Over the past 30 years few men’s paddlers in New Zealand can match the proud CV of Ben Fouhy.
Starting out as a promising multisport racer - he finished 15th as a 21-year-old in the 2001 Coast to Coast – he later developed into a world-class marathon and sprint kayaker securing the World K1 1000m title in 2003 and the Olympic K1 1000m silver at the Athens Games. The Taumarunui-raised paddler further revealed his versatility when winning bronze at the 2005 World Canoe Marathon Championships.
In more recent times, the 44-year-old Taupo-based paddler has gone back to the future to re-engage with his first love of multisport racing, coaching beginner and elite level multisport and endurance athletes through his business, Ben Fouhy Kayaking. He spends countless hours on the Mohaka river with his charges, most with the aim of getting prepared for the biggest event in the multisport calendar- the Kathmandu Coast to Coast.
They are in good hands, demonstrated by Ben registering the quickest kayak leg in both the 2022 and 2023 editions of the race.
With the ballot for entries for the 2024 Coast to Coast complete, around 1000 participants are getting into their training for February’s event. For some, the 70km kayak section of the Waimakariri river is the absolute highlight while for others, it is viewed with serious trepidation.
Few people understand the challenges of the kayak leg better than Ben and here he offers his guide to both beginners and more experienced paddlers on how to tame the Waimak.
Tips for Beginner Coast to Coast Paddlers
Paddle often where ever you can For a beginner who is tackling the Coast to Coast for the first time it is important to spend as much time as possible in the boat to build experience. Find the right boat and get out paddling on any body of water, it does not always need to be in a river. A training programme may help.
“Weekly river paddling is not always feasible but you can develop your paddling ability – balance, coordination, forward paddling strength and connection in a way that is valuable on the river,” adds Ben.
Execute basic technique principles
In order to paddle more efficiently and better prepare for life on the Waimakariri River developing a sound technique is critically important.
“As a general rule focus on skill acquisition above anything else, conditioning will develop as you do this,” says Ben.
Paddler.nz has created a Principles of Technique manual developed by the world's best kayaking coaches, which should offer some sound advice on paddling technique.
Find some Training Partners
Training partners, ideally of a similar level, act as motivation and make you more accountable, particularly through the winter months.
Ben adds: “One of the best elements of our sport is the community and one of the best ways to improve is from your peer group. You will be able to learn from others in the group and training with others is also good for the soul.”
While it is not necessary to spend every training session in the river it is important for any Coast to Coast to have some quality time paddling in the river to hone your specific skills. Doing a river training course will help you to gain this knowledge.
“It is important on the river to maintain momentum - although you want to be comfortable paddling a variety of lines on the river,” says Ben. “If you have to cross some bigger waves try to cut across them at a slight angle so that the boat is less pitchy. A slight upstream lean with the hull facing the oncoming wave can help soften the impact of the waves which
act as a decelerating force. Reach over the waves.”
Tips for the Intermediate Coast to Coast Paddler – racing/developing, aiming to improve
Mix up the boats
To improve your overall paddling skills, consider using different types of boats. K1 paddling is demanding but it will help develop balance and technique. The surfski can also play a part in enhancing technical skills. Not only is it a fun way to train, it is often much easier to get to the sea than mission to a river.
“For any multisport paddler I would absolutely give ocean ski paddling a good nudge because it can do wonders for your multisport paddling,” explains Ben. “The nature of the ocean means there are waves and bumps from all directions, in many ways this can be more challenging than a rapid in terms of balance.”
Find a coach
For the intermediate paddler looking to develop it is important to refine your training programme and seek specialist help to aid progression.
“Chat to a coach to see if you can work with them,” adds Ben. “If you form a connection then the coach can gain a proper understanding of your individual goals. On the back of this conversation a training plan can be mapped out.”
In order to improve it is important to set ambitious yet realistic goals.
“In the earlier stages of my career I knew winning was unrealistic but I set goals to beat paddlers who may have been a few minutes ahead of me in the previous race,” explains Ben. “Sometimes a race within a race acted as good motivation.”
Measure your progress
Use different tools to measure progress to check on how you are tracking for the big day.