29 March 2018
Another record-breaking surf lifesaving season will come to an end for John Bryant next week, with the long-time Mount Maunganui Lifeguard Service coach swapping sun and sand for some decent Central Otago Pinot Noir.
The 54-year-old admits he’s shattered after another big season but snaring another slice of history with the Mount club will help nurture him through his longest off-season in 15 years.
Earlier this month, Mount collected their sixth consecutive Alan Gardner Trophy, as the best overall club at the national championships in Gisborne. It’s the first time any club has won six titles in a row and adds to the extraordinary connection Bryant - widely known as Spindles - has with surf lifesaving’s most prestigious club prize.
Since moving to Tauranga in 2003, Bryant has now won nine Alan Gardner titles, including the breakthrough first in 2007. However, he also won three as South Brighton coach, from 2001-03, and another five as an athlete with the Christchurch club from 1995-99. He has now won the trophy 17 times in the 60 years it has been competed for, with the trophy not awarded in 1972.
It was South Brighton’s five consecutive wins that Mount overtook in Gisborne, when they turned a two-point final-day lead into a 62-point masterclass, finishing on 166 points and overpowering Mairangi Bay (104) and Waikanae (94).
“Sunday was a very powerful performance - there were only a few points’ difference going into it but I knew all the other clubs had fired all their shots,” Bryant said. “The programme I run is all designed around that Sunday - that’s when my athletes are expected to fire and they did that big time.”
There were a number of impressive performances over the three-day carnival but several stood out; nine under-19 males took out the first three places in the taplin relay, the open men collected another senior taplin title, Olivia Eaton put in an extraordinary last leg to help win the open women’s beach relay and sisters Libby and Tessa Bradley combined to dominate the under-19 women’s division.
A trio of under-19 individual wins also remain etched in the memory; Hamish Miller’s sublime body-surfing skills helped him take out the ironman, Declan Dempster displayed extraordinary tenacity to come down the winning wave in the board race and Lincoln Waide’s was virtually unbeatable in the ski arena.
But success is a constantly-moving target for Bryant and the Mount club; something he needs to keep searching for every season.
“We’ve been quite dominant for five years and you’ve got to keep thinking of new things every year to get the athletes up for it and excited,” Bryant said. “This would be one of the hardest seasons I’ve had and at times, it’s been a real struggle. Some things make it easier though, like the excitement of the young athletes coming into the senior group, which keeps a lot of the older ones going and it certainly does the same for my coaching. Some of my most satisfying moments as a coach haven’t involved gold medals - they’ve been with hard-working athletes accomplishing their goals. I love seeing kids go from not being able to sit on a ski, to making a ski race final. That really rings my bell.”
Added to the Mount success this year was a second consecutive win in the under-14 Oceans national championships at Orewa, although the event was plagued by bad weather and the last day of racing was cancelled.
For the past fortnight, Bryant hasn’t stopped; he’s been emptying out the club’s gear shed in preparation for the demolition and rebuild of the entire building, which begins next week.
By December, it’s hoped the new facility will be ready, just in time for a huge summer - both the Oceans and senior nationals will be held in Mount Maunganui next season.