Surfing: Kiwi Paige Hareb targets elusive New Zealand title at upcoming nationals

Paige Hareb may be New Zealand's most decorated surfer, but there's one crown that eludes her - the women's National Open title. 

But the international circuit veteran is determined to change that when she competes in the New Zealand nationals on the South Island's West Coast.

It won't be easy though. It's an event that has attracted a record number of entries - and one in particular will be tough to beat. 

The 31-year-old's been on the world circuit surfing against the world's best for over a decade, but Hareb wants this national title more than anything.

"I've been trying for a little while now," Hareb tells Newshub. "[I] didn't get it last year, but it would be nice to lock that title in this year."

Hareb has seldom competed at the nationals because of international commitments, but the COVID-19 pandemic has meant more time on home shores. 

"It's my first time in Westport," Hareb adds. "I'm really liking it here."

It's just the second time since 1963 the South Island's rugged West Coast has hosted the event, and Tauranga Bay just south of Westport has turned on the waves, the weather and attracted over 300 competitors. 

But there's one in particular Hareb has her eye on.

Ava Henderson shocked the surfing community by claiming the national title two years ago at just 14, but the Christchurch teen is still in awe of her hero.

"[It's] definitely super intimidating," Henderson tells Newshub.

"But you have to take the positives out of the situation. She's been on the Championship Tour, it's good to watch her heat prep and strategy and see what I need to do to move forward."

And the impact of having two of New Zealand's best competing isn't lost on organisers.

"For all the young girls to see those two surfers in action is something special, and it really inspires the next generation," says Surfing NZ chief executive Ben Kennings.

And what would it mean for the now-16-year-old?

"It's one of the biggest comps, so it would be super sick," adds Henderson. 

And for Hareb: "I'm competitive, and it's definitely on my bucket list as well." 

Just who reigns supreme will be known by Saturday.