Ben Keys and Danika Mowlem toast Darcy Price Series success

Ben Keys mounted a successful defence of his open men’s title and Danika Mowlem toasted victory as the overall open women’s champion following the conclusion of the 2020-21 Darcy Price Series.

The Heads to Harbour Paddle Festival and New Zealand Surf Ski Championship in Whakatane on Saturday represented the climax of the five-event series with both Ben and Danika rewarded for their high-level of consistency.

In the men’s competition, Ben, who paddles for Ocean Ski Canterbury, never finished out of the top two in all five events in the series. 

With the best four results counting towards the final points standings, the Christchurch-based paddler accumulated 1270pts following victories in the King of the Harbour in Auckland and the Virtual Paddling Championships and second place finishes at the King of the Bay in Nelson and Heads to Harbour event.

In a further illustration of the 35-year-old’s consistency he also placed second in the Bhutty Moore (Mt Maunganui) and triumphed in September’s Poor Knights Crossing.

The latter race was intended to be the opening round of the 2020-21 Darcy Prices Series, however, the decision was taken not to count the Poor Knights as part of the series because Covid restrictions at the time denied paddlers from the Auckland region the option to travel.

Waka Ama star Tupuria King has proved a smash hit in the series, taking second place in the series with a total of 1233pts. The 27-year-old Papamoa-based athlete finished sixth on his surf ski debut at the King of the Harbour and has since claimed sensational victories at the Bhutty Moore and National Surf Ski champs. 

Third overall went to King of the Bay victor Toby Brooke (Kupe-Wellington) with a total haul of 1135pts.

An elated Ben (pictured above), who was inspired to paddle more seriously following the launch of the inaugural Darcy Price Series in 2019-20, has little doubt the concept has helped revolutionise his career.

“The Darcy Price Series got me paddling again,” admits Ben. “Before that I was largely doing the sport for a bit of fun and to keep fit. As soon as the first Darcy Price Series was announced it gave me the motivation to re-start training again. Originally the goal was to finish in the top five, so I am pretty stoked to have won that first year and to have retained my series title again.”

Ben welcomed the quality competition provided during the 2020-21 season led by a new formidable surf ski opponent in Tupu King and the highly-competitive Toby Brooke and he concedes he required an element of good fortune to secure back-to-back Darcy Price Series titles

“I feel like a little bit of luck was involved by winning the Virtual (champs on a super-fast course on the estuary in Christchurch) and Toby not turning up to nationals,” Ben adds. “I was maybe a bit fortunate, but I’m happy to finish the season with something. It’s a cool looking trophy and quite good for the Christmas conversation!”

In the open women’s event, Danika Mowlem succeeded Rachel Clarke to secure the overall Darcy Price Series crown.

The 31-year-old Aucklander collected 1242 points in the series by virtue of gaining top spot in the Bhutty Moore, runner-up placings in the Queen of the Harbour and Virtual Paddling Champs and third in the Heads to Harbour last weekend.

Runner-up in the series for the second successive year was Carly Keys (Ocean Ski Canterbury) on 1194pts with Jessica McDuff (1112pts) taking third spot – courtesy of four top six finishes.

Defending champion Rachel Clarke triumphed in both the King and Queen of the Harbour and national surf ski champs but only competed in two events to place seventh in the series on a cumulative total of 700pts. 

“I’m really stoked to take the title,” adds Danika. Obviously, Rachel (Clarke) didn’t do enough events to win but I’m super stoked to be able to paddle when the rest of the world is unable to compete. We are now getting a lot more people travelling to events (in the Darcy Price Series) than we did in previous years and I appreciated having a new race on the calendar with the Whakatane event. it was awesome to paddle somewhere new.”

CRNZ CEO, Tom Ashley, was enthusiastic about this year’s Darcy Price Series and explains: “Our goal was to reinvigorate the surfski racing scene and to encourage paddlers to travel and take advantage of the awesome events on our calendar. The event organisers do a fantastic job and we’ve appreciated their willingness to be a part of the series.

“This year, we’ve cemented the Virtual Champs as a part of the series, and added the Heads to Harbour as a new event on the circuit. Paddlers have really supported the series and we look forward to seeing it grow in the coming years. This is a great way to honour our mate Darcy’s legacy, and we like to think he would’ve been happy to see all the ski paddlers out there enjoying quality racing over our NZ Summer with their friends.”

The under-18 titles were won by siblings Michael Esterhuizen (516) and Caitlyn Esterhuizen (302), with Kalani Gilbertson (610) securing the men’s U23 title. 

Ben Keys doubled up to win the men’s Masters title ahead of a flying Dan Peacocke (1066pts). Dan put down some fantastic performances in the latter part of the season, culminating in a fantastic fifth place at the National Champs. Ian Mercer was top Vet (1025pts) and Ross Heald won the Classic division (990pts). Anne Cairns (960) won the women’s Masters division and top female Vet was Dene Simpson (273).

For the full standings in the 2020-21 Darcy Price Series go here

Images: Bruce Belcher