Multisport athlete Bailee Stratton believes the New Zealand Virtual Championships offers a great competitive opportunity to hone her surf ski skills after clocking 1:01:22 to move into third spot in a tightly-contested women’s surf ski division. The 32-year-old Wellington-based athlete recorded her time – which was just over a minute quicker than what she achieved at last year’s New Zealand Virtual Surf Ski Championships – on an out and back course adjacent to the motorway in Petone last Saturday. And Bailee, who first sat in a surf ski two years ago, was delighted with her efforts over the 12km distance “I’m really happy,” she says. “It was a good solid effort. I was lucky enough to have Ross Heald to battle with/push me along. And I improved on last years’ time which I thought would be hard as I’ve been doing slightly less ski paddling having to juggle multisport training.” After spending six years rowing during her time living in the UK it was shortly after she returned back home to New Zealand two years ago when she was first introduced to surf ski paddling. Based in Wellington the wind was much more suited to surf ski than rowing – and from the outset she enjoyed her paddling experience. “There’s a lot more variety and we have a great little group I paddle with out of the Kupe Canoe Club,” she says. “They’ve always looked out for me and been really encouraging and supportive. I did and still do get quite nervous when the conditions are tough but my confidence is definitely improving.
I’ve been super lucky to have had the club who have helped me out and run weekly races through the summer, which has been a great way to test myself.” Earlier this year, Bailee completed the Coast to Coast for the first time and she has also broadened her paddling experience on the river under the guidance of the Windy City Multisport Club. Believing ski and river paddling complement one another, she has loved every minute of her paddling adventure. “In general, I’ve just enjoyed getting more confident in the waves and having great people to paddle with,” she adds. Relatively inexperienced in surf ski competitions she has competed a couple of times at the King and Queen of the Bay in Nelson – where she placed fifth in the women’s race at this year’s edition – and local races on the Wellington scene. Keen to chance her arm in the this year’s Virtual Paddling Champs, she was motivated to make the most of the Wellington winds – the challenge to find a good course for the 12km examination. Identifying a relatively sheltered course – the same as the Welly Paddlers Motorway Classic which takes place this weekend – proved a winner and coupled with her multisport fitness she registered a slick time. Keen to have at least one more outing to better her time, she would encourage any other paddlers to give the competition a go. ”It’s a great way to get creative and make the most of local water,” she adds. “It’s quite exciting to see where your time falls amongst so many other strong paddlers too.”