In another life, Matt Bevilacqua could have “done a Grant Kenny” and paddled for Olympic gold in Paris later this year.
But the pull of the ocean staved off any serious thoughts of that transition, the 31-year-old instead developing one of Australian sport’s enduring rivalries with Ironman heavyweight Ali Day.
Only once in nine years, since Day won his first Ironman crown in 2015, has there been a season in which neither of them finished on the top two steps of the podium.
They are jostling for the spoils once again entering the final two rounds at Gold Coast’s Kurrawa Beach this weekend.
Defending champion Bevilacqua won the last two rounds to eat into what had looked an unassailable Day lead after the opening two events.
Day’s swimming prowess is matched by Bevilacqua’s paddling power, the latter not far behind Olympic-bound specialists whenever their paths collide on the surf lifesaving tour.
“Grant Kenny did it as an Ironman,” Bevilacqua told AAP of the household name who competed in canoe and kayak events at the Seoul and Los Angeles Games, taking home a bronze medal in the K2 1000 metres event.
Like Kenny, Bevilacqua has won the Molokai to Oahu Paddleboard World Championship five times.
“Olympics, it’s crossed my mind,” he said of a potential Paris paddle.
“But you have to go with your passion and mine is the surf. The Olympics, as huge as it would be, it’s a whole different headspace.”
It’s weekends like this that the Northcliffe talent, who grew up in Tasmania, lives for.
Only one point splits the long-time rivals, with a ‘Specialist’ format on Saturday separating the disciplines to ensure there’s no hiding.
‘Survival’ on Sunday leaves things partly in the hands of Mother Nature as a 20-man field is whittled down to just eight in three back-to-back multi-discipline races.
Joe Collins is third overall, only 11 points behind top-ranked Day and – with 30 points on offer in each race – a chance to become New Zealand’s first champion.
“Living on the Gold Coast it’s a hometown finale for me and it’s the home of surf lifesaving, Kurrawa,” Bevilacqua said.
“The nerves are there but not alien to me; you can feel the buzz, and the conditions mean we can show off all our skills.”
Day (Surfers Paradise) has overcome major injuries to win four titles, while illness ruled him out of last year’s final round when he was in the box seat to collect a fifth.
Instead, Bevilacqua pipped Ben Carberry in a beach sprint off the ski leg to decide the title.
“It’s a cool rivalry. It’s definitely made me better and I hope I’ve made him better,” Bevilacqua said of Day.
“Weekends like that (his double win in rounds three and four) don’t come around too often.
“The sport’s so tough; over the years you are humbled and just enjoy the days when you’re on.”
Two-time Ironwoman champion Lana Rogers holds a 27-point lead over Northcliffe teammate Olivia Corrin heading into the weekend.
“To win a third title would mean the world to me; I’ve teared up a little bit … I don’t see it as a realistic thing but it’s crazy that it is there,” Rogers said.