20-Jun-2018 10:13 a.m.


World champion battles NZ’s best in Whangamata

Competition was fierce at the inaugural Otahu Cup Paddling Festival held in Whangamata on Sunday 4th Jan.  Some of the best athletes in the world gathered to race, including current NZ champion Armie Armstrong and current world champion Connor Baxter from Hawaii.

The Otahu Cup was contested over a distance race and a technical race. The 10km distance race started on the scenic Otahu River then travelled 5km downstream, out through the river mouth and around the famous Whangamata islands before finishing on the beach. The technical race was 3 laps, navigating around buoys in the surf. Points were awarded according to times in each race with the cup going to the athlete with the highest combined points.

Competitors round the first buoy in the technical race- in foreground local Whangamata rider Karlos Aarsen


Racing was close amongst the men in the 10km. Armie Armstrong, JP Tobin, Marcus Hansen and Jeremy Stephenson were all together after the first 5km. Once on the open ocean Armstrong gradually pulled away to win by 37 seconds over Tobin and Hansen. In the women’s race Penelope Strickland won comfortably with a 5 minute lead over second place Jo Aleh.

There was lots of excitement for the afternoon technical race with the arrival of world champion Connor Baxter who had just flown into New Zealand from Hawaii and come straight to Whangamata to race. Armie Armstrong and Baxter pulled away early and were battling for first place the entire race. Armstrong showed excellent skill around the buoys and caught some good waves to take out first place, 57 seconds ahead of Baxter. Armstrong was humble in victory, ”It is always inspirational to paddle with top athletes. I have raced Connor a number of times overseas and it’s awesome to see him here in New Zealand. It was not really a fair race with him literally just getting off a plane, driving to Whanga and paddling with no warm up." Baxter is in New Zealand to compete in the Ultimate Waterman Competition in March.

Penelope Strickland was dominant again in the women’s race and won by nearly 3 minutes. She enjoyed racing in Whangamata, ”I love Whangamata and racing there is awesome. Both races had really technical elements which tested my abilities and I was stoked to take a win in both the races.”   

U18 winner Oliver Houghton rounding the buoy in the technical race

Race director Ryan Thompson was pleased with the inaugural event. “I was blown away with the quality of competitors. We had a world champ and NZ champ competing as well as a number of other top athletes. The course was spectacular and the racing very exciting. We will definitely be organising this event next year and hope to bring to the main beach in Whangamata so that more spectators can enjoy the event.”    
The overall winners were clear. Armie Armstong and Penelope Strickland are the 2015 Otahu Cup champions. They are both building up for surfing nationals, SUP nationals and then the 2015 World Champs in Molokai, Hawaii.  


Otahu Cup Results

Open Men

1st – Armie Armstrong

2nd – Marcus Hansen

3rd – JP Tobin

Open Women

1st – Penelope Strickland

2nd – Jo Aleh

3rd – Victoria Stuart


1st – Oliver Houghton  

2nd – Jack Evans 

Full results available at www.whangamataevents.co.nz/otahu-cup


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