Danielle McKenzie – Top Tips

On Thursday World champion surfski racer Danielle McKenzie hit the top of the leaderboard in the open women’s race at the 2020 New Zealand Virtual Surfski Championships. Here the Australian-based Kiwi offers her top tips for how to tackle the 12km challenge.

Plan Your Route

Paddlers have many options of how to cover the 12km distance – the only stipulation is the start and end point is the same. Gold Coast-based Danielle thought long and hard about her race route and opted to complete the challenge on the creek as opposed to in the ocean.

“I just felt a bit more comfortable with paddling the creek,” she explains. “The theory was that I’d go against the tide for the first half of the race and then come home with the tide.”

The 2019 World Surfski champion admits, however, that personally she may not have made the right decision. 

“Maybe I should have raced in the ocean which was nice and flat that day and I also picked up quite a bit of debris with sticks along the creek.” 

The message is clear – plan your route carefully. 

Solo or group?

Another big question facing any paddler is whether to compete solo or in a group. Danielle admits this is not always an easy decision but she says being honest with your ability and clear in your goals is critical.

“To race with others you need to know their ability,” she adds. “Are they faster than you, is the goal to stick with them as long as possible and receive assistance from wash leads. There is a danger if the group is too fast, the temptation is you may go out too quickly and blow up, so ultimately you will end up paddling solo anyway.”

Pace precision

Danielle insists executing a clear pacing strategy is vital when competing in a time trial competition.

“I used to do 5km time trials at Lake Pupuke, where I tried to hit a 5-minute per kilometre pace,” she explains. “To remind me I used to either write the pace I wanted to paddle on my hand or on a piece of paper, which I stuck to the front of the ski so I could see it. For the Virtual Challenge I actually set two times. One at a pace of just under 5mins per kilometre and the other slightly quicker. This helped me adapt to the changing circumstances.”

Nutrition and hydration

Taking on board on the right food and the correct fluids will maximise a paddlers changes of performing to their maximum, according to Danielle.

The New Zealand surfski star opted to race in the middle of the day, so ate one-and-a-half hours prior to racing to allow for her food to digest. Meanwhile, hydration is also critical.

“This is perhaps of less importance in New Zealand because at the moment (in winter) it is a colder but in hotter countries it is important to take on board regular fluids, which I tend to do every 20 minutes during a paddle. Everyone has their personal preference but for me that works.”