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Adventure Racing Legend Gears Up for Yukon 1000

Updated: Jul 15

In just a week’s time, Nathan Fa'avae, an iconic figure in the world of adventure racing, will team up with his long-time adventure racing partner Sophie Hart to tackle one of the toughest paddling challenges on the planet: the Yukon 1000. This gruelling 1000-mile kayak race spans from Canada to the wilderness of Alaska, demanding unparalleled endurance and self-sufficiency from its competitors.


We caught up with Nathan as he prepares to travel to Canada to find out more about the paddling adventure that awaits him…

 

The Yukon 1000: A Paddling Marathon

The Yukon 1000 is a test of endurance like no other. Starting in Whitehorse, Canada, the race follows the Yukon River through some of North America's most remote wilderness, concluding in Alaska, USA. It’s tagline is “the world’s longest paddling race” and participants must be self-supported for up to 10 days, carrying all necessary food, gear, and camping equipment. With over 4000 teams applying for the 2024 race and only 30 accepted, securing a spot is a significant achievement.

 

"The Yukon1000 has always intrigued us," Nathan shared. "The journey of the event, the remote and untamed wilderness, and the opportunity to push ourselves in a new way are what we're most looking forward to."


Nathan and Sophie competing at the Vaikobi King of the Harbour.

 An endurance challenge is nothing new to Nathan, who boasts a sporting resume nothing short of extraordinary.  The 52-year-old adventurer from Tasman Bay, near Nelson, founded and leads one of the world’s most successful adventure racing teams, Team Avaya (formally Seagate). Amongst many other achievements, they have won seven Adventure Racing World Championship titles, achieved victory in the renowned Eco Challenge - World's Toughest Race, and most recently won 3 consecutive GODZone New Zealand events.


“Sophie and I paddle together in our Adventure Racing team, whether it's in kayaks, pack rafts, canoes, or any other craft. Paddling stages have always been our strong suit; we've often joked that the perfect adventure race for us would involve only kayaking. After last year's GODZone, we decided to shake things up and try something different.”

 

Preparation and Challenges

Training for the Yukon 1000 has been intensive. Nathan and Sophie have logged countless hours paddling individually in their coastal homes – Nathan in Tasman Bay and Sophie in Marlborough Sounds- mainly in ocean skis. Their preparation has also included multi-day sea kayaking trips, primarily in the outer Sounds and Cook Strait areas, covering distances of 50-90km per day and regular participation in races. Nathan estimates he's paddled between 100-200km weekly, sometimes reaching 300km.


“Committing to a single sport for a stretch has been a rewarding challenge. Now that the race is approaching, the adventure is something to look forward to.”

Despite their extensive preparation, the race presents unique challenges. "Neither of us has done this race before, so there's a lot to learn from a first-time experience," Nathan noted. The cold water, the prospect of 18-hour paddling days, and the potential for bear encounters are among the hurdles they'll face. Moose have also been known to cause issue for camping paddlers on the Yukon.

 

"The bugs on land in Canada are intense, and being in the kayak for extended periods will test our comfort and nutrition strategies. Navigation will also be tricky, as parts of the river valley are 10km wide with multiple braids and channels," he added.

 

Racing Against Time

Nathan and Sophie aim to complete the race in a record-breaking time. "Most teams finish in six to ten days, with the winning time usually around six days. We aim to break the record, but we know it requires a perfect race under ideal conditions," Nathan explained. Factors like river flow, extreme winds, and natural events like forest fires can significantly impact their time.


Despite these challenges, Nathan remains optimistic. "We thrive in this environment, pushing ourselves to achieve our best performance. Our experience in multi-day racing is a significant strength, and we believe our teamwork will give us an edge."

“While many variables are beyond our control, our focus remains on achieving our best performance. I believe we can win and even set a new record, so we're open to that possibility from the starting line.”

 

As Nathan and Sophie embark on this formidable adventure, the world will be watching. His journey through the Yukon 1000 promises to be a testament to his enduring spirit and unmatched expertise in the world of adventure racing.

 

The 2024 Yukon 1000 starts on July 12th. Follow Nathan and Sophie’s progress at: https://www.yukon1000.org/

 

UPDATE AFTER 2 1/2 DAYS: Nathan and Sophie are in the lead, 740km into the race and ~65km ahead of the next two teams. As they enter Alaska, the route will only become more remote.


 

More about Nathan Fa’avae

Beyond his competitive accolades, Nathan is a professional outdoor consultant with a focus on team-building adventures, sporting events, and adventure racing. Alongside his wife Jodie, he founded and runs Ten Events Ltd, NZ’s leading adventure events specialist known for events such as the Spring Challenge, a women's adventure race, and True West. His dedication to outdoor education and event production underscores his multifaceted expertise and his contributions to the sport earned him the prestigious honour of being named an Officer of The New Zealand Order of Merit in 2023.

 

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