Liam Lace edges marathon thriller in Tauranga

Liam Lace successfully battled the stormy weather and the gruelling 26km distance to claim a thrilling victory at the 2021 New Zealand Kayak Marathon Championships in Tauranga at the weekend.

With wind battering the competitors on the first day of the event, the 21-year-old Whanganui paddler rose to the challenge to outsprint Sam Newland (Bay of Plenty) and claim a narrow two-second victory on the Wairoa River in a time of 2:03:49.

Ben McCallum (Waitara) completed the podium in bronze, recording 2:04:57.

Facing dire conditions on the Saturday, it was Lace, Newlands, McCallum and K1 novice and national surfski champion Tupuria King who were grouped together leading into the first portage at the end of the first 6.5km lap.

King, who was previously better known as a waka ama specialist, has been hugely impressive in his recent conversion to surf ski but the 27-year-old all-round paddler was of the lead quartet to drop off the pace. However, once again he impressed battling on to take fourth (2:06:47) in his first serious K1 competitive outing. 

McCallum was the next to crack struggling at one of the portages, which left Lace and Newlands in a straight shoot out to the finish. In the final drag race Lace – who trains at Lake Karapiro – just shaded the battle to take out national honours.

“I didn’t have too many expectations going in, it was just a case of going out there and having fun. 

“It was pretty tough out there because of the wind, there was a lot of flow and debris on the course – a lot of weed kept getting caught on the rudder.

“I was in a tough group of paddlers with Sam, Ben and Tupu. At the first portage I took a bit of a gamble and backpedalled to get rid of some weed – and I think this helped me conserve a bit of energy.

“At the end I managed to pip Sam by a nose. It was awesome for it to come down to a nose length after 26km of paddling.

“To win the title feels pretty surreal. It is not something I expected, but it is an awesome feeling for sure.” 

Multisport athletes Lizzie Bunckenburg (Mana) was a decisive winner of the open women’s title – stopping the clock in 2:38:32. Defending champion Kim Thompson (Poverty Bay) failed to finish the race, which allowed Bunckenburg to profit. Silver was awarded to local Bay of Plenty paddler Christine Berben (2:42:58).

In a highly competitive K1 masters 45-54 battle, Ant Rowan (BoP) prevailed by eight seconds from Vaughan Reed (North Shore) completing the three-lap 19.5km distance in a time of 1:35:59. Brendon Metcalfe (Waitara) took out the final spot on the dais in bronze (1:39:58).

In the men’s masters 55-64 age group, Simon McLarin led home a Waitemata clean sweep of the podium in 1:42:52.

In the younger age groups, Daniel Brown of Hawkes Bay was an impressive winner of the junior men’s 19.5km race in 1:36:30. 

Meanwhile, Genna Robertson of Poverty Bay (1:53:12) took out the women’s U18 event.

Another noteworthy performance was delivered by Caitlyn Esterhuizen, who edged her Eastern Bay team-mate Jessica Cleghorn by 11 seconds to take a highly competitive two-lap 13km battle in the women’s U16 division.

The K2 events took place in vastly improved conditions on Sunday with World Masters K2 champion Garth Spencer and Vaughan Reed illustrating their class to secure an emphatic victory in the open men’s division.

Spencer and Reed (North Shore) covered the three-lap 19.5km distance in 1:28:24 to finish comfortably clear of silver medallists Chris Emmett (the race organiser) and Ant Rowan, who recorded 1:31:21.

Genna Robertson (Poverty Bay) added the open women’s K2 crown – paddling alongside Emma Brown – to the U18 gold she secured on day one in a time of 1:45:20.

Daniel Brown completed the U18 double with victory in the K2 event alongside Hawke’s Bay club-mate Damien da Silva (1:37:49). 

Top spot in the men’s K2 masters division went to Andy Logue and Oscar Stielau (North Shore) in 1:31:55.

Event organiser Chris Emmett identified Liam Lace’s victory in the open men’s K1 event as one of his highlights of the weekend and was delighted at how the event was run despite the challenging conditions the paddlers faced on Saturday.

“The wind and the rain made things a little bit unpleasant but the feedback we received is everyone liked the venue,” adds Emmett.

“We were trialling the course for the first time and although we will make some modifications for next time we are really happy with how it worked out.

“Our goal in future would be to improve the portages but we expect this winter a 20x4m pontoon will be added which will give us really nice access to the water.”

For the full K1 results go here

For the full K2 results go here