Ten Reasons the Virtual Surfski Champs Rocked

After one month of exhilarating and memorable competition the 2020 New Zealand Virtual Surfski Championships has come to a conclusion. We offer you ten reasons why the event was a big hit with the paddling community.

1 – Competitive Opportunity

With the vast majority of the world in lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic the surfski world was starved of traditionally racing. However, the 12km virtual race offered a much-needed outlet for paddlers to satisfy their competitive juices.

“I was looking for a virtual event to compete in and this longer and fair format really appealed to me,” explains American Austin Kieffer, who triumphed in the open men’s division. “I also normally dread time trials since I train alone, so this was a good chance to motivate myself to improve on an area I need to work on.”

2 – International Appeal

The month-long event attracted more than 100 paddlers from 10 countries. Besides New Zealand the event attracted  entrants from Australia, USA, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Great Britain, Samoa and Hong Kong. 

The US paddler Ana Swetish, who claimed victory in the U18 women’s event and finished third overall in the open women’s event, fully appreciated the opportunity to enter.

“Thanks for putting together on this super cool opportunity to get on the water and race and connect with people from all over the world,” says the rising surfski talent.

3 – Dramatic competition

Virtual racing may not provide the head to head rivalry of a traditional race but the month-long event still provide its fair share of drama.

The masters categories served up a rapidly changing leaderboards but perhaps the most thrilling moment was served up on the very final day of competition in the open women’s division. With a sense of perfect timing former World Surfski bronze medallist Rachel Clarke made her competition entrance, posting a stunning time 55:16 to dislodge long-time leader Danielle McKenzie from top spot to execute the perfect smash and grab raid.

4 –  World-class competitors

Not only did the virtual race attract 100 paddlers, the quality of the athletes on view was top drawer. On the open women’s side 2019 World Surfski champion Danielle McKenzie was on show as well as her fellow Kiwi Rachel Clarke, the former Molokai Crossing champion. The 2015 and 2017 World Surfski champion Cory Hill of Australia also entered, placing second in the open men’s division. Meanwhile, another interesting entrant was Great Britain’s 2008 Olympic K1 1000m champion Tim Brabants, who teamed up with fellow CRNZ coach Craig Mustard in the double-ski.

5 – Young guns

Youngsters are the lifeblood of the sport, so it was encouraging to see the number of U16 and U18 paddlers out on their surf skis. The U16 3km event was particularly competitive with Kate Regan and Damien Da Silva triumphing in the girls and boys’ events, respectively. Damien, a Hawkes Bay paddler, said of his passion for the sport: “I have always loved water sports but kayak/surfski racing is so much more holistic and challenges balance, fitness, technique and mental strength. Kayaking feels free when you have your rhythm on the water.”

6 – Nationals titles on offer

The event was organised as a replacement for the 2020 New Zealand Surfski Championships in Whakatane, so the event had the additional lure of national titles on the line. Congratulations to all our champions in the various divisions including mens’s open winner Andrew Mowlem and open women’s champion Rachel Clarke.

7 – Golden oldies shine

The Masters, Vets and Salty Seadog categories were some of the most competitive in the event. Kiwi Jimmy Feathery reigned supreme in the masters division, producing a classy 12km time of 52:30 – good enough for seventh in the open men’s event. American Matt Earls came with a late-run to snatch top spot in the vets category while congratulations to the Australian-based Kiwi husband and wife duo – Rob and Julie Jenkinson – who took out the men’s and women’s Salty Seadog prizes

8 – Girl Power

For some years New Zealand women led by Danielle McKenzie, Teneale Hatton and Rachel Clarke have been among the global surfski elite. However, bubbling under the surface below are a new group of Kiwi women starting to make their mark. Cantabrian Carly Tyler posted a sub-one-hour time to place fifth overall and take bronze in the New Zealand championships. Meanwhile, Tara Smith (1:02:08) and Bailee Stratton (1:02:24) further illustrated the rising strength of surfski paddling among New Zealand women.

Carly was a huge fan of the event and said: “It is a great concept because it gives you a month of hard racing. It also gives you the chance to try different routes and it is far cheaper than have to travel to a race!”

9 – Social media coverage

The social media coverage via the paddler.nz Facebook and Instagram pages throughout the event was top quality. Led by 2019 World Surfski bronze medallist Teneale Hatton the regular updates, interviews, images and video of the action help build a narrative around the competition.

Teneale, unfortunately, picked up an unwelcome hand injury which prevented her from competing but her social media presence added another layer of depth to the virtual event.

10 – Opened the gateway to more virtual races

The success of the very first virtual surfski race in New Zealand has prompted the likelihood of more virtual events on the calendar. Watch this space for the announcement of more CRNZ-organised virtual competitions to feature on the programme in future.

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