Since the launch of the NZ Virtual Surfski Championships earlier this month the innovative event has attracted paddlers from all around the world. We speak to a trio of overseas-based entrants to gauge their thoughts on the event which runs until June 14.
Danish surfski paddler Ronnie Dalsgaard entered the NZ Virtual Surfski Championships to “open his eyes to the world” and was rewarded by briefly leading the men’s overall standings with a slick time of 55:53 for the 12km distance.
The 36-year-old is a former Danish national champion swimmer, surf lifesaving world masters record-holder (35-39 age group) in the 100 carry and tow but with neither sport currently running any active competition, Ronnie has looked to surfski to keep fit during the current restrictions.
So when the man from Hellerup – just north of the Danish capital of Copenhagen – discovered the NZ Virtual Surfski Championships on Instagram it was too tempting an opportunity to turn down.
“It sounded like a fun concept,” he explains. “I needed some motivation to train hard, so I decided to give it a go,” he explains. “It’s fun to race athletes from other countries - it opens your eyes to the world.”
The lockdown restrictions in Denmark have not precluded paddling and after borrowing a surfski at the Klampenborg Kayak Club in March he has since resisted the often cold conditions to paddle most days
“We’ve had freezing temperatures, so I have had to put on some extra layers,” he explains. “I would normally paddle indoors on the erg until April, but not this year.”
In good shape he set out a 12km route at his local beach in Bellevue with the aim of completing the distance in one hour.
Unhappy with the pace his was setting upwind for the first half he managed to hit a nice rhythm coming home of just over four-minutes per kilometre to record a time of 55:53 to briefly take the time in the open men’s competition.
“I was pleased with it (the time) but I believe I might be able to do a faster time in more calm conditions, going upwind I had a slowest km of around 5:15 - so there is be room for improvement.”
Likely to post another time in the championship he also holds some fond memories of his time in Auckland – and he has half-an-eye on the 2022 World Surfski Championships, which take place in Takapuna.
“I would love to come back to Auckland, I completed a semester at the university there back in 2009, so it would be great to see your lovely country again.”
In the shorter-term, Ronnie has called on other paddlers from around the world to chance their arm and enter the 2020 NZ Virtual Surfski Championships.
“You should definitely give this virtual form a go,” he says. “It’s always fun to see how you perform against your peers from around the world and it’s a good motivation for people to keep in shape during these difficult times.”
Former US surfski champion Austin Kieffer overcome his fear of time trials to head the men’s open leaderboard for a stint at the NZ Virtual Surfski Championships.
The 30-year-old paddler answered a call from New Zealand’s 2019 World Surfski bronze medallist Teneale Hatton to enter the competition and he leapt at the opportunity.
“I was looking for a virtual event to compete in and this longer (12km) and fair (out and back) format really appealed to me,” explains Austin.
“I also normally dread time trials in training since I train alone, so this was a good chance to motivate me to improve in an area I needed. to work on.”
Taking on the 12km challenge at this regular training route in San Diego he was thrilled to record a time of 51:52 and take the provisional lead (a time which has since been surpassed by German paddler Nordin Sparmann).
Listening to his body more than he typically would after six weeks off the water because of government restrictions he was elated with his efforts.
“I had no idea of what I was capable of with my current fitness and conditions on the day,” he explains. “I was thrilled with the time. I thought it would take me a few attempts to get a time I was proud of, but my first attempt turned out better than expected.”
Austin, who in 2019 finished second in the prestigious Gorge Downwind Championships, and fifth in the World Surfski League rankings, is among the world’s elite paddlers and he hopes to post more attempts in the NZ Virtual Surfski Championships.
Not only that; he would also encourage other paddlers to get involved in the unique competition.
“It is so cool to have an international surfski race to compete in right now,” explains Austin, who says it would be a dream for him to participate at the 2022 World Surfski Championships in Auckland. “What I love most about racing is challenging myself and testing myself against others in the sport. As someone who trains alone on the ocean, I long for competition of any kind. I really hope some of the top guys give it a go.”
As soon as Australian-based Kiwi Julie Jenkinson first became aware of the NZ Virtual Surfski Championships the world masters surfski champion knew she just had to enter the event.
Not only that she encouraged her husband, former Olympic sprint kayaker, Rob, and three friends from the Indian Ocean Paddlers Club in Perth to also enter the competition to ensure a genuine international flavour to the event.
“I always keep an eye on all things New Zealand and the event acted as motivation while there are no other events were happening,” she says. “The competition means you can keep an eye on the other paddlers and check the leaderboard, it really brings the surfski community together.”
Besides her and husband posting a time on the Swan River – Tim Cornish and Mark Woodbourne – the latter of whom originally hails from South Africa - also completed the 12km challenge.
Julie has a long and rich paddling history. A former surf lifesaver, following the success of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics - in which New Zealand won four gold medals and her husband Rob also featured – Julie was recruited to form a New Zealand women’s canoe sprint squad. Quickly adapting to the sport just two years she was part of the first Kiwi women’s team to appear at a World Canoe Sprint Championships.
Originally from Otaki on the Kapiti Coast she later moved to Perth and in 1993 represented Australia at the World Canoe Sprint Championships in Copenhagen.
In more recent times the 55-year-old computer programmer has switched to surfski and has won four successive World Surfski titles as a masters athlete – the most recent of which was in the 55-59 age-group.
Julie posted a time of 1:11:18 at the NZ Virtual Surfski – “the water was pretty heavy and I think I can go a little bit faster” – and she plans a second solo attempt at some point in the coming weeks and also hopes to post a time in the double surfski with her husband.
Yet whatever happens in the future, she fully intends to return to New Zealand in 2022 for the World Surfski Championships.
“New Zealand is still home for me,” she adds. “I’ve raced the King and Queen of the Harbour and I think it will be such a good location for the event because it has three different courses to run on dependent on the wind, which makes it a pretty cool event.”
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