Skip to main content

Local Events


How do you fully describe 420 boats cruising out of the estuary of Whitianga from 5.00am all ready for a gunshot start at 7.30am to spend three days aiming to be the first to catch that big billfish or, if not, catch the biggest one of any species? The stakes are high; the prize money for the biggest fish is $350,000 and the champion team will claim $462,650 for first prize. The total prize pool is valued at $1.8m. It’s the annual Kubota Billfish Classic, and in 2024, for Whitianga, the biggest ever and the largest billfish tournament in the world.
 |  Pauline Stewart  |  ,

It was a very exciting weekend for everyone involved, from Wednesday night briefing to shotgun start at 7.30am Thursday, then fishing for three days with prizegiving 7.00pm Saturday night.

Kubota as the lead sponsor has the naming rights and this is facilitated for the Tournament by Ian Massicks, Kubota Marketing Manager. Tom Maxwell, resident of Whitianga, and business owner of Mad Max Sport Fishing is the inspiration, key organiser and Director. The Mercury Bay Game Fishing Club (MBGFC) is the host, providing the framework and the organisation and the huge team of people on the ground through Club Manager, John East and Club President and Vice President, Gordon McIvor and Anne Smal – an efficient and friendly team.     

World’s largest billfish tournament

Three key dealerships have been with Tom Maxwell since the first Billfish tournament – it’s very beginning, fostering its growth, the role of Kubota and guaranteeing a strong sponsorship base.

These three are Central Motors Hauraki Plains with Managing Director, Andrew Welch; Agri Life Hamilton with Managing Director, Richard Kibby, and R&R Tractors, Te Puke with Managing Director, Robin Murray.

These three dealerships are not boating or fishing suppliers or manufacturers – they specialise in providing for rural life and suburban rural life where there are thousands who love to go fishing and who need boats and lots of accompanying gear.

All three dealership are providers of Kubota machinery. Kubota is a global Japanese-based company established over 150 years ago. It has a strong New Zealand base in the field of all agricultural equipment which is extensive and includes RTV utility vehicles, ride-on lawn mowers, commercial mowers, compact and agricultural tractors and replacement parts.

You might notice boats and fishing gear are not listed, but the thousands of customers of Kubota machinery love fishing and boating and Kubota supports that.

Hence the annual Kubota Billfish Classic tournament has Kubota’s commitment and generosity through the three dealerships and three men named above.

a global and community event

The result of all of this is an amazing global scale and world class billfish tournament.

Already many boats have signed up for the 2025 tournament and some are international bookings.

“We had to close off bookings for the tournament early this year,” says Tom Maxwell.

“So many boats had booked – 420. Each boat has a team of 4 to 6 so that’s a lot of people on the water and the logistics of organisation, safety, managing results and the parking and traffic of boats, boat trailers and their vehicles all start to heighten in scale when it gets bigger than this.”

Ian Massicks, Kubota Marketing, was present for the entire tournament. “We are really excited to be a part of it and excited for Whitianga. This is a big community with a heavy reliance on Coastguard. Kubota has a very strong connection to Whitianga Coastguard, and we have provided the coastguard with an excavator three years ago and a new one last year as well. We are mindful that it is our customers who are out on the water so to be a part of sponsoring Coastguard is a priority.”

Adventure and reward for the fishing teams

Prize giving was Saturday night in the huge marquees erected along the marina and estuary especially for the tournament.  Every catch had to be measured and weighed by 6.00pm on the Saturday. Gordon McIvor with a number of rostered weigh masters co-ordinated this. The especially erected grandstand were full for every weighing in.

Everything is carefully done and recorded. There was an excited crowd of at least 600 gathered under the giant marquees for this grand event. Food trucks and stalls provided a variety of burgers, fritters, and sausage sizzles. Drinks for thirsty sea farers were an extremely popular ‘order of the day’.

Every boat that tags a fish went into a draw (dimensions of catch apply) There were five draws, hence five prizes: – Blue Fix sponsored a boat refit, free haul-out and makeover of boat interior – value $14,500.  JC Walker transport gave $10,000. Valda Yachts sponsored four days hunting and accommodation, plus four meat animals.  Striker Charters sponsored a fishing charter for 4 – everything provided – $7,600; Tamaki Marine Park – complete boat paintwork.  Then there were a large number of spot prizes each with a value of over $2,000 and each including a Shimano Fishing Rod and Kubota Chilly Bin.  Early in the night Kubota’s Ian Massicks offered every chid and teen a free cap. The Jackpot Draw prize was a three-night stay for four people at Sailfish Oasis Lodge in Guatemala sponsored by The Lodge and MadMax Sport Fishing.

Thank you and the future

John East was very excited and satisfied with how things were going when The Informer spoke to him the Saturday evening of the prize giving.

“Tom is the one man behind the success of this tournament taking it to the level that it is,” says John.  He is clear that the tournament is clearly Tom’s vision and as the Director of the Billfish Tournament, his drive has led the team to making it such a success.  “The Mercury Bay Game Fishing Club is Tom’s home, and we are fully supporting and providing the infrastructure for the tournament and Tom’s work.  From a tournament perspective, it is hard to imagine where it started. From a commercial perspective, I hope that the retail and hospitality aspect increases whereby the local businesses are involved and reaching out to the people who have come for the tournament. The future can mean that more of the families of the boat crews will come and enjoy Whitianga and surrounding attractions while their partners and friends are out fishing.” John reported that about half of the boats come back each night.

“With the support of the local businesses and community organisations, we can appeal to a much wider group to create a strong social aspect as well as a very active fishing event,” says John.

Logistics is a huge part of the organisation,” says John East, Manager of MBGFC. “Thames Coromandel District Council has been outstanding with their help. We have had to overcome a number of hurdles. Dave Taylor and Kirsten Scarrott have been particularly helpful. The Council is doing an Economic Impact Evaluation Report for us out of this year’s statistics and experience. This will be very useful to our planning and programming in the future.”

Some very big boats came to this years Kubota Classic and in 2025, there will be more. Leigh Hopper of Whitianga Waterways development has recently got Resource Consent for the Marine Precinct plans and construction which means that super yachts will one day soon be able to access the canals. Whitianga was showcased to over 2000 visitors this last weekend. The team, the town and environs put their ‘best foot forward.’

Reflecting briefly, Tom Maxwell says, “It is a million small things.  Sponsors want to be part of something that is a success and this has been a great success.”

I’m thankful for a lot of aspects. There are the teams – each boat is a team. There is no tournament without them and their goodwill. Then there’s the sponsors – their generosity makes the tournament exciting and very attractive to enter. Their generosity is humbling. Then there is the staff and their team who work so hard and efficiently to host this event. The huge team of awesome volunteers – setting up, packing down, weighing, serving, cooking and cleaning. We could never calculate the immense value they bring to this tournament.”

Many are members of Mercury Bay Game Fishing Club but others just come and help. The activities on the estuary and the esplanade have adjusted happily for the Tournament. It is a win for everyone except those noble fish.