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Keys unlock secret to Tasman Bay

The 16th edition of the Queen and King of the Bay Ocean Surfski Race took place over the weekend under the iconic Nelson sunshine and the sparkling clean waters of Tasman Bay, with husband and wife pair taking home victories in both the men's and women's fields.

Race Director Nathan Fa’avae of Ten Events Limited was thrilled to deliver two days of ocean racing in what he considered to be pretty good conditions. “Surfski paddlers seek wind and waves, and typically in Tasman Bay in summer, there are regular afternoon waves and wind breathing into the bay, of varying strengths. While it wasn’t strong winds for the racing, it was pretty good.”

The event, split into two parts, saw the main event occur on Saturday, a 26km downwind paddle from Kaiteriteri Beach to Port Māpua, two of the region's top tourist attractions. As a round of the Darcy Price New Zealand Ocean Surfski Series, the event always attracts a sizable number of the country's elite paddlers and is supported by social paddlers. The event caters to surfski paddlers of all abilities.

In the Queen of the Bay event, Danika Mowlem, one of the pre-race favorites, was forced to withdraw just one day before the event. This was disappointing for Mowlem, who is in form and would have been a main contender for the title. Mowlem was expected to have a close race with 2019 winner Carly Keys (nee Tyler), but with Mowlem absent, it was mostly a solo race for Keys to secure the victory and etch her name onto the trophy for a second time. Alexandra Martin paddled strongly to finish in second place, with Shirley Erie claiming third.

The King's race field was not short of depth, with four previous winners on the starting line, including three-time winner Ben Keys, who had won the previous two races in 2022 and 2023. A victory in 2024 would make Keys the first person to earn four wins in the coveted competition. However, Toby Brooke, who has won the event twice before, was hoping for another win. The main threat to Keys, though, was expected to come from Gene Prato, who recently won the Bhutty Moore Memorial Race in Tauranga.

The men's race took off hard and fast from Kaiteriteri. While the lead pack fought for positions heading into the open waters and starting the run down to Māpua, it wasn't long before Keys, Prato, and Brooke started to get some daylight between them and the men’s elite field. From that point on, Keys and Prato edged away, and by the finish, it was once again a Key's victory.

Keys commented, “We had a light following sea which went a little to the east towards the end, which put us all in the pain cave coming into the Māpua finish. Had a great battle with Gene and Toby Brooke coming in third. Always great racing here, my favorite of all the Darcy Price series races.” Carly and Ben Keys each won a year's supply of Motueka Creamery Ice Cream.

The Double contest was won by Sophie Hart and Nathan Fa’avae. The adventure racing paddling duo are training for the Yukon1000 in July and using the ocean races as part of their buildup. They pulled away from the start and paddled unchallenged to the finish, recording the third fastest time on the course for the day behind Ben Keys and Gene Prato. Daniel Bremner and Claire Sykes were the second mixed double, while Elora Hallett and Morgan Moore were the first women’s double.

Day two started and finished in Kaiteriteri, with the 18km Abel Tasman Island race. This event has more of a social theme but holds the integrity of a race. Many of the top paddlers switched to double surfskis for this race into the National Park. Gene Prato and Garth Spencer broke the finish tape first, with Toby Brooke and Liam Lace finishing a close second. Ben and Carly Keys were the first mixed double and third overall. Reid Forrest and Hadyn Lockie took third men’s double. Daniel Bremner and Claire Sykes were the second mixed doubles, while Sam Millson and Alexandra Martin were third mixed double. Sophie Hart was the first female single ski to finish, and Fred Tear was the first single male ski over the line.

Over 50 paddlers enjoyed a fun, safe, and dynamic event in a stunning location. The camaraderie and culture within the event and the participants are very special, making it a rewarding and memorable weekend. The sport blends skills, challenge, health, and enjoying the ocean.

The event is proudly sponsored by KayakHQ, with support from Kaiteriteri, Motueka Creamery, Real Meals, Think Kayaks, Interislander, Pete’s Natural Sodas, and Proper Crisps.

For more information, results, and updates, visit

This was the 4th race of the Darcy Price NZ Ocean Ski Series. Two races remain in the 2023/24 season. For series info and points leaderboard:



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