By MITCHELL DALE
KY HURST was a pimply 15-year-old when he last needed to qualify for an ironman series.
Since then Hurst, now 23, has gone on to become one of the all-time great ironmen ? winning four Australian ironman series, four National open surf races and four endurance ironman series.
However, Hurst will take a step back in time this weekend, competing in the Surf Life Saving Australia ironman shoot out on Park Beach, vying for one of the last 11 places in this season's $300,000 Nutri-Grain Ironman series.
Last year, Hurst opted for a sea change, turning his focus to pool swimming in search of an Olympic berth and it has been almost 18 months since Hurst has competed in an ironman event.
"Oh God, I'm not sure when the last time I competed was, it was probably about a year and a half ago," Hurst said yesterday.
"It's been a fair lay-off; (pool) swimming has definitely become my main focus.
"But I thought it would be a bit of fun to jump back into the ocean and run the circuit again.
"I don't really know what to expect.
"Whether I make the Nutri-Grain series or not, we'll wait and see."
After collecting every major ironman title available, Hurst is now focused on transferring his success to the pool.
At the Olympic swimming trials in March, the Tugun athlete was one place away from qualifying for the Australian squad in the 400m and 1500m events.
Just getting close this soon in his flatwater swimming career was a huge boost for Hurst.
"I realised it would be very difficult to qualify for the 2004 Olympics, but I was exceptionally happy with how I went at the Olympic trials," he said.
"I didn't think I was capable of swimming that fast that early.
"My main focus is the Commonwealth Games in 2006, especially being here in Australia."
Hurst is widely regarded as the best open water swimmer Australia has seen, but he has had to tweak his technique to adapt to the flat water style.
"I have changed my stroke for the pool and I am not as comfortable in the ocean as I used to be," he said."I will probably have to change it a bit on the weekend and find the old surf style.
"That's easier said than done, but there are a lot of races, so hopefully by the third or fourth I get back to the old feeling."
Hurst only decided on a return last month. "I only started paddling four weeks ago," he admitted. "So, if I do make the Nutri-Grain series, I am going to need a few races under my belt."
The top nine ironmen and eight ironwomen from last season's Nutri-Grain series automatically qualified for the 2004/2005 series, with the remaining 11 ironmen and 12 ironwomen spots to be decided this weekend on Park Beach.
Joining Hurst will be fellow surf sports giants Nathan Smith, Candice Falzon and Naantali Marshall.