Novice surf ski paddler embraces virtual challenge

Rookie surf ski paddler Jay Marlowe has participated in the New Zealand Virtual Paddling Championships to build up vital experience as he looks to target the Nugget Multisport Festival in Waihi in May.

The 42-year-old paddler completed the 12km distance last Wednesday in a time of 1:22:44 in what was only his ninth time sitting in a surf ski – and he now hopes to use the outing as a springboard to more competitions in future.

Originally hailing from North Carolina, Jay, who relocated to live in New Zealand 11 years ago, was a white water raft guide in West Virginia for three years.

Also boasting a strong background in endurance sports – he has completed an ironman in 10 hours and five minutes  finished 30th in the 2019 Tarawera 100km Ultramarathon – he recently sought a “new project” and has immersed himself in the sport of surf ski.

“I remember doing the Nugget about six years ago in a sea kayak,” recalls Jay, who lives in Mission Bay in Auckland. “I came out of the water dead last and boats were screaming past me but I always thought one day I would come back and do the event in a surf ski.”

More recently he has acted on the pledge and mentored by Adam Sawyer, Jay has slowly become more accustomed to life in the surf ski as he targets The Nugget on May 8. 

“I come from a white water rafting background, so I’ve got some comfort in the water but the instability of the ski is quite different to the stability of a raft.

“I’ve paddled off Kohimarama Beach and Takapuna Beach and I’ve definitely had a few (actually many) swims but I’m starting to learn more about downwind and every time I go out I learn something new, which is really cool.”

After becoming aware of the New Zealand Virtual Championships he jumped at the chance of experiencing an extended paddle session and last Wednesday lodged his first time on course around the Eastern Bays.  

“I actually felt pretty reasonable afterwards, although I think that is more to do with not yet knowing how to paddle in anger yet,” he explains. “I’m still learning and there are probably 50 things I should be working on but you can only learn one thing at once. At the moment I’ve kind of got one speed but I’m learning something every time I go out on the water.”

Dependent on the weather conditions, Jay, an Associate Professor in social work at the University of Auckland, might decide to post one more time before the end of the championships on midnight Wednesday (March 31).

His next plan is to put in at least 20 training sessions before The Nugget and in the longer term he is targeting next February’s Coast to Coast.

Still competing in a borrowed boat, Jay is hugely excited by continuing to lean more of life in a surf ski. 

“They are beautiful and elegant craft,” he adds. “On the few occasions I’ve managed to get on to a wave and not fall in –it has been incredible. 

“For me, the main reason I do it is the chance to go out with a group of mates. The next step is to get my own boat, because I’m borrowing one at the moment. By next summer it will be quite feasible to be able to paddle to Rangitoto, run to the summit and back, paddle back to shore and be at work before 9am, which is an amazing proposition.”