Carly Tyler currently sits fourth overall and second Kiwi in the open women’s event at the 2020 New Zealand Virtual Surf Ski Championships. We chat to the Christchurch paddler about her background in the sport and hopes for the remainder of the event which concludes on Sunday (June 14).
To “woo” a boy might be one of the more leftfield reasons to first want to sit in a surfski but for Carly Tyler the ploy opened up a whole new sporting world.
Carly achieved her primary goal as the boy she was chasing – long-time surf ski racer Ben Keys – first became boyfriend and later husband while in the process she accidentally discovered a passion for surf ski.
Since first trying her hand at the sport only four years ago and enjoying her first competitive outing only 18 months ago, the Christchurch-based paddler has emerged as one of the most promising paddlers on the New Zealand domestic scene.
A point she further emphasised over the past month as the 34-year-old Carly has been one of the most prolific performers at the New Zealand Virtual Surf Ski Championships. Posting a clutch of times, she has impressed to record two sub-one-hour times for the 12km distance with her best effort of 59:48 – just over two minutes behind race leader and world champion Danielle McKenzie.
“I’ve been really pleased with my efforts,” explains Carly. “I’m doing far better than I thought I would. I enjoy the format because it is not your typical downwind race. You either grunt it out in flatwater or find some wind and try and paddle out and come back with the wind. I’ve really enjoyed mixing up the racing.”
Carly’s sporting background is steeped in Surf Lifesaving. A member of the Waimairi club from the age of eight she quickly loved the thrill of competing on and by the ocean.
She started competing seriously in the sport as an under-16 developing as a beach sprinter and in more recent years has converted to the double hull canoe – where she claimed five successive national titles from 2016 through to 2020.
Ironically, during her time competitive surf lifesaving she never competed in surf ski but shortly after returning to Christchurch in 2015 it was love – or at least the prospect of it – which prompted her switch to the sport.
“I thought to myself maybe it is time to make a move,” admits Carly on her then long-time friend, Ben. “He had been paddling surf ski for some time and I saw it as a way to woo him over.
“We went down to Lake Pegasus for my first surf ski experience and I thought I was pretty sharp until we tried some sprints and fell in. I was awful. The time after that I was awful and for the first two years I was falling out pretty regularly.”
Carly was fortunate to receive a lot of support in her formative surf ski development. She could not only regularly pick the brains of Ben to develop her knowledge base but she was also joined on every paddle during her first year I the sport by her good friend, Kim.
“At one stage Kim even offered to swim my ski out to the break for me, which was pretty dedicated,” she admits,.
Naturally competitive, Carly slowly adjusted to the demands of surf ski and made a sensational competitive debut in 2019, winning the open women’s event at the King and Queen of the Bay event in Nelson despite falling out of the ski at around 7km.
“I had no real expectation going into the race, I just wanted to go out there and compete,” she adds.
Last year she placed sixth at the King and Queen of the Harbour II event in Auckland and earlier this year had to settle for fourth in the defence of her Queen of the Bay title.
“This year I wasn’t so lucky as some gun paddlers showed up such as Rachel Clarke, Teneale Hatton and Tara Smith another Waimairi girl.”
Racking up to 100km a week with her training group ‘Ocean Ski Canterbury’ on Lyttleton Harbour during the summer months in the winter she dials it back to two or three on water sessions a week interspersed with gym, watt bike and running sessions.
Working throughout lockdown in her full-time role as a school community officer with the Police she managed to retain a reasonable level of fitness but as soon as the 34-year-old paddler become aware of the New Zealand Virtual Surf Ski Championships she jumped at the opportunity to compete.
“It is a great concept because it gives you a month of hard racing,” she explains. “It also gives you the chance to try different routes and it is far cheaper than have to travel to a race.”
Carly recorded a 1:06 time for her first paddle but once Teneale Hatton, the 2019 World Surfski bronze medallist, who is driving the social media for the event put up the challenge for more women to crack the hour mark this acted as huge motivation for Carly.
Paddling with renewed determination she clocked a time of 59:48 along a 12km route on the Avon River before later registering 59:50 for an ocean paddle.
The Cantabrian is not yet finished with the event and hopes this weekend to have at least one final crack to better her time.
In the longer-term she has not ruled out gaining more international race experience by competing in Australia while on the horizon the 2022 World Surfski Championships in Auckland remains an alluring prospect.
“You can’t beat the thought of competing in an international race on your home turf,” she says. “It will be amazing.”
Taking on the sport at a relatively late age is proving no bar to success and Carly fully intends to make the most of the sport in the years to come.
“For me, it is all about the people I paddle with,” she says. “I’ve pulled more muscles laughing with them than I have paddling – we don’t take it too seriously.
“The sport also takes you to places you usually wouldn’t get to while it is great for developing fitness without being too high impact on the body. It is also still a challenge, and for me that is something that motivates me to get even better in the future.”