Monday, 31 March 2014 05:36
Oily flat, steamy, hot conditions greeted the 95 competitors, lining up pensively off Birkenhead Wharf, Auckland. The tide would be turning nose-on shortly, and the 1 knot south westerly breezes would make it feel like we were paddling in a vaccum. The 24km stretch to Waiheke Island's Matiatia Bay was going to be one of my longer recorded times, ever, even though I paddle this stretch of water weekly! Dawid Mocke (current Worldseries no. 2) was hemmed in on the left, and Cory Hill (current Worldseries no. 3) and Mark 'Ando' Andersson were on the favoured extreme right, as the armada began the slow drifting across the imaginary start line anticipating Darcy Price's "Get set.... GO!"
The premier surfski event of New Zealand is also the New Zealand Canoe Racing Ocean Ski Champs, this year attracting 18 international paddlers from Australia, Brazil, Germany, Russian Federation, South Africa. The ladies race was going to be a battle of tenacity, with Rachel Clark (last years Queen Of The Harbour) on form for Molokai, Teneale Hatton training hard but committed to the NZ ladies K4 team, 'Evergreen-Dene' Simpson, young up and coming star Rebecca Cole, Aussie Tracey Wilson, and Maria Plyashechko from the Melbourne-based Russian Federation all aiming for a spot on the podium. With the SUP's and Double Ski's a few minutes ahead, the confused harbour waters were whipped to a frenzy as the swarm of ski paddlers charged towards the 1st upright stancheon of the Auckland Harbour Bridge, staying well right of the rusted metal and twisted concrete fouled waters on the left, where both Dawid and I had damaged our rudders in days leading into the race searching for a clear passage on a variety of tides.
The flags on the iconic Auckland Harbour Bridge hang limp and lifeless, as the peleton squeeze the harbour chop for every little run or boat-wash, 4kms into New Zealand's premior surfski race.
Mocke, a former King Of The Harbour had done his homework, and favoured a left hand line heading past North Head. With the front-pack doing 16km/h pace in the infamous chop, he darted off to the left on some tiny, almost impercievable runners just before the navy base. Cory, Ando, 18 year old Kenny Rice (younger brother of Fish Hoek's 'Shaun the Prawn' Rice), myself, the two Tahitians, Leopold Tepa and Hiromana Flores, and local North Shore paddler Brendon 'Doon' Davies had to reform or chase. I saw Cory and Ando looking over their right shoulders at the stream of yachts and pleasure craft exiting the harbour over to the right, and they broke off, heading hard right to take advantage of this boatwash.
Aucklands iconic Sky Tower stands sentinal over the confused waters of the inner harbour, as the front pack make their way past Devonport Naval Base. (Left to Right: Cory Hill taking the pull, Leopold Tepa, Dawid Mocke, Garth Spencer and Kenny Rice)
Reading the Ocean Currents
Dawid quickly put up a growing lead, but the Aussies Cory and Ando, working together with the aid of the last of the centre-channel currents, started to close up. Up ahead I saw Dawid looking over his shoulder from his extreme left hand course, closest to Rangitoto Island, with its textbook volcanic skyline, and make a set a direct course towards the centre of the channel.
"I was watching the speed dropping on my Garmin, and when this got below 13 km/h I knew I was out of the main current. I looked over my shoulder, saw Cory hunting me down, and I made a conscious course change to get back into the running current, the first of a few conscious course changes!".
Dawid Mocke on the extreme left of the channel, framed by the volcanic crater of Rangitoto Island, realises he has lost the tidal-current advantage, as Cory Hill reaching hard starts to gain on him. It was at this point Dawid made a conscious decision to hit the right foot-pedal, and steer right to re-enter the main current.
The long, flat grind ensued through the Motuihe Channel, normally the hunting ground of the big ocean swell, driven into the Hauraki Gulf by the cyclonic summer north easterlies. this would take its toll on a number of paddlers, especially those favouring themselves on the downwind courses. Digging deep for all hidden reserves, and sucking feverishly on empty juice bladders for those last remaining drops, the scattered armada ground its way into the shelter of Matiatia inlet, on fair Waiheke Island. Dawid Mocke held onto his lead to finish comfortably in first place in a time of 1:42:04, almost 2 minutes ahead of Cory Hill, still a good 2 plus minutes ahead of Mark Anderson. Local boy Simon Longdil, fighting fit on his workup for Molokai, had an incredibly strong finish, peeling past most of the rest of the front runners, to finish fourth and first Kiwi paddler home, passing young Kenny Rice in the last few hundred meters, and fellow Royal Akarana clubmate Tim 'Rooster' Grammer just before this. Seventh and eighth place went to the Tahitians Hiromana Flores and Leopold Tepa who had worked well together for much of the hard grind, with ninth and tenth place going to myself and another Royal Akarana clubmate, Andy Mowlem.
The Auckland <-> Waiheke course is a regular downwind favourite for locals, with prevailing SW'lies over summer, with the odd NE'ly system bringing on some really thrilling downwind paddling. This King Of The Harbour race has seen its good years and bad year weather wise, but about half of the races have been flat. Its always going to be an honest race.
The wind simply doesnt blow as constantly as it does in Cape Town, and the relatively small landmass of Auckland and surrounds is simply too small to exert any great influence on the prevailing Pacific weather patterns. New Zealand has what is called a maritime climate. The weather is influenced by the sea, no place in the country is more than 130km's from the sea, and it can also be very transient.
Dawid's Garmin trace, showing a few distinct course changes to stay in the favourable current, ultimately securing him the win.
The final winners and grinners, including Dawid Mocke (centre left) and Rachel Clark (centr right), King and Queen of the Harbour for 2014.
In a perhaps unexpected twist, the womans race unfolded with the same top three result as last year. Rachel Clarke took out the womens race in fine form, securing the Queen Of the Harbour title. Silver went to young Becs Cole, and former Olympian and evergreen Dene Simpson took the bronze, with Teneale Hatton using the race as a training session, refusing to comprimise on her K4 team training the same morning.
King of the Harbour and Canoe New Zealand Ocean Racing Championships
Wednesday, 05 March 2014 07:34
The – 2014 New Zealand surfski scene is building up to a hightened level of activity, with solid races every few weeks currently, as we head into the countries premier event, the 2014 King Of The Harbour, sponsored by Vaikobi Paddlewear. This event doubles as Canoe Racing New Zealand's national ocean racing title event, and is rumoured to have some of the planets finest paddle-weilding atheletes lining up to smash it out in this year's event on the iconic Auckland-Waiheke Island course.
The predominant spring SW’s and late summer NE’s make this a logical choice for an Auckland-to-Waiheke or Waiheke-to-Auckland course respectively. Last year I clocked 24.29km on my Garmin over the same course, which again will be held between Waiheke Island's picturesque Matiatia Bay and Birkenhead Wharf in Auckland's inner harbour. For the first time in many years, this event has lost it's standing on the World Surfski Series, meaning the door is wide open for a New Zealand based downwind event on the series calendar for future years!
The 24.29km course between Waiheke Island and the Auckland harbour, on the Hauraki Gulf:Prone to strong SW's and the odd NE weather system.
Dawid Mocke and Cory Hill (current 2014 World Surfski Series second and thrid placed respectively) are both starters at this early stage. Local boy, Mike Walker, Olympian and multiple previous King Of The Harbour title holder, was heard to have exclaimed at the recent Butty Moore race in Taurange: "I just CANT retire now, bloody Oskar (Stielau) beat me mate!", making him a potential podium contender. A number of other Australian representative paddlers and even a few South Islanders are expected to make the trip. Birthday Boy Ben Fouhy, NZ’s Olympic Medallist in the K1 1000m event and last year's victor could be a threat if his calendar allows for a show this year (Happy Birthday Ben!). Rachel Clarke, last year's Queen of the Harbour is rumoured to be using this as a stepping stone to her Molokai ascent for this year, keeping the womans rankings honest.
New Zealand Season Roundup
A number of local and offshore events are listed below, rounding out the New Zealand surfski season for 2014, with the Tahitian Mara'amu classic drawing the keenest paddlers deep into a winter training regime. There are a number of weekly race series, and the prominant ocean paddling clubs of Takapuna Beach (on Auckland's north shore), and the Royal Akarana Club (for the city boys and girls) have regular squad sessions throughout the week. If anybody is interested in finding out more about the New Zealand surfski scene, jump online the Pacific Paddlers Facebook Group and have a chat with the local paddlers, whether it's a boat you need for an upcoming race, or some more information on events or clubs.
Tuesday, 20 March 2012 07:03
It’s only a few weeks until the 11th King of the Harbour Ocean ski race and excitement is building in the surf ski community. It’s a close-knit group and all agree that our race here in Auckland is unique in the world and one of the best.
Saturday, 31 January 2009 08:16
The 2009 Auckland King of the Harbour was TOUGH. Being an out-and-back course, we always knew that it wouldn’t all be smooth sailing, but nobody (except perhaps the Czech marathon team) expected 25km of headwind!
Thursday, 22 January 2009 01:51
KING OF THE HARBOUR is an iconic ocean paddling event showcasing the rapidly growing water sports of Surf Ski Ocean Racing, Outrigger Canoeing, Sea Kayaking & Stand-Up Paddle Boarding.
Wednesday, 02 April 2008 15:21
Some of the world's best surfski paddlers descended upon Auckland's North Shore this weekend for the 2008 King of the Harbour Surfski World Series Ocean paddling race on Saturday 29th March.
Saturday, 29 March 2008 04:57
Steve Knowles sent us a batch of superb photos from this morning's King of the Harbour race in Auckland, New Zealand, where Tim Jacobs won in emphatic style!
Friday, 28 March 2008 21:09
Here is the transcript of our live coverage of the King of the Harbour race in Auckland, New Zealand. Detailed results and photos will follow as soon as we get them.
Thursday, 27 March 2008 12:19
[Editor: Surfski.info will be covering the event live on Saturday 29th March from about 12h00 Auckland time (1am South African time!) so don't forget to check it out.]
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