King and Queen of the Harbour

Author -  Karen Simpson

When Race Director Garth Spencer made the call to race the ‘Nihilistic Northerner’ course, 2014 ICF World Champ Sean Rice knew he was in the running for the first title for this year’s World Surfski Series!

King and Queen of the Harbour

When Race Director Garth Spencer made the call to race the ‘Nihilistic Northerner’ course, 2014 ICF World Champ Sean Rice knew he was in the running for the first title for this year’s World Surfski Series!

When Race Director Garth Spencer made the call to race the ‘Nihilistic Northerner’ course, 2014 ICF World Champ Sean Rice knew he was in the running for the first title for this year’s World Surfski Series! The forecasts were looking good, really good! But as the Explore Group ferry neared the Gulf Harbour start line with paddlers and spectators, it was looking flat and glassy, and former Kings of the Harbour, Olympian’s Mike Walker and Ben Fouhy both had a sparkle in their eyes!

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“To make it onto the World Surfski Series calendar means jumping through a number of hoops, including having a date-range for favourable (windy!) conditions, accommodation options for international paddlers, clinics offered by the pro’s, transportation organised for visiting paddlers, hire boats and of course a contribution to the international prize pool.” stated Garth Spencer, 42 year old passionate surfski paddler, Race Director and founder of Pacific Ocean Paddlers. 25 International paddlers from 12 different overseas countries joined together on the start-line at Gulf Harbour, 25km’s north of the finish line at Royal Akarana Yacht Club, near the entrance to Auckland’s harbour entrance. “The numbers are good this year, but a clash with the Waka-Ama Aito championships means low numbers of Waka paddlers!”

“The ‘Nihilistic Northerner’ is a favourite for locals when the NW winds pick up, and with the tide ripping out of the channel between the iconic backdrop of Rangitoto Island’s volcanic skyline and Auckland’s North Shore, the waves were standing up nicely to 2.5m plus.”

One long blast from the Explore Group ferry ships horn and they were off, in the benign sheltered waters of Gulf Harbour. Quickly three groups formed: The doubleskis on the right hand side, with Oscar and Walter Chalupsky setting off well and quickly setting the pace. Sean Rice took the middle line, with Mike Walker stuck onto his LHS wash like glue, and Garth Spencer on his tail. The pack out to the left, looking for the bigger swells, but ultimately having to battle the head current and swinging westerly winds at the finish. Interestingly it would be the middle line that seemed to be the fastest, with the first, second and third finishers mirroring the middle-line starting position: Sean Rice, Mike Walker, Garth Spencer.

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Sean Rice

“I was was going pretty hard to stay up there” commented Ben Fouhy, former King of the Harbour. “I was hoping that I would pull back some time as the waves flattened out at the end of the race, but it wasn’t enough!”

Both Mike Walker and Ben Fouhy were rumoured to be staging come-backs on the trail to the Rio Olympics, and have been seen training hard for the NZ Sprint Nationals this month. The race would have posted a very different set of results if it had been flatter. But it wasn’t.

“I kept looking over to my left to see how fast the left line was” said Mike Walker, also 3 x former King of the Harbour. “But Sean was too far ahead. There was no catching him.” Very few people know the local waters like Mike does, and it was this local knowledge that saw him post a blitz-fast last 4km pace, choosing to hug the coast of North Head rounding the entrance to the harbour, and taking advantage of the outgoing tide to swing back east towards the finish line, pulling ahead of Oscar and Walter in the double, and posting a time 4 minutes behind last year’s ICF World Champion from Cape Town.

The always relaxed Sean Rice had simply done what he does best: put his nose into the holes and kept linking runs, without looking back. Sean’s whirlwind world-tour sees him visiting a number of countries as he spreads his love of paddling with all who will listen! Visit his website at to sign up for his coaching clinics.


The ladies race was a close one! Former Queen of the Harbour Rachel Clarke had a solid run down the coastline to only just cinch the title again, with San Francisco Bay World Series Race Winner Teneale Hatton just 58 seconds behind her! Dene Simpson coming back to form was a further 5 minutes back in 3rd place, and everyone was watching for young Rebecca Cole to make her stamp on the event, before steering troubles saw her withdraw.

While the front bunch roared home just under 2 hours the real stories happened around those who stayed on the water longer, as the wind got stronger and stronger and started to swing around to the west, keeping the safety craft on their toes! A broken paddle saw one paddler call in for help after stranding on Rangitoto Island, and another withdraw due to broken steering. 


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Rachel Clarke


The 26 SUP paddlers enjoyed a wicked run down the coast until North Head, and then battled the current and gale force winds to cross the entrance of the harbour in the feisty conditions. Some of the SUP paddlers found themselves on the water for well over 4 hours, with two paddlers ending up calling for help from Mission Bay, and few km’s east of the finish line. Annabel Andersson posted a strong result to finish first SUP Queen Of The Harbour, in a time of 2:39.

The Tahitians always make a big effort for this race, and the 9-strong contingent were making the most of their experience again! Mara’amu World Series Race Director and paddler Sebastien Mosole was animated over a beer at local Rickshaw Eddies after the event: “The race is awesome, but its about more than just a race: It’s the journey, the stories, the bonding that happens after the event!” There were plenty of stories that night: Waves that were missed, swims that were had, the colourful characters of our sport and the humour that accompanies all of this. Standing where I was on the finish line and watching all the competitors and spectators cheer home the last 2 competitors was an emotional experience: No matter what your position or your reason, one thing is for sure: The 2015 King and Queen of the Harbour will not be forgotten!


A huge thanks to our wonderful sponsors!

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King and Queen of the Harbour

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