Tara makes Virtual Paddling Champs plea

Versatile Tara Smith, the early pacesetter in the women’s K1 division at the New Zealand Virtual Paddling Championships, believes the month-long event offers a great opportunity for paddlers of all standards to get involved.

The 29-year-old Blenheim-based paddler was quick to make her mark, posting a time of 1:05:30 on Marlborough’s Wairau River for the 12km distance.

And while Tara has personal goals to the remainder of the competition, which runs until March 31, she also hopes to see many other participants give the challenge a crack in the coming weeks.

“The event is a great excuse for people to paddle,” explains the sustainability manager for Yealands Wines. “I’m certainly going to mention it to the other Marlborough paddlers. Some people might not be competitive but, hey, you can give this a go. You are racing the clock and the beauty of the event is you do it in a group, by yourself and when it suits you.

“For me, it is good motivation to do a 12km. I often don’t paddle longer than 10km. But being a competitive event, it pushes me to my limits. Much more than it would if I was out on a regular training paddle.” 

Tara has a strong background in surf lifesaving and was scheduled to compete at the National Surf Lifesaving Championships in Ohope (Mar 11-15) for Waimairi Surf Lifesaving Club until the event’s recent postponement. 

However, she boasts a range of paddling skills and three years ago while living in Western Australia she first tried her hand at surf ski racing.

“At the time I trained by myself and ocean racing was very appealing,” explains Tara, who competed in several leading events including The Doctor Surf Ski race in Perth.

After returning to live in Blenheim in 2019, Tara (see above left) has continued to combine surf ski racing with surf lifesaving and races the Tasman Bay surf ski summer series led by Nathan Fa’avae.

Last month she served notice of her potential by claiming an impressive double by winning the Queen of the Bay event – which formed round three of the 2020-21 Darcy Price Series – before returning the following day to secure the South Island surf ski title.

In future, she is determined to further expand her competitive ocean paddling program in both New Zealand and beyond.

But given her surf ski background, why did she opt to race a K1 at the New Zealand Virtual Paddling Champs?

“I’m not very experienced in a K1 but I have an old K1, so I thought I would go out in it for a casual paddle,” she says. 

“We usually do 10km on the Wairau River every Tuesday after work, and I just went up and back down the river. It was quite windy with a bit of tide change but I really didn’t look much into the timing of my run. I didn’t get too technical with the tides, I just went out for a paddle.

“My time was a few minutes slower than I did last year in a ski (when she finished seventh in 1:02:08 at the open women’s 2020 New Zealand Virtual Surfski Championships) and I’m keen to try and go out again in a K1 and a surf ski to see if I can go a little faster.”

***The 2021 New Zealand Virtual Paddling Championships is open to all paddle crafts and times can be posted throughout the entire month of March. The race, which is open to paddlers all around the world, will take place over 12km, except for U16 paddlers and junior paddlers who race 3km. 

Enter and more details here