Eastern Bay Canoe Racing Club coach Gary Waller knows the waters around Whakatane and Ohope better than most.
So when the 2019 Canoe Racing NZ Volunteer of the Year envisaged a quality ocean racing event in the region he decided to act on his impulse.
To test his theory, last August, Gary called on his son, Tim, Canoe Racing NZ CEO Tom Ashley and world ocean racing bronze medallist Teneale Hatton to paddle the proposed 23km route from the Whakatane Yacht Club to Ohope Yacht Club.
The trio gave the course a resounding thumbs up, and so the move was made to create the first edition of the Heads to the Harbour Paddle Festival, which takes place over Anzac Weekend (April 25-26) – an event which will form the climax to the 2019-20 Darcy Price NZ Ocean Surfski Series and also feature as the National Ocean Ski Championships.
“Having regularly paddled up and down the Ohope stretch, it is always fun and I thought an event from Whakatane to Ohope would be a very good race,” explains Gary. “Just listening to other paddlers and what they said made a good race, I thought Whakatane to Ohope always had potential. It is a very beautiful part of the world, which makes for a scenic paddle.”
Depending on weather conditions, the preferred race route can be switched from Ohope Yacht Club to Whakatane Yacht Club.
Meanwhile, a second course option can run around Whale Island/Moutohora with a third possible route around Ohakana Island.
Gary also believes the timing of the event in late-April could help attract more surf lifesavers while the Anzac Weekend offers a good opportunity for a weekend break in one of New Zealand’s most attractive tourist destinations.
“The event will offer a beautiful paddle for all who try it and I’m convinced all those paddlers who try the course once will want to come back year after year to compete in the event,” he explains.
“My hope is that the Heads to Harbour race will act as a big boost to attract more ocean ski paddlers in the region.”
Gary has taken on the role as on water organiser while outdoor events company Soaked in Adventure will fulfil the off-water organisation for a paddle festival which hopes to attract more than 100 entrants.
The final prizes for the Darcy Price Series will be awarded at the Head to Harbour event and the Darcy Price Series will also act as the selection criteria for the 2020 ICF Ocean Surf Ski World Championships in Portugal in September.
The Heads to the Harbour Paddle Festival, will also double as the 2020 National Ocean Ski competition for U23 and open categories.
Saturday April 25 (Anzac Day) will feature the Darcy Price Ocean Surfski race and the ocean waka ama race on the same course. The marathon paddling festival for K1 and K2 (with portage), waka ama, ski and multisport kayaks (without portage) will be staged on Sunday April 26 over 5km, 10km and 20km.
More information and entry details http://soakedinadventure.co.nz/headstoharbour/