THE meandering bends of the Waimata River have been chosen as the perfect terrain for Canoe Racing New Zealand’s premier long-distance kayaking event.
Canoe Racing New Zealand has confirmed that, for the first time ever, Gisborne will host the Eastland Port New Zealand Kayak Marathon Championships on April 13 and 14.
And Poverty Bay Kayak Club head coach Alan Thompson says the very river he trained on to win Olympic gold is ideal for putting marathon paddlers through their paces.
“The reality is we can’t hold sprint regattas here because we have no straights but the river is perfect for this sort of event,” he says.
“In fact, we see it as being comparable to many courses in Europe where they use all sorts of canals, dams and rivers for long-distance races.”
He credits that suitability of location for the approval to bring the event to Gisborne, along with the ongoing support of club sponsor Eastland Port, and some fresh energy at Canoe Racing NZ.
Mr Thompson says that’s courtesy of new chief executive Tom Ashley, a former Olympic windsurfing champion who, after just a year in the job has shown he’s receptive to new ideas.
“This event in particular is generally held in Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch but Tom was open to seeing it go to another location and knew our club had the skills to pull it together.
“He is like a lot of people in canoeing who believe that to have a strong sport you need thriving clubs in the regions. If you don’t have that, you don’t have anything.”
The championships will be based at PBKC’s premises, in Anzac Park, and is expected to attract up to 150 competitors and supporters to the region.
Alan Thompson says that while it will be great to see some of the top paddlers in the country, there will also be various age-group races from under-12s to masters.
For the kayakers there will be distances of between six and 28 kilometres with some competitors having to run across the park with their boats, adding extra fun for spectators.
There will be separate categories for surf ski and waka ama paddlers.
“It makes it a more exciting and diverse event,” he says. “Plus it’s a chance to show younger paddlers that there’s more to the sport than just sprints.”
For top level competitors, success at the Gisborne event could help win them a place at the Canoe Marathon World Championships, to be held in China in October.
Even if they don’t place, Mr Thompson says marathon events are seen as invaluable training for shorter races.
“It’s like [running coach] Arthur Lydiard’s famous approach that endurance training should be more than 70 percent of what you do, even if you’re doing sprints. So most short-distance paddlers are already on form to do a marathon.”
From Canoe Racing New Zealand’s perspective, the Marathon Championships is the flagship long-distance event on its calendar so it is imperative to choose a top-quality host venue.
“We have no doubt the Waimata River will provide a fitting home for the 2019 edition,” Tom Ashley says.
“The vibrant Poverty Bay Kayak Club has produced an abundance of paddlers who have performed on the world and Olympic stage, all from using the river as their training base. So we are very confident the rich tradition of the event will be maintained in Gisborne . . . a hotbed of New Zealand kayaking.”
Eastland Port general manager Andrew Gaddum was unfamiliar with the marathon event before the exciting idea was mooted for this region. He says the calibre of the people bringing it to Gisborne and the exciting land-based part of the event captured the port’s attention.
“We’ve been long-time supporters of the Poverty Bay Kayak Club so we’re thrilled our region has been chosen. The portage part of the race, where fit athletes repeatedly drag their boats over land and then launch themselves back into the water again will be great spectator fun.”
Image caption: Olympic gold medallist and Poverty Bay Kayak Club head coach Alan Thompson says the Waimata River is ideal for putting marathon paddlers through their paces. Image credit: Brennan Thomas, Strike Photography.