The Nelson King/Queen of the Bay last week was my first overseas event (yes Wellington to Nelson is overseas) which threw up a few logistical issues never previously encountered. The first problem was finding a bag that my paddle would fit into - I wasn't quite prepared to spend up on a Mocke or Vaikobi travel bag just yet (now very high up my Christmas wish list) so I had to settle for an old snow ski travel bag which got me plenty of odd looks wheeling it through Nelson, 25 degrees in the shade.
Given the race didn't start till 1pm that allowed for plenty of time Sat morning to do a bit of sight seeing - driving along the waterfront I didn't realise that Nelson was so much of a paddling mecca - there were surf-skis, waka and SUP's dotted all over the harbour. So much so, driving past about 10 surf-skis lined up on Tahuna beach gave me a minor panic attack. I thought I got the race start time and location all wrong and was going to miss out but luckily it was just a handful of mates enjoying the Nelson sunshine.
The course we would be paddling was from Kaiterere beach to Mapua Wharf (26km). The majority of the course was paddling SSE with the wind and the waves coming from the NNE (over our left hand shoulder).
The simplistic view of a race approach would be to catch the waves heading south and then turn and ride across them heading back South-east - if you rode the waves due south (faster and a lot more fun) you would end up against the beach and have to paddle with them directly side on to get to the finish line (a lot less fun). However after finding out the hard way that taking the sub-optimal line can add an extra ten minutes to your final time in the Bhutty 4 weeks earlier and my number one priority was to get some inside knowledge about the currents.
Unfortunately the Nelson locals are either pretty protective of what line to take or they have no idea at all - three different inquiries gave me three different answers:
The first person said the waves come in on a bit of an angle so if you can stay out wide you can finish really quickly.
Then I overheard a conversation where an extremely knowledgeable local in a pair of bright fluro board shorts was advising that the best approach was to go inside, "the incoming tide sucks along the shore and gives you a huge assistance".
Then I asked Nathan (race organiser) his thoughts – his response was
"just go straight", I guess we can over-think these things.
The race start was organised into 5 waves - slower paddlers going first so we all finished around the same time and were closer together throughout the race making it easier for the safety boats to keep track of everyone. The first three waves got away fine but the paddlers assigned to the 4th wave clearly thought they are better than they really are and wanted to start with the elite paddlers (myself included). So the 4th wave got combined with the 5th and everyone headed off together (male paddling egos at work).
After the gun went I still hadn't made up my mind if I was going in or out and looked for the fluro board shorts guy as to see what he was up to - it was hard to tell as he had changed out of his fluro boardies into somethis less noticeable however I am 90% sure that after telling anyone who would listen to take the inside line he was heading out to sea!
Given my gut was telling me to head out to sea anyway I decided to follow the fluro boardies guy and spent the next hour ignoring the seductive waves that were just teasing me to ride them into shore. It took some self-control but held my line and kept my nose pointed to the left of the Ruby Bay bluffs.
I once read that while waves may all look like they are all going the same direction, they change constantly, bounce off each other changing direction, forming, dissipating and re-forming.
Fortunately for me this was true and every now and again a wave would pop up directly behind me and give me a little push straight towards the finish line. Each time one of these gifts from the ocean made themselves available I really tried to put some pressure on the paddle and milk it the best I could, quite hard work but it kept me moving at a good pace.
Usually at the end of a 26km race I am trying to hold the body together and limp over the finish line. This time when I turned past the bluffs (about 4km out) I had the waves were at my back and they were picking up in size the closer we got to the harbour entrance. Catching these allowed me to relax, catch my breath and hit the finish line at pace (I was all by myself but it still felt good).
I can only guess but that must be what fit paddlers experience on a regular basis - a great feeling and one possibly worth training for.
One common complaint amongst racers of any sport is prize-giving’s that start late and go for too long (I think that must be prize-givings that don’t have a bar available). For possibly the first time in the history of racing ever the prize-giving started early!
A huge thanks to Nathan Fa'avae and his team of volunteers who put the race on and organised boats for the out of towners.
Thanks to KayakHQ for the prizes
A great day was had by all and I highly recommend booking this race into your calendar for next year.
Well done to everyone who competed - 26km in the ocean takes some doing.
An extra congratulations to the medal winners: