Synchronised swimmers compete for North Island glory

Pulling off a gymnastics routine is hard enough for many people, but try doing it while holding your breath underwater.

That's what a group of Wellington girls is doing as they train to take on the rest of the North Island at the Sychronised Swimming championships.

Combining swimming, dance, and gymnastics, synchronised swimming is part art, part sport - and very challenging.

"You've got to be counting in your head, while making sure you're facing the right way, making sure your technique is right, making sure you're synchronised to the music, as well as being aware of your teammates around you," says Wellington Synchro head coach Emily Duncan.

"And then coming up for a gasping breath with a smile on your face."

The Wellington Synchro girls, all aged between 8 and 16, have practiced for two hours, three times a week for three months to get ready for this weekend's championships.

"I like learning new things," says Lili Boyer-Shadbolt.

"Sometimes it can be overwhelming, but I like it," says Mairead Elliott.

"I like just practicing the routine with everyone," says Scarlett Hardy.

Eighty swimmers from six clubs will compete for the North Island title.

"I'm really looking forward to it - it's so exciting going into a competition!" Molly Downing says.

They'll be judged on technical things like timing, but also music interpretation, taking risks, and choreography.

"It's not just 'swim one length and the first one who gets there wins,' it's more about 'have they pointed their toe this way, is their hip in line with their shoulders, is their head square?'" says Wellington Synchro coach and judge Justine Lawson.

And though nailing the routine always gets a high score, sometimes it's worth taking risks.

"They might not pull it off perfectly, but then they will get a better point maybe for being a bit more adventurous than someone who does something very simple and very well," says Ms Lawson.

Their coaches say people can underestimate just how tough it is.

"When you maybe tell people who are not very familiar with it, they perhaps think to the spoofed versions," says Ms Duncan.

"But when you take a second to look at the seriousness of the competition, you really have an appreciation for how hard these girls work."

And even though there are underwater speakers, swimmers have to memorise the beat until it's muscle memory.

"You'll find you'll be doing it in your sleep, you'll remember a routine from 15 years ago, every time you hear the song 'Car Wash' for example..." says Ms Duncan.

It's no surprise that after all that time working hard together, they're starting to feel like family.

"It's funny, you hear them say they want to spend even more time with each other out of the pool," Ms Duncan says.

The girls completely in-sync, just like their routine - it's that camaraderie Wellington Synchro hopes will help wow the judges this weekend.