Surfing: Underdog Saffi Vette upsets more fancied rivals for maiden national title

Hundreds of spectators have flocked to Piha Beach to see some of New Zealand's best surfers go head-to-head in the final of the New Zealand Open.

Gisborne's Saffi Vette won her maiden national women's title, upsetting three more fancied rivals.

The result is a dream come true for the 19-year-old, who put in a career-best performance. 

"It feels so surreal, so amazing," Vette says. "I've been visualising and looking forward to this moment all week. 

"I haven't competed since Monday, so it's been quite a long week, cruising and surfing up until now, so it feels so good to get this open title."

The result came as a shock to the surfing community, with Vette starting fourth favourite in the final, behind competitors she has looked up to growing up. 

Two-time champion Ella Williams came second, ahead of fellow professional Paige Hareb, while defending champ Ava Henderson, won both the U18 and U16 titles earlier, fourth.

"They've always kind of inspired me, especially Paige who has made it to the top level of surfing." 

Meanwhile, the historic run of Olympic hopeful Raglan's Billy Stairmand continued with his record eighth men's title, seeing off the challenge from 28-year-old up-and-comer Kehu Butler.

"Getting to eight sounds pretty crazy," Stairmand says. "I keep saying I really want to keep going, keep battling with everyone and I'll keep competing until I can't anymore." 

Both Stairmand and Williams have provisionally qualified for this year's Tokyo Games, and with the standard on show at Piha, there could very well be plenty more Olympic surfers in years to come.