Canterbury’s surf ski hub

Ocean Ski Canterbury are a small group of like-minded people bonded by their mutual love of surf ski paddling. We take a look at this small but successful community who hope to encourage more Cantabrians to try their hand at the exhilarating paddle sport.

They are not a formal sports club, they have no committee nor are they formally affiliated to any organisation yet in many ways no community better personifies the spirit and unadulterated joy of sport than Ocean Ski Canterbury.

Meeting regularly at Lyttleton Harbour, this small group of passionate paddlers are achieving some noteworthy results on the national stage

Yet although the performances of paddlers out of Ocean Ski Canterbury stable has garnered a lot of attention, it is not the driving philosophy of group happy to simply revel in their shared love and fun for their sport.

The group founder is proud Cantabrian and 2019-20 Darcy Price Series winner Ben Keys, who had been introduced to surf ski around 15 years earlier following a stint living in Auckland and was instantly taken with the paddle sport.

“I enjoyed the combination of adventure and being in the open ocean while being the pressure cooker environment of racing,” explains Ben, a former New Zealand flatwater kayaker and World Marathon Championship representative.

“That thrill of competing in a place I would not ordinarily expect to be, was a real attraction for me.”

It was out of this background that Ocean Ski Canterbury was born several years ago. Ben had long had a close connection with Lyttelton Harbour – the stunning inlet of the Banks Peninsula – and believed this would act as the perfect base for a group of paddlers.

“Lyttelton Harbour is an underused resource,” explains Ben. “Through my involvement with South Brighton Surf life Saving Club we set up a pre-season training based out of a container, which held our skis at Naval Point Yacht Club. Tim Grammer, an old school ski paddler had moved from Auckland to Christchurch and started paddling with my girlfriend Carly Tyler and I. We had a wee group and it developed from there.”

Another paddler who joined the group was former multisport specialist and former New Zealand Kayak Marathon Championship medallist Paul Massie.

Paul, who works on Lyttelton Harbour as a tug boat skipper, was introduced to surf ski four years ago through Ocean Ski Canterbury stalwart Tim Grammer and instantly fell in love with the paddle sport.

“The skis were a revelation for comfort, stability and safety,” he explains. “You can go a lot further out in the ocean in a ski than a multisport boat. At the age of 51 I’m still learning. There is so much involved in making the boat go fast.

“We are a pretty small group, but it is good fun and we are all like-minded people. There is a lot of laughs when we are out paddling together and a little bit of competitiveness too. Carly has really stepped it up is starting to put the pressure on Tim and I. Ben leads the club, and his ability is second to none. He also sets the training programme depending on which event we are targeting.”

The group – which can range from four or five to around a dozen paddlers – meet every Saturday and Sunday morning at the harbour at 8.30am – and up to three to four times a week in the summer.

For Ben, however, he decided to step up his level of training after the launch of the inaugural Darcy Price Series in 2019-20.

Given a fresh target to aim for, the Cantabrian impressed to take out the inaugural series, clinching victories at the Bhutty Moore-morial and King and Queen of the Bay races.

This year – although not officially a race on the Darcy Price Series because of the restrictions on the movement of people from the Auckland region because of the pandemic – he further illustrated his growing prowess with victory in the scenic Poor Knights Crossing in Tutakaka.

In the longer-term, the 34-year-old paddler would love to race in the 2022 World Surfski Championships in Auckland but he fully acknowledges the huge role Ocean Ski Canterbury has played in his success.

“I don’t think I would have gotten the results I have without the group,” he explains. “The group enjoys the sport so much and that has made me perform better. Even if you took away the titles and the goals, I’d still be regularly paddling a surf ski because I enjoy it and the people I paddle with.”

Ocean Ski Canterbury have also expanded their repertoire from a training group of passionate paddlers into event organisers. This winter the team organised four races in Lyttellton Harbour, which has attracted up to 25 paddlers per race.

And Ben, who drives much of the coaching in the group, has kicked around a few thoughts for how Ocean Ski Canterbury might evolve in the future.

“I’ve looked at a few business concepts and I’ve looked at whether we incorporate a coaching programme within in,” adds Ben, a facilities manager at Les Mills gym.

Yet both Ben and Paul agree that a real growth opportunity lies in attracting more multisport athletes into ocean ski.

“There are a lot of multisport athlete who do the Coast to Coast but who are necessarily that technically proficient at paddling,” adds Ben.

“Surf ski provides a real happy medium in terms of developing those moving water skills, while also getting in good mileage. Lyttelton Harbour is very close to Christchurch and is a very undervalued area to paddle in.”

For Paul, a seven-time team winner at the Coast to Coast and three-time winner of the fastest paddler trophy, trying surf ski is a must for all paddlers.

“I’ve done flatwater racing, multisports, the Coast to Coast 17 times, but there is nothing like a 20 knot easterly on the harbour,” he explains. “It is a great to punch your way up the harbour and come back with a 10-20km downwinder. Every time you come back with a smile on your face. It really is a lot of fun.”

Follow more of Ocean Ski Canterbury on Instagram @ocean_ski_canterbury