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As the 2021 New Zealand Virtual Paddling Championships reaches a climax we chat to two paddlers – Ben McCallum and Ana Swetish – who have made it to the top of the standings in their respective paddle craft.

After finishing third in the open women’s event and taking top spot in the U18 division at last year’s New Zealand Virtual Surfski Championships, Ana Swetish needed little persuading to enter the 2021 New Zealand Virtual Paddling Championships. And given the class and ability of the 19-year-old, who took out the World Junior Surf Ski title in 2019, it was little surprise she powered to the top of the open women’s standings in her speciality category, recording a blazing time of 58:16. “I had so much fun participating in the New Zealand Virtual Surf Ski Champs last year, so when I saw the event (which is now open to all paddle craft) was happening again, I was excited to paddle. Also, given that we haven’t had many races over the past year it was a great opportunity to see where I am speed-wise.” Despite the paucity of competitive opportunities, Ana, who is based in Bellingham in the North Western American state of Washington, says she is in good shape because of the lockdowns and completing school online has given her plenty of time to train. Selecting Lake Whatcom in her home city was a logical choice given it is the only lake in the area with a 6km straight and she had one simply goal in mind when attempting the 12km distance; to beat her time of 58:30 recorded at last year’s New Zealand Virtual Surf Ski Championships. “I wasn’t sure how it would go because I hadn’t done many time trials or races, so I was pretty happy to record 58:16.” Ana has not ruled out an attempt in the K1 or SUP in the remaining days of the 2021 New Zealand Virtual Paddling Championships and she has called on paddlers of all standards to give it a go. “Everyone should try it because it is a fun way to see where you stand against other people in the world and it is a great benchmark to see personal progress,” he adds. “It is also a great reason to get out on the water and paddle hard!”

New Zealand men’s kayak Invitation S

quad member Ben McCallum added a touch of class by rocketing to the top of the K1 standings on Saturday at the Virtual Paddling Champs, recording a red-hot 51:51. The 21-year-old Cambridge-based paddler has been light on competitive opportunities after not featuring at Blue Lake 2 in December and also denied the chance to compete at the postponed New Zealand Canoe Sprint nationals last month. So the Waitara club paddler saw the New Zealand Virtual Paddling Champs as a great opportunity to satisfy those competitive juices. “I saw the times (the leader at that time was masters athlete Garth Spencer with a best of 54:21) and I thought they were definitely beatable,” adds Ben, a University of Waikato Environmental Planning student. “I didn’t want it to interfere with my training and that day I was scheduled for a 20km of paddle, so I did the 12km virtual race and then an 8km paddle.” Logically selecting Lake Karapiro as his best race route option he was pleased with his efforts – although he admits there is room for improvement. “I was averaging 14km/h going upstream and I thought I was going to post a better time than I did. I died over the last 3km, which was probably more down to an unfamiliarity with the distance because I didn’t know what pace to hold. But it is still a good time, breaking 52 minutes is pretty good.” Given his training commitments, Ben is unlikely to give the champs – which concludes at midnight on Wednesday (March 31), another crack but the University of Waikato Environmental Planning student would nonetheless encourage others to enter the month-long competition. “It is a good way to compare yourself with others and for the New Zealand paddlers a good way to see where you are tracking with your fitness level so close to nationals.”



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