Elite wakeboarders from around the world converged on Tairua on the Coromandel Peninsula of New Zealand for the country’s only professional wakeboard event – the Tairua Pipe Masters – in honour of former world junior wakeboard champion Brad Smeele.

The event was won by Brenton Priestley (AUS), with former 2 x world champion Jeff Weatherall (NZ) taking second place, Dean Smith (AUS) in third place and Scotty Broome (AUS) in fourth. The revival of the Tairua Pipe Masters raised funds for Smeele’s recovery from an accident in the United States that has left him a quadriplegic.

The wakeboarding event in waters off the Pepe Reserve in Tairua started with a wildcard contest on February 13 that challenged New Zealand’s top riders with an international-calibre course. This event provided the winner with a wildcard entry to the main action on Saturday afternoon at the Tairua Harbour.

A play on the famed surf event in Hawaii, the Tairua Pipemasters is a wakeboarding event in which riders are towed behind jetskis onto custom built ramps, jumps and sliders made from pvc piping and other materials. The sliders are positioned in shallow water close to shore, giving spectators a close up of the action.

Brad won the event when it was last hosted in 2008 and was World Wakeboarding Federation (WWF) junior world champion at the time. He talked spectators through the action on February 14 as commentator and used his considerable experience and connections in the industry to help organise the event.

Brad and competitors received a heart-warming welcome from children of Tairua School at the opening of the event, with the kids singing Lean On Me and presenting him with cards and drawings to wish him well and thank him for inspiring them with the challenge he now faces in life.

In turn Brad spoke about how he pursued his passion for wakeboarding, running the Lake Ronix wakeboard training facility in Florida prior to his accident, and told the children not to be afraid of taking risks in life. “Even if your dreams are big and seem impossible, shoot for what you want in life. Don’t be reckless and silly but don’t be afraid of trying something new. I got hurt doing something I love but other people get hurt just crossing the road.”

Brad has been given a 1-2 per cent chance from doctors of moving his upper limbs again and he has embraced it as a challenge. Already he has managed to achieve a shrug of his shoulders and he and friend Brant Hales have decided to not cut their hair until Brad achieves the goal of movement. “We’re both going to be looking pretty bogan, so it’s another good incentive,” he laughed.

Said Brad after the event opening: “Seriously, the highlight of my day today was hanging out and meeting all of these rad young kids! It’s so amazing to feel the love and support from these youngsters, and it means the world to me to inspire them all as well.”

Tairua Pipe Masters was a free family afternoon at a beautiful harbourside location close to the action. Merchandise was sold to help Brad with ongoing costs for his care. “The course was looking epic, some of the riders and local guys like Matt Land from Pacific Building Consultants have been working really hard to get everything built and in place over the few hours of low tide ready for the riders when the tide comes in.”

Co-organiser Devan Rowe says the community, local businesses and local authorities were extremely supportive of the event and the course was rider-designed and built, in true jam-style fashion. “All four top professionals mucked in to swing hammers and assemble and dismantle the course in between competing, surfing and partying. It was all hands on deck and part of the whole gig.”

By Alison Smith