- WSL / Will Hayden-Smith

A record field of surfers are heading to Taranaki on New Zealand's North Island to compete in the NZ Home Loans Surf Festival. The event includes the World Surf League (WSL) Port Taranaki Pro QS6000 and the North Beach Pro Junior men's and women's WSL Australasia Junior Qualifying Series events.

Close to 200 surfers will compete across the three events with the Pro Junior Men's and Women's divisions set to begin Tuesday March 24 while the Blue Ribbon Port Taranaki Pro QS 6000 is set to start on Thursday 26th with the finals of all three divisions to run into the weekend.

Laura enever Last year's runner-up Laura Enever. - WSL / Steve Robertson

The strong international field sees surfers coming from all over the world including South Africa, Barbados, France, Japan, Australia, Tahiti, Hawaii, Guadeloupe, USA along with a healthy number of NZ surfers as well.

Taranaki local Paige Hareb heads up the New Zealand surfers. For Hareb, this is an important event following her great start to this season where she placed 2nd in China at the Samsung Galaxy Hainan Pro. Another good result in her home town would see Paige well on the way to requalifying for the elite Championship Tour for 2016.

Paige Hareb Taranaki local Paige Hareb at last year's event. - WSL / Will Hayden-Smith

"My final placing in China really helped start the year," Hareb said. "Getting knocked off the Championship Tour made me change my attitude. Now, my attitude is definitely a 10 out of 10 focus to get back on the CT. To get there, I'm doing more of everything -- more fitness, more stretching, and more surfing than I did last year. I am enjoying my surfing more as well -- you just surf better when you are enjoying it. I've also changed my quiver to Mt Woodgee boards shaped by Wayne McKewen. I've worked closely with him so they're custom made and are just performing really well. For the Port Taranaki Pro, it will be great to be at home in front of my local crowd. I want to do well for myself -- but also for all my supporters in Taranaki."

Recent WSL World Junior Champion Ella Williams (NZL) will also be keen for a strong result next week to help achieve her ultimate goal of qualifying for the elite championship tour this year.

tatiana weston webb Tatiana Weston-Webb took out last year's women's Pro Junior. - WSL / Steve Robertson

Surfing Taranki CEO Craig Williamson is proud of this event and the big increase throughout the region's boardriding clubs of kids getting into surfing, especially young girls which is a direct result of bringing the world's best female surfers to Taranaki for the past six years.

"Having World Surf League events in Taranaki has had a wonderful inspirational effect for locals as well as the whole country," Williamson said. "Taranaki surf riders' clubs are all having increasing numbers of kids and adults turning up for their regular 'have a go' surf days. The oversubscription of entries in the North Beach Pro Junior events and Port Taranaki Pro Women's Qualifying Series events shows how Kiwi surfers are taking up the challenge to compete against the world's best up-and-coming surfers in their own country."

International standout surfers headlining this year's NZ Home Loans Surf Festival include Hawaiians Mahina Maeda and Tatiana Weston-Webb. Weston-Webb is currently ranked equal 5th on the WSL world rankings and is touted as world title contender in the coming years while Maeda is the current World Junior Champion.

Australia's Laura Enever placed 2nd here last year and recently won the Hurley Australian Open of Surfing. Sage Erickson (USA) is an emerging talent and French surfers Pauline Ado and Justine Dupont are both experienced campaigners on the World Surf League.

The picturesque and surf rich region of Taranaki is a favorite destination on the World Surf League circuit and the women have consistently scored great waves in recent years at this event.

The event will be live webcast at www.surffest.co.nz

World Surf League
Download it for free on the App store. Download it for free on Google Play.