South Island surf ski favourite inspired by Nathan

South Island Surf Ski pioneer and founder of the Queen and King of Bay Nathan Fa’avae hopes that the 2021 edition can help further cement its place on the surf ski calendar.

The third round of the 2020-21 Darcy Price Series takes place in Tasman Bay on the weekend of February 20-21 and is expected to attract around 60 or so paddlers from across New Zealand.

Long established as the South Island’s premier surf ski race, it was 15 years ago when Tasman local, Nathan, back then a keen white water paddler, sea kayaker and Coast to Coast competitor, first sat in a surf ski.

“I was aware of ocean skis and I asked Andrew Martin (a world-class paddler who tragically died in a car accident last September) what he thought of them. He said, ‘if I lived where you live, I’d have one’.

“The very next day I bought a surf ski, I loved it and I’ve never looked back.”

Inspired in part by Nathan, surf ski started to steadily grow in the Tasman region and eager to capitalise on its expansion he opted to set up a surf ski event in the region – and so the Queen and King of the Bay was born in 2009.

The inaugural event was a relatively modest affair attracting around 15 paddlers – in which Nathan triumphed in the men’s race – although he insists he had two primary motivations for setting up the event.

“By this point there was a group of us the region who had surf skis and we were just keen to do some racing,” adds Nathan who runs his own events company.

“But the other motivation was to help grow the sport, build awareness and try to encourage more people to paddle.”


The 26km race route along the breathtaking stretch of coastline from Kaiteriteri Beach to Mapua Wharf offers so much for paddlers. With a start and finish in two of the most “desirable” locations in the area the logistics are great. A motor camp by Kaiteriteri Beach offers a great base for paddlers while Mapua Wharf is easily drivable.

Meanwhile, the predominantly northerly summer sea breeze in the Tasman Bay on a race route which runs from north to south makes this an ideal surf ski racing location. 

The race conditions also offers a natural safety element, according to Nathan. 

“Tasman Bay is more like a large lake, so we don’t really get those rough ocean conditions, but we do get good wind which is awesome for paddling,” he adds. “The race is very appealing but without the dangers and risks of true ocean paddling.”

Should the wind conditions not be ideal the contingency route is the south to north route of Cable Bay Beach to Tahunanui Beach – described by Nathan as another “great course.”

Over the past 13 years the event has grown in size and stature and as a measure of the quality of the race, the 2020 champions are the reigning King and Queen of the Harbour winners; Canterbury’s Ben Keys and former World Surfski medallist Rachel Clarke.

Dependent on tides to determine a date for the event – the 2021 edition takes place on Feb 20-21 the same weekend as the NZCT New Zealand Canoe Sprint Championships. However, despite the clash with a major national paddling event, Nathan is nonetheless, confident of a strong number of entries for this year’s race.

So why would he encourage any paddlers to compete at the event, which also doubles as the South Island Surf Ski Champs?

“It is just a beautiful piece of coastline to paddle,” he adds. “Nelson is a relatively easy place to get to and as we say to all out of towners we can easily arrange skis for you.” 

So a decade and a half on from first sitting in a surf ski, how proud is Nathan of the evolution of the event?

“It is cool,” he adds, “but more than the event itself, I’m very proud to have been the person to help kick start surf ski paddling in the region. It is awesome to now see so many people connected to nature through the water. We maybe now have 200 or so skis in the Tasman Bay and to see these on the roofs of cars as I’m travelling around is a great feeling.”

To enter the Queen and King of the Bay visit here