08-Apr-2013 05:55 p.m.

King of the Harbour 2013

 

World number ones Travis Grant and Annabel Anderson crowned King of the Harbour champions in Auckland

Photos by Georgia Schofield


The National flags on top of Auckland Harbour Bridge were hanging still above glass-calm waters as a Fullers ferry laden with the creme of NZ paddlers passed below on its way to the start of NZ's premier Ocean Ski and Stand Up Paddle race on Saturday 6 April. 

When you're heading off to do a 25km downwind race, glass-calm is not the kind of weather indicator you'd hope to see against the backdrop of the Auckland city skyline.  Downwind paddling is all about catching the glide - in other words surfing down the small waves created by the wind on the surface of the water, and this Saturday there wasn't a white-cap in sight.  Maritime wind indicators were reading 10knots of S/SE breeze further out in the Waitemata Harbour, but the forecast was for a possible swing around to the SW later, meaning paddlers could be racing upwind from Waiheke to Birkenhead by the end of the race. Even with a light wind at their backs, this was undoubtedly going to be a long, hard slog, on a busy harbour with plenty of current, tide, fickle wind and boat wash to contend with. 

Dubbed the "Molokai of NZ Ocean Racing", the King of the Harbour Ocean Ski and SUP Race has been NZ's premier ocean ski event for 13 years now, and has included a Stand Up Paddle division for the last two years.  This year top Gold Coast pro-riders Travis Grant (NSP/DC), Beau O'Brian (Starboard), and Jake Jensen (Naish) caught wind of the event, and flew in at the last minute from Australia to take out the podium.  

Travis is currently ranked in the top five in the world along with Jamie Mitchell, Connor Baxter, Kai Lenny and Danny Ching, so it was impressive to see NZ King of the Waves Champ Armie Armstrong (Starboard) and Olympic Boardsailer JP Tobin stick close to him, Beau and Jake throughout the whole race, giving the Aussies a good run for their money.

JP Tobin (right) plays follow the leaders

 

The field dispersed pretty quickly after the midday start at Matiatia, Waiheke.  Australian Champ Beau O'Brian took a small lead early on as the paddlers came through the channel between Waiheke and Motuihe Island, followed closely by Travis Grant, Jake Jensen, Armie Armstrong and J P Tobin.

Beau and Travis both admitted to being a bit surprised at the start, as the kiwis really took off fast, with Armie and JP leading for a short while out of Matiatia.  

The water was an unknown factor, but it was the level of competition that really impressed the Aussies. "I was kind of expecting Jake, Trav and me would be well ahead of the pack, but half way through the race I looked up and saw Armie in front of me. I thought wow, this guy can really paddle!  There's definitely strong competition in New Zealand," says Beau.

 

Beau O'Brian passes the NZ Naval base

 

As the race progressed the leading pack stayed pretty tight.  It wasn't until they approached North Head and scored some nice glides from passing boat wakes off Devonport that the gap really opened up, with Travis and Beau holding just metres apart in the front.  The Gold Coast duo train and race together back home, with usually no more than 30 seconds between them, so it was pretty much "same race, different country" for Beau, although by the end of the race Travis had made some pretty big gains to put over a minute between them.

Both Travis and local paddler Jeremy Stephenson have made strong comebacks from recent injuries that saw them out of action for most of the last season.  Jeremy broke his arm after winning his age division in the Molokai2Oahu World Paddleboard Champs last July.  Travis also had a broken arm last year, and returned to the water late this season with some impressive performances, winning the ISA World Champs in February.

Last year's 14'0 champ Jeremy knew he wasn't in peak condition for this race, so he played a tactical game, pulling away to the north early on, and looking like he may have an outside chance if currents and tides worked in his favour.  Finishing the race in 8th overall, the 44 year old was quick to acknowledge how tough the race and conditions were.  "The wind was very light, which made it a very long, slow 25km - it was definitely survival of the fittest."

Paul Davis trails Annabel Anderson

 

Female champion Annabel Anderson was also playing a tactics game, and chose a line further to the south than the leading men.  She was on a much shorter board (12'6) and still smoked Jeremy and most of the fleet.

"I took a very different line to the men, heading further over to catch any breeze that was going to fill in from the southeast- but I had to take a gamble on a shorter board to minimise the gap on the leading men. I knew from the start it was going to be a race from North Head," says Annabel. 

 

Travis Grant and Jake Jensen stroke for stroke 

 

In the end Travis finished the 25km in 2h17m12s, with Beau trailing just over a minute behind in second.  A week of great surf in Raglan took its toll on Armie, who admitted to running out of steam mid-race.  He picked up the pace in the last half hour and ended up finishing in 4th, just 20 seconds behind 3rd place winner Jake Jensen (2h21m11s), and followed in 5th by JP, who finished in 2h24m25.

Armie Armstrong and J P Tobin

 

Female champion Annabel Anderson placed 6th overall and won the women's division on her compulsory 12'6 length board.  She felt at a disadvantage to her male counterparts on 14'0 boards from the start, but her win was for equal prize money and title to the mens.  It was incredible to watch her muscle through and finish in 6th place overall, in just 2h29m51s.  

"I thought all the girls paddled exceptionally well today, it shows the hotbed of female paddling talent that we have in New Zealand. They are athletes already, and have really progressed fast with the proliferation of races in Auckland this summer."

Olympic Gold medallist Jo Aleh "saved a bit for the end" and had a fast and impressive finishing pace, coming in 2nd in 2h42m.  Third place in the Women's race was Charlotte Spicer in 2h50m52s.

Olympic Sailing Gold Medallist Jo Aleh

 

The King of the Harbour wraps up the New Zealand summer SUP race season for 2013, although paddlers won't be hanging up their paddles for long with a full winter season approaching in May, and the European and Hawaiian season in June.

Winning the Open Mens Surfski division in 1.41.21 was  Ben Fouhy (1st), Mike Walker (2nd) and Marty McDowell (3rd).  Womens Ski winners were Rachel Clarke (1st), Rebecca Cole (2nd) and Dene Simpson (3rd).

The total distance was 24.2km.

FULL SUP RESULTS

King of the Harbour 2013

24.2km Matiatia to Birkenhead

Travis Grant (14'0) 2:17:12
Beau O'Brian 2:18:44
Jake Jensen 2:21:11
Armie Armstrong 2:21:34
JP Tobin 2:24:25
Annabel Anderson (12'6) 2:29:51
Josh Nixon 2:31:18
Jeremy Stephenson 2:32:18
Paul Davis 2:32:34
Greg Barfoot 2:32:36
Anthony Willis (12'6) 2:33:12
Andrew Brown 2:35:32
Dale Chapman 2:36:15
Jared Halligan 2:36:39
Geoff Evison 2:37:18
Felipe Dos Santos 2:37:36
Mark Houghton 2:38:26
Bruce Page 2:38:38
Shane Murrell 2:39:10
Jo Aleh (12'6) 2:42:00
Andrew Wilson 2:45:27
Scott Elliott (12'6) 2:45:35
Glenn Simmonds (12'6) 2:49:23
Matt Fogarty (12'6) 2:49:54
Charlotte Spicer (12'6) 2:50:52
Penelope Strickland (12'6) 2:57:43
Bryan Evans 3:16:25

For King of the Harbour Ski Results Click Here


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