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 acted on his impulse – and over the Anzac Day Weekend (Apr 25-26) the Heads to the Harbour Paddle Festival make its debut appearance as the finale to the 2019-20 Darcy Price NZ Ocean Surfski Series and also act as the National Ocean Ski Championships.
“Having paddled up down the Ohope stretch quite a bit, 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. it makes for a scenic paddle.”
To test his theory, Gary called upon 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 the thumbs up, and following the decision to move the Auckland King and Queen of the Harbour race from April to November it opened up a natural slot in the calendar for the inaugural Heads to the Harbour Paddle Festival.
Gary has taken on much of the on water organisation while outdoor events company Soaked in Adventure will fulfil the off-water organisation, for the paddle festival which hopes to attract more than 100 paddlers.
The preferred route can be switched from Ohope Yacht Club to Whakatane Yacht Club depending on weather conditions. Meanwhile, a second course option will run around Whale Island/Moutohora and 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 also 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 after trying the course once they’ll 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.”
The event also forms the climax of the Darcy Price Series with a paddlers best three races in the series counting towards the series results. The final prize will be awarded as the Head to Harbour event. The Darcy Price Series will form the selection criteria for the 2020 ICF Ocean Surf Ski World Championships in Portugal in September.
It will also act 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 distances.
More information and how to enter visit http://soakedinadventure.co.nz/headstoharbour/