Ben Keys takes out Poor Knights Crossing

It just appeared from nowhere, graceful, majestic and at one with the elements.

Upon sighting the boat, he simply pitched his flight path up and dipped his wings right, then breezed over the cockpit windscreen, almost seeming to use the wind shear of the cabin to propel his flight past and away.

The albatross, glancing as if to register his displeasure at our presence, then moved off, obviously with more important survival related issues to deal with.

Transfixed by the vision of the albatross, it took a moment to register the next sight on the horizon.  It first appeared like some sort of brooding dark cloud sitting on the horizon. Until the cloud began moving and morphing, then we realised what we were looking at.

The huge flock of Buller’s shearwaters stretched for at least 200 metres in both directions, and even from a significant distance away the shrill chaotic calls were still audible.  It was one of the sure signs of spring’s seasonal arrival.

The Poor Knights Islands are the only nesting place in the world for these sea birds. They migrate annually to North America, and come back home to breed in burrows in the ground, shared with tuatara, a dinosaur lizard

Then the dark grey fin popped the surface of the ocean, at first mistaken for a shark fin, it was then identified as the unmistakeable fin of a tropical sunfish.

It is highly unlikely any of the paddlers powering their way over the ocean in the annual Poor Knights Crossing ocean event were aware of nature’s show unfurling around them.  They were focused on the surging tailwind conditions that were pushing them toward the finish line at the Poor Knights Marine Reserve.

The hoots and hollers of the paddlers as they surfed down the face of the wind generated swell only added to the spectacle from the viewing platform of the race control boat.

The action at the pointy end of the race pack though was equally dramatic.

Minus a large collection of Aoatearoa’s best surf ski proponents and the usually smattering of Australian paddle wizards due to the ongoing ravages of Covd, this year’s title was always going to be a wide open affair.

In the end Ben Keys, a paddler based in Otautahi Christchurch surged to an impressive victory over a small but talented field, but not before he was put under the microscope by not just other ski paddlers like Toby Brooke and Sam Newlands, but a powerhouse waka ama paddler from the far north called Tupuria King.

King finished third overall, just minutes behind Keys, and slipping over the finish line inside the massive Rikoriko seacave at the Poor Knights just ahead of Newlands, adding more lustre to his burgeoning reputation as an ocean athlete.

Former Olympian Anne Cairns won the womens ski division and Emma Van Berkel defended her open womens waka ama title in impressive times as well.

The overall champion was the ocean here though, Te Moana Nui A Kiwa, the ocean that Kiwa sailed, provided not just the playground for the paddlers in this year’s race, but a canvas of nature.  Added to the paddling battles was the sheer majesty of Papatuanuku, our earth mother, along with just a gentle seasoning from Tawhirimatea and Tangaroa, the wind and sea gods.

Until next year, Kia kaha, kia māia, kia manawanui, kia tupato.

(Be strong, be brave, be steadfast, be careful)

Words: Tim Eves

Poor Knights Crossing Results