In only his second surf ski race, Waka Ama superstar Tupu King laid down a compelling case for his hugely exciting surf ski potential by securing an eye-catching victory at the James Bhutty Moore-Morial race.
In the second race of the Darcy Price 2020-21 Series and racing in light winds, Tupu produced a paddle of great maturity to defeat Ben Keys (Ocean Ski Canterbury), the defending series champion and pre-race favourite, by a 38-second margin, recording a time of 2:31:51.
Evergreen Oskar Stielau also produced an outstanding paddle on the 32km route from Maketu 2 Mount, placing third overall (2:34:28) and first in the masters 50-59 division.
Tupu, a multiple New Zealand waka ama champion and World Championship medallist, claimed victory at this event in an outrigger canoe 12 months ago.
However, opting for a new challenge, he made his surf ski debut two months ago at the King and Queen of the Harbour event, placing sixth – behind Ben, who was the race winner that day.
“I had no really expectations coming into this event, as it was only my second surf ski race,” Tupu explains. “We had waka ama sprint nationals two weeks ago, so I’ve only been back on a ski for the past week-and-a-half. I have surprised myself to take out the race win.”
Sitting in a carbon ski for the first time (he had previously trained and competed exclusively in a fibreglass ski), Tupu established a much better race rhythm than at the King and Queen of the Harbour.
Locked in an absorbing battle with Ben, the first half of the race took on a familiar theme as the Cantabrian opened up a 30m lead or so before Tupu was able to respond and close the gap. Yet as the race progressed, Tupu’s confidence grew.
“Once I got to the 15km mark with Ben I thought, man, I have the potential to stick with him all the way to the Mount,” he explains.
Based in Papamoa, Tupu then called upon his local knowledge to pull out a tactical move 5km from the finish at Rabbit Island – which was to prove decisive.
“Last week I paddled just over two thirds of the race course and finished off by playing in the surf just in front of Rabbit Island,” explains Tupu. “I trusted that the inside of Rabbit would be the shorter route.”
Emerging from the other side of the island, Tupu had opened up a “40m-50m lead” and managed to hold on in the drag race to the finish to claim a memorable win.
“I told both my partner and dad, I’m really prepared to give surf ski a real go,” he adds. “But after King and Queen of the Harbour, I expected it would be year or two year before I could be competitive and skilful enough to be up there with the top guys. To win today was a surprise but a real eye opener.”
Tupu next intends to compete in a surf ski at the New Zealand Championships, staged in Whakatane on April 3.
In the week after a rolled ankle has in all likelihood denied her the chance to compete in the Coast to Coast next weekend, Danika Mowlem earned some degree of consolation by paddling to a narrow victory in the women’s surf ski event.
Danika, who also works as a Participation Program Contractor for CRNZ, repelled a late charge from Samoan Anne Cairns to clinch victory by a 33-second margin in a time of 2:45:48.
Carly Keys (2:48:49) of Ocean Ski Canterbury completed the podium positions.
Danika sustained the untimely ankle injury during a training run and while the injury may cost her a shot at the Coast to Coast, but after a paddler the race before the race the Aucklander decided it was okay to compete.
“Today It took me about 6km to settle, but then I felt I got into a nice rhythm.
“It is a long paddle, we are normally used to races around 24km, and I started to tire. At Rabbit Island I caught sight of Anne for the first time, who was sat at the back of a pack.
“I was pretty exhausted by that point and I was too afraid to look behind me for the rest of the way, so I just put my head down and managed to hold on.”
Danika, who placed second at the King and Queen of the Harbour in December, plans to target the Heads to Harbour race, which doubles as the National Surf Ski Championships in April. Given her likely non-participation in the Coast to Coast, she has also not ruled out a tilt at the Queen and King of the Bay event in Nelson (Feb 20-21).