Event cancellations start to bite in Auckland

Surfers had arrived from all over the world and were out on the water at Piha when they heard that the World Surf League event scheduled to start at the beach on Monday had been cancelled, writes Mark Jennings

A last minute decision to postpone the much anticipated World Surf league event at Piha is the latest economic blow from Covid-19.

The event, was to start on Monday and the organisers had just finished installing the infrastructure and facilities at Auckland’s iconic West Coast beach.

The Piha event, one of eight in a new Challenger series being run by the World Surf League, would have been broadcast to an international audience of at least 600 million. SKY TV was producing the live coverage and has the local rights.

Twenty thousand surfing fans were expected to travel to Piha during the week-long contest.

Some of the world’s top surfers were lining up including 11-times world champion, American  Kelly Slater and the world’s top female surfer, American Carissa Moore.

Many of 172 surfers due to compete have already arrived in Auckland and the rest were expected to arrive over the weekend after competing in a Sydney event.

About 50 top junior surfers are also in Piha for a junior event that was due to start on Sunday. It has now been postponed.

The World Surf League (WSL) said the cancellation decision was based on guidance from the World Health Organisation.

“Due to the rapidly evolving situation with Covid-19 and out of an abundance of caution for the safety of our athletes, fans, and staff, the World Surf League (WSL) has made the decision to cancel all events yet to commence at all tour levels, worldwide for the remainder of March,” said WSL CEO Erik Logan.

“Coronavirus is having massive consequences for sporting events and gatherings of all kinds around the world, and we are no different.

“We did not take this decision lightly as we are aware that it has a significant impact on the surfing community. However, the health and safety of our athletes, fans, and staff are paramount.”

"A rumour went through the line-up out in the water that the event was cancelled and everyone’s faces just dropped.”

The event was set to be a mini-boom for Piha locals and bach owners. Many had rented their properties to surfers or were involved in catering for the expected crowds.

Fiona Anderson, who manages the local camping ground and runs the kitchen at the bowling club, said the community had already catered for the influx of surfers and spectators. Food was ordered and musicians were booked.

“It’s gutting, just gutting for everyone involved, especially the organisers who have put so much time, love and effort into this event. The camp ground is always busy so that just means our regular campers will be able to come back and we service the community at the bowling club so we will be fine. But, we might having a vegetable stall to sell off some of the food.”

New Zealand champion Elliot Paerata Reid was looking forward to competing in the WSL event on his home territory. Photo: NZSurfmag

The postponement is also disappointing for local surfer Elliot Paerata Reid.

Paerata Reid, the New Zealand national champion, has been in top form recently as he gets closer to breaking into surfing’s top echelon .

He competed in the World Surfing League qualifying series and was looking forward to a big event on home territory.

“I’ve just come in from the surf. The waves are firing, the weather is amazing and many of the athletes are already here. I’m so rattled that it has been cancelled, it just feels unbelievable. The towers are up the contest site built, the judges are here. This community has been so looking forward to it,” Paerata Reid said.

Dune Kennings, a Piha surfer in the trials for entry into the main event along with 16 other NZ surfers, said the decision had come as a shock.

“I was sitting out in the line-up this morning thinking how beautiful the day was, how good the waves are, while watching all the international surfers and was feeling so grateful to be having such a big event at our local break. A rumour went through the line-up out in the water that the event was cancelled and everyone’s faces just dropped.”

SKY TV spokesperson Chris Major said a huge amount of effort had gone into getting ready for the event.

“We, like all other suppliers and partners, have been working towards the Piha Pro event for some time. We were really looking forward to delivering the event, even though it was complex with the Piha access and terrain, not easy. The technical design work has been going for some months, as has production planning, and there are costs that can’t be recovered," she said, adding the details of the costs were confidential.   

"It’s unfortunate that circumstances have led to this – but the decision has been made in the best interests of the competitors and fans, and we’ll take it on the chin.

"It’s good to hear that WSL sees it as a postponement, not a cancellation. We don’t have a new date yet, but look forward to putting some of the planning to good use when it does eventuate.“

The 2020 Piha event was to be the first in a three-year agreement between the WSL, New Zealand Major Events and Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED), which invested in the event on behalf of Auckland Council.

ATEED General Manager – Destination Steve Armitage said the decision to support the event had been based on the sport’s global reach.

“We saw this as an opportunity to showcase Auckland and New Zealand through the broadcast audiences and WSL’s social media. Piha is the only black sand beach in this competition.  We know the global surfing community is keen to travel and we see a lot of long-term benefit from attracting surfers from the US and Australian markets,” he said.

“One good thing is that the event is postponed and not cancelled and there maybe options to hold it later in the year. This would be a good event to stimulate the economy as we move into recovery mode.”

News of WSL’s decision on Piha followed hard on the heels of decision to cancel Pasifika, the cultural festival also supported by ATEED.

“It is just a tragic set of circumstances, things seem to be shifting hour by hour, but it is the nature of events that things can happen," Armitage said.

“It is very hard on the events team and for the stall holders at Pasifika that there was only one day’s notice. We are doing what we can to plug the stall holders into other events like the Otara market.”

Armitage conceded that the cancellation was a blow to ATEED’s five-year strategy of developing Auckland’s cultural festivals - Diwali, the Chinese lantern festival, and Pasifika - to the point where they attract visitors from outside the city.

The Lantern festival, which has been running for 21 years, was cancelled in early February due to fears over Covid-19, and the Pasifika festival was also cancelled last year because of the Christchurch Mosque shootings.

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