LANDING at Adelaide Airport, surf lifesaver Briana Irving realised she was there to race against the best in the world and then “the nerves hit”.
The next day, the storm hit.
“They said it was a one-in-50-year storm, so it was pretty wild,” says the 16-year-old Gisborne athlete, who flew to Australia courtesy of her Eastland Port sponsorship.
“Roofs were flying off buildings and the race courses at Glenelg Beach kept blowing apart and having to be rebuilt.”
But New Zealand’s junior and open Black Fins team, who were in Adelaide for the 2018 Lifesaving World Championships, weren’t going to let a freak storm stop them.
“We just did our training, kept warmed up, and were ready for anything we had to do.”
Briana did what she had to do well. The youngest member of the 10-strong junior team, she came home with three medals – gold for the youth (under 19) beach sprint; gold for the beach relay; and silver for the taplin (ski, board, swim and run) relay event.
And all this just a few days after the Gisborne Girls’ High School student had finished the last of her year-one NCEA exams.
She may not have done as much study as she could have, Briana admits, but that had to be squeezed in among a winter and spring of intense training – almost every day, if not twice a day.
“I come from a running background and my strength is in land-based events, so we did lots of athletics training, things like flags and beach and track running,” she says.
“Plus, the Fins teams had two weekend training camps at Mount Maunganui and that was amazing, especially in terms of team bonding.”
Briana turned 16 on October 3 and, in terms of surf lifesaving years, she reckons that gives her “the best birthday in the world”.
“It all depends on how old you are on October 1 so getting to compete in the 16-and-under category for another year will really give me the chance to build my speed and strength.”
Just a day after her return from Australia, Briana started training to represent her local Waikanae Surf Club at the TSB New Zealand Surf Life Saving Championships, to be held at Mount Maunganui in March.
But she has her sights set even further afield than that.
Racing against the best in the world in Adelaide was a “cool experience” but, with the world champs only being held every two years, there is no opportunity to compete in 2019.
Instead, she is focused on qualifying for that year’s International Surf Rescue Challenge, a competition between Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, USA, Great Britain and Japan.
With a renewed interest in athletics, qualifying for the Olympic Games is on the list of future challenges but in the shorter term, she’s shooting for the 2020 world surf lifesaving champs, in Italy.
“I definitely want to be there so I’ll be pushing hard to be the best I can be.”
Briana credits “amazing family support” for much of her success plus, of course, the backing of sponsors.
She and her family fundraised “madly” to get to Adelaide but competing is costly so getting sponsorship is amazing, she says.
“That’s not just financially, but mentally as well . . . it means so much to have someone believe in you and really get behind you.”
For Eastland Port general manager Andrew Gaddum, watching the progress of their sponsored athlete has been a rewarding journey.
“The whole purpose of our sponsorship programme is to support young athletes in trying to achieve their ambitions,” he says. “So it’s been incredible to see Briana not just meet, but actually exceed her goals on the world stage.”
Briana Irving 2018
– NZ Surf Life Saving national championships (first place in under-16s beach sprint; under-19s beach sprint; under-16s beach flags; under-16s beach relay)
– Selected for Tairawhiti Rising Legends Squad (second year)
– Selected for Junior Black Fins team
– Selected for Eastland Port sponsorship programme
– Competed at Lifesaving World Championships (Adelaide), winning two golds and a silver.