Waka ama star Tupu King will continue his transition into the world of surf ski and kayak paddling as he plans to compete at both the Heads to Harbour race – which doubles as the New Zealand Surf Ski Champs – and at the New Zealand Kayak Marathon Champs next month.
Tupu, a World Championship waka medallist and multiple-winning national champion, only made his surf ski debut in December, placing a highly-respectable sixth at the King and Queen of the Harbour in Auckland.
However, in his second surf ski outing he made an even bigger impact claiming a sensational victory at the Bhutty Moore-Morial in Mt Maunganui – where he took the scalp of 2019-20 Darcy Price Series winner Ben Keys.
The cancellation and postponement of many leading waka events this year because of the global pandemic has brought about a change in emphasis for the 27-year-old paddler who since his stunning win in the Mount last month has almost exclusively focused his training on K1 and surf ski paddling.
“With so many waka races cancelled this means I don’t have too much to look forward to in that aspect, so that gives me the opportunity to focus on surf ski and kayak without it impacting on my results in the waka.
“With the World Surf Ski Championships in Auckland next year this also gives me another goal to work towards.”
Since the Bhutty Moore-Morial race, Tupu admits he has only paddled a waka twice with the K1 being paddled along the Kaituna River typically every week night and the surf ski on a weekend.
He hopes the more switch to the K1 – which he first sat in earlier this year – will further improve his all-round paddling education.
“I fell out three times my first session in a K1 and I originally had some problems with the rudder. At first I thought it was my sense of balance but it was the rudder and I was going up and downstream like a snake, which was quite a frustrating experience. Aside from that, the constant working of the hip flexors made it quite painful. But now that I am gaining more experience in the K1, I’m looking to compete at the (national) Marathon Champs. The extra time on the water has helped and although I think I’m still not there balance-wise, I’m feeling much more comfortable than when I started.”
Training on his own and learning how to paddle a K1 thanks to the help of YouTube videos he has nonetheless received a welcome message of support from women’s New Zealand kayak squad member Teneale Hatton. In future, he hopes to pursue more formal K1 coaching but he also believes since his shock victory at the Bhutty Moore-Morial he has also made good strides in the surf ski.
“My biggest improvement has been my ability to put more power into my stroke without the feel of flipping,” he adds.
“I’ve got a little more confidence in my technique, so my arms are improving throughout my stroke rotation. I haven’t focused as much on surfing and balancing on the choppy water out in the ocean but I wanted to focus on paddling in the general flatwater, to improve my endurance and technique.”
Tupu’s presence at the Heads to Harbour event in Whakatane will provide one of the most intriguing storylines of an event which will double at the New Zealand Surf Ski Championships and also provide the climax to the 2020-21 Darcy Price Series.
So what are the Papamoa-based athlete’s expectations for the Easter Saturday (April 3) showdown in Whakatane?
“I don’t have too many expectations but I do have an increased sense of confidence in myself,” he explains. “I know that matching my performance at the Bhutty Moore is not going to be an easy feat. I know the likes of Ben Keys, Toby Brooke and the other paddlers will turn up and provide formidable opposition. I might have got lucky in the Bhutty event and the Heads to Harbour will be another challenge. But I always aim to do the best performance I can.”
The following weekend in the Bay of Plenty, Tupu is then looking forward to making his K1 debut at the New Zealand Marathon Championships.
Tupu is relishing the challenge and is anticipating the event could serve up some thrills and spills for the K1 rookie.
“I know I have the endurance for a race of that length but the interesting part will be the portages, which really excites me. I’ve seen videos of people falling in and that might be me! I’m willing to finish last just so I can experience a new environment.”
In the next couple of weeks, Tupu will also be looking to post a surf ski and K1 and possibly even waka time at the New Zealand Virtual Paddling Championships and in May he has not ruled out an appearance at the rescheduled New Zealand Canoe Sprint Championships to further enrich his paddling journey.
“I’m pretty keen to do, I don’t mind if I come last but the sooner I can start, the faster I will gain experience. I’m ready to tackle anything now. I’m keen to do as much (paddling) as I can.”
To enter the Manuka Performance Heads to Harbour Paddle Festival go here
Entry info for the New Zealand Kayak Marathon Championships on April 10-11 go here