NZ Gold and Bronze in Tahiti!

Saturday, 03 October 2015 14:50 | Written by 
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The top three boats before the race! The top three boats before the race! Credits: Garth Spencer

“Teneale Hatton from NZ is 20 seconds behind Michelle Eray, with 4 kms to go, with NZ’s Rachel Clarke taking the outside line and now in 3rd place!” The Tahitian live TV coverage of the Woman’s long distance surfski event of the 2nd International Canoe Federations World Ocean Racing Championships is second to none.

 Tahiti has turned it all on for this event. Following seas, surfable swell, world class competition, and a stellar ladies line-up which reads like a veritable who’s who of the worldwide ocean paddling culture. Waiting for our men’s race tomorrow, all eyes are on the big screen live national TV coverage of the ladies race: We sit by the pool at the Pearl Beach Resort, nervously checking the wind conditions and which is likely to yield the fastest line: Up against the Arue red cliffs and reefs off Venus Point, 15kms north east of Pape’ete, or out wide with the dolphins, sea-turtles, whales, flying fish and bigger runners, all of which we have grown unusually accustomed to over the preceding week!

Mara'amu Wind

The south easterly trade-winds, or Mara’amu as it is known locally, have been reliable for the week leading up to the event; a critical factor in the ‘downwind’ sport of surfski paddling. Competitors in the 34km marathon course skilfully pilot their lightweight racing paddle-craft in such a way as to extract maximum speeds from the ocean swell. Zigzagging across the face of the rollers, we sit as today’s-spectators/tomorrow’s-competitors and are treated to live GPS tracking to see our country-woman topping an exhilarating 20kph top speed. We see in real time the drama unfolding: 25yr old Teneale has taken the ‘hotspot’ cash prize for first paddler to round the first turning buoy, 3.5km off the reef at Hitia’a Marina, 50km north east from Pape’ete.

Michelle Eray has then gone on and taken an early lead with both paddlers following an inside line. NZ’s Rachel Clarke, Molokai Champion from 2014, has dropped back into 4th place as young South African Jenna Ward U23 paddler pulls ahead. Both have stormed the outside line, where the bigger runners clearly can be seen on the fantastic close-up live TV footage, with Rach surfing in a relaxed style, ever so slightly more relaxed in the boat than she normally looks, with her characteristic upright body geometry. Having just recovered from a bout of influenza Rachel is not her usual chirpy self, and heading to the start in the car she is quieter than usual, refusing to be drawn into the excited pre-race chatter of the rest of the Kiwi team.

Teneale Hatton - 2015 ICF World Champion

2015 ICF Ocean Racing World Champion - Teneale Hatton!

Ding-dong Battle

Up front it’s a ding-dong like we haven’t seen in an international woman’s marathon paddling event in a long time! Michelle Eray, of South African heritage but paddling for the USA where she is an active official ambassador for the sport at a national level, knows she is in trouble. Outwardly relaxed at the start line, Michelle comments that she is not as well rested as she should be, working late the night before on matters concerning her sporting body in the USA. Her cheering team mates on the festival like race headquarters (from both US and South Africa) can sense that although she has led for most of the race, things might be about to change.

She regularly looks over her shoulder at the closing gap, and Teneale’s sleek black carbon characteristic Think surfski. Both boats are slicing through the rolling 1-2m swell, and the commentator’s excited voice announces that the gap is closing to 20 seconds, then 1 boat length, then suddenly NZ is in front, and the Kiwi team jump up and start shouting wildly at the large screen! 3kms to go and there is no stopping Teneale as she charges towards the finish line at the luxurious Pearl Beach Resort in Arue.

Tahitian Welcome

A traditional Tahitian welcome at the finish

A really big deal

The 2nd International Canoe Federation World Ocean Racing Championships is a big deal. A really big deal. Surfski paddling has its roots in surf life-saving, and South Africa and Australia have long since dominated the sport. The ICF have recently staked their claim on the sport with the growing numbers of cross-over paddlers from the Olympic sprint and canoeing marathon catching on to the addiction of true blue ocean racing: long stretches of rolling swell that propel a skilled paddler along at phenomenal speeds. 2014 saw ICF host the first World Ocean Racing Championship in Portugal, which was a highly organised event, with incredible participation from across the paddling globe. Just about the only no-show at this inaugural event was the wind!

When Tahiti announced that it had succeeded in its bid to host the second World Ocean Racing Championships, the immediate questions around logistics, travel costs and the like were the chatter of the day. Just getting a few hundred surfskis to Tahiti was no small feat! How would the local organisation cope with an international event of this size?

Teneale Hatton covered the 34km course in a blistering 2Hr15

Teneale Hatton covered the 34km course in a blistering 2Hr15

But for the moment, none of that matters! The media boats have beached: the tattooed, conche-blowing, drum-beating Tahitian warriors and dancing girls froth the vibe up to a frenzy as Teneale and Michelle approach the beach. The entire congregation erupt as the sprint finish sees NZ’s Teneale Hatton crowned World Champion for 2015, and a smiling Michelle 30 seconds back. 5 minutes later and the whole episode is repeated with NZ’s Rachel Clarke bursts onto the beach, stealing Bronze from young Jenna Ward of RSA by a mere 7 seconds.

Spirited, Colourful, Charged...

As we sit here in the post celebration buzz, all of us present have had to agree that thus far the organisation has been spirited, colourful, charged and yet somehow relaxed in the true Tahitian spirit. Not without its hiccups, spectators and competitors continue to enjoy the vibrant traditional dancing, drumming and of course the smiles and laughter of the local organisation. These are the sentiments shared by all, as Teneale teared up during here emotional victory speech, surrounded by traditional dancers, fellow competitors, her mum Patricia and her wider paddling family.

ICF Ocean Racing World Championships

Top 7 Woman Finishers pictured above in todays 2015 ICF World Ocean Racing Championships in Tahiti, with results below (From R to L).




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