Regional | Waka ama

Gruelling Poor Knights Crossing held off Northland

Aotearoa's toughest open ocean downwind waka ama and surf ski race, the Poor Knights Crossing, was held over the weekend, drawing a large field from all over the country. While the race is set in stunning scenery, that hides the extreme nature of the event.

But why would a person leave the relative safety of land, to paddle in the deep dark blue of the ocean?

Tim Eves, founder and race director of the Poor Knight's Crossing, says ocean paddling is different.

"Many paddlers paddle inside harbours and don't realise that outside in the big ocean and blue water paddling, it's a different animal."

The Poor Knights Crossing is a 30km open ocean downwind race open to surf skis and waka ama. The race runs from the Poor Knights Marine Reserve to Tutukākā, Northland, and is hosted by Mitamitaga o le Pasefika Va'a-alo Canoe Club.

Fancy this wero in the water?

The race starts on the western side of Tawhitirahi heading north, then turns toward the town of Tutukākā. The competition started off as a brainwave of race organiser Tim Eves, 10 years ago.

"This race was more of a figment of my imagination. I got a few mates together. We went out to the Poor Knights in a big northeasterly swell and wind, and we debated whether it was safe enough to throw the wakas in and pedal back," Eves says.  "When we got in there, it was just magic. "

Narada Bury was the first to make landfall in the waka ama division, The race was a first for him.

"Through the tunnel, I almost missed the turn, and then, once we got around the boat and I just followed the four-man, and then ended up on my own and I was like 'where is everyone?'"

Sean Herbert is a leading waka ama sprint and distance paddler, who has just returned from the waka ama world championships in London. He says for Māori there is definitely a spiritual aspect to ocean paddling.

"As Māori, we can relate to the ocean and waka. When you are out there, the responsibility is on you, if you have done the work and preparation. Being out there is second nature. Yu are in your element."