gisborne Boardriders Club winning the overall club crown and regaining No.1 status.
Eight Gisborne surfers claimed titles over the week-long champs
Andy Vette, 52, died in September of last year after battling bowel cancer.
His daughter said she wrote his initials on her hand before the final, saying “you can do this for AV”.
“It definitely motivated me and made me a bit hungrier for that win.
“I had little sayings he told me before my heats going through my head in the final. It reassured me that I could do it.”
Vette had a challenging path to victory, surfing against what was described as one of the most talent-laden field of finalists ever — World Tour surfer Paige Hareb (Taranaki), former world junior champion Ella Williams (Whangamata) and defending champion Ava Henderson (Christchurch).
In good 1.0m waves, Vette kicked off the final with a 7.75 point ride and backed it up towards the end of the heat with 8.15 to take the lead with a 15.9 total out of 20 for her two best waves.
She faced a nervous wait on the beach for the final scores to be announced after Williams came back in the dying minutes with an 8.15 ride.
It was too little, too late as she needed 8.49 points and she had to settle for second on 15.6.
“I had no idea how well Ella (Williams) surfed her last wave and I knew it was going to be really close,” said Vette . “Hearing Ella's name announced in second place was just unreal. I was so thankful.”
Hareb was third on 12.9 and Henderson fourth on 6.65.
Vette said the conditions were similar to her home break, Northerns, which she surfs every day. But she knew it would be a tough final.
“I love being, as they say, the dark horse and proving everyone wrong.”
It was Vette's first time competing solely in the women's division, and she said she had been working towards winning the open title for several years.
The feeling of hearing her name being called out on the beach as the winner was indescribable and the victory still hadn't sunk in when The Gisborne Herald spoke to her last night.
“There's so much pride with everyone, myself and my family — everyone that you represent and your sponsors. You know you've done them proud,” said Vette, who won the u16 and junior (u18) titles in 2017 and the junior title again in 2019.
She was the first Gisborne surfer to win the open women's crown since Airini Mason in Dunedin in 2011.
Finn Vette surfed only three waves in the junior boys final but two of those were good enough for a 15.1 total and the win. Kora Cooper (Raglan) was second on 13.85, Tom Robinson (Whangarei) third on 12.2 and Jayden Willoughby (Raglan) fourth on 9.1.
The final day of competition also saw Daniel Procter win his third open men's longboard title as Gisborne dominated the longboarding divisions.
The club also won the open women's and junior boys' divisions earlier in the week.
Procter said he went into the event with no expectations and it was a special feeling to come away with the title, adding it to wins in 2009 and 2013 (also at Piha).
“I'm a bit older now, at 33. . . I wanted to see if I could still do it.”
The local longboarding scene also deserved credit for growing a “hotbed” of talent in Gisborne that had lifted the level of surfing, he said.
“Back home I usually don't even make the final. It shows you the level of surfing if the national champion can't make the final of a local club competition.”
Procter thanked Gisborne Boardriders, who he said had helped to grow a strong sense of connection in the team at the champs.
“We were the only real region you could feel a sense of connection across all of us. We were down there every day supporting other surfers across the event.”
“It shows the work at the club level is actually paying off. Not just in performance but supporting one another and going as a team.”