Connor Ferguson – Grom No More

Mitch Thompson and Lawrence Thompson, shoulder to shoulder in the second round - Photo: Dani Hawes
Mitch Thompson and Lawrence Thompson, shoulder to shoulder in the second round - Photo: Dani Hawes

Mt Ruapehu is a brutal hunk of volcanic rock that makes humans seem puny in comparison, but today Connor Ferguson marked it as his own, overcoming Byron Essert, Tony Graves and James Kelly in the final of the Mt Ruapehu Gravity Festival. Earlier Rachel Bruskoff took out the Women's category, and Tyron Knight dominated the Juniors. Matt Boortman won the consolation final, making him the top New Zealander.

The day started the same as the last two days - wet, cold, foggy and windy. The early rounds came and went, and so did Jimmy Riha, eliminated in a stacked second round heat by Australians Callum O'Callaghan and Dejan Djukic. The top pros were keeping their powder dry, hiding out in the warm and dry lift ticket office and biding their time.

Byron Essert leads Connor Ferguson, James Kelly and Tony Graves in the final - Photo: Janne Lehtinen
Byron Essert leads Connor Ferguson, James Kelly and Tony Graves in the final - Photo: Janne Lehtinen

And then the weather cleared, and the track started to dry. A lunch break was called with the aim of allowing the track to fully dry, and when the quarter finals finally began it was a whole new race. Until this point there had been only one dry run in the last three days, and it had been a qualifying run, not a group run. Nobody really knew what dry-track racing would be like.

It was wild. Close, fast racing, with the lead swapping multiple times each heat. Inside passes on the narrow concrete gutter which nobody had thought was ridable. Brennan Bast and Mitch Thompson couldn't maintain their qualifying day form, and were eliminated. One semi-final was an all-American affair; the other all Australasian but for Canadian Tony Graves.

James Kelly and Byron Essert looked the most likely to go all the way, but Ruapehu had other ideas. Byron pushed out in front, but was drafted and overtaken by James. James then took a bad line that allowed Byron to retake the lead, only to lose it to Connor on the next corner as he snuck by on the inside. From that point it was a drag race, but Connor maintained his slight advantage with a perfect line through the tricky chicane at the finish.

For Connor it was the perfect beginning to his career in Opens after dominating the Juniors for the last two years. At only 17 he is poised to be a dominant force for years to come. At 19, Byron Essert emerges as his big challenger; together they are the new generation to challenge Kevin Reimer, Patrick Switzer, James Kelly and the other top pros.

Open results

Mt. Ruapehu Open podium
Mt. Ruapehu Open podium
  1. Connor Ferguson
  2. Byron Essert
  3. Tony Graves
  4. James Kelly
  5. Matt Boortman
  6. Tyler Howell
  7. Kaimana Pinto
  8. Winston Fox
  9. Brennan Bast
  10. Mitch Thompson
  11. Tyron Knight
  12. Luke Job
  13. Robert Mcwhinnie
  14. Troy Pembeton
  15. Lawrence Thompson
  16. Callum O'Callaghan
  17. Dejan Djukic
  18. Ryan Luiten
  19. Cameron Hancock
  20. Nicholas Rosa
  21. Jules Hornung
  22. Stephen Davis
  23. Paddy Howard
  24. Daniel Guzzardi
  25. Callum Mathieson
  26. Jimmy Riha
  27. Jack Tumai
  28. Jack Mulholland
  29. Gerard Dombroski
  30. Pedro Virginio Barbosa
  31. Anton Lindén
  32. Dan Waterhouse
  33. Boogie Banks
  34. Sam Dalton
  35. Devon Scarborough
  36. Levi Hawken
  37. Clive James Robbins
  38. Andrew Mackay
  39. Lukas Nürnberger
  40. Aj Cox
  41. Max Gordy
  42. Jaydon Howarth
  43. Rachel Bruskoff
  44. Brandon Tissen
  45. Elissa Mah
  46. Magaly Mcwhinnie
  47. Grace Wong
  48. Kelsey Nakanelua
  49. Ling Lee
  50. Merrick Wildash
  51. Philip Cumming
  52. Luca Coleman
  53. Janne Lehtinen
  54. Daniel Hawes
  55. Eddie Spearing
  56. Nick Johnstone

Women's results

Mt. Ruapehu Women podium
Mt. Ruapehu Women podium
  1. Rachel Bruskoff
  2. Elissa Mah
  3. Magaly Mcwhinnie
  4. Ling Lee
  5. Grace Wong

Juniors results

  1. Tyron Knight
  2. Jack Tumai
  3. Jaydon Howarth