Defending champion Andrew Mowlem and a collection of the national waka ama squad are set for an open ocean duel in testy waters at this year’s Zest Brokers Poor Knights Crossing paddle race on Saturday.
Mowlem, who is the top ranked oceanski paddler in New Zealand, will defend the open men’s oceanski title he won last year. He hits the startline this year after a solid series of performances at ocean races around the globe.
Mowlem, from Auckland, has raced in Australia, South Africa, Canada, the United States and Mauritius including competing in the renowned three-day Dusi River Canoe Marathon in South Africa.
Recent injury ruled Mowlem out of a start of the ICF World Ocean Racing Championship event in France next week, but he is still a raging hot favourite to take line honours on Saturday.
But he may be challenged by some of New Zealand’s best waka ama paddlers like the Herbert brothers of Pawarenga, Conan and Sean, and emerging Luke Wainui, who were all part of the national crew that won bronze at the recent Waka Ama World Long Distance race in Australia last month.
Current weather predictions will see a field of 90 ocean paddlers race from the startline inside Tutukaka Harbour out to a finish line at the Poor Knights Islands. Tailwinds up to 30 knots are expected on race day, and in those conditions paddlers will reach speeds up to 25kph.
It is shaping up to be an epic duel according to race director Tim Eves. Racers may even challenge the current race record of 1h 36m set by Australian Michael Booth five years ago.
“For the experienced ocean paddler these conditions are premium, but for some of the competitors this will test their skills to the limit,’ Eves said.
“Small mistakes get amplified in 30 knot winds but, if you can keep it together, 30 knot winds can be an exhilarating experience. I reckon most of these paddlers will be frothing for this. These kind of race conditions are what ocean paddlers live for really,” he said. “The race record is under threat for sure.”
This year’s event includes a short course option (14km) for the first time to help foster a new generation of paddlers who find the full 30km race course a bit daunting. The short course will start at Matapouri and send racers south to Wellington’s Bay.
The long course event is also the first race in the new Darcy Price Memorial National series launched by Canoe Racing New Zealand last month. The Darcy Price series involves five ocean races around the country.
The competitors list this year includes paddlers from Australia, Christchurch, Wellington, Gisborne, Tauranga, Raglan, Auckland and Northland.