The start of the ninth annual James Moore-morial Race will make for a spectacular sight off Pilot Bay at 10am tomorrow.
A record number of 120 paddlers in single and double outrigger canoes, ocean skis and stand-up paddle boards will begin the epic journey around Mauao, past Moturiki Island and all the way to the finish at Maketu 33 kilometres away.
The Champions Cup race is normally raced in the opposite direction with a south-east wind but the predominant westerly winds have necessitated the change of direction for tomorrow's race.
James Moore drowned after coming off his canoe in stormy weather after almost completing the journey in July 2008. His paddling friend and race organiser Paul Roozendaal said the race had taken on even greater significance on the constantly growing waka ama calendar.
"This year the race is also a trial for the New Zealand team so the quality is even higher than previous years and we have a lot of newcomers as well. We have a few of Australia's long-distance national champs coming and one from Tahiti and Hawaii but no French guys this year."
Roozendaal said it was a great honour for Waka Ama NZ to choose this race as the trial for the long-distance national team to compete at the first-ever world champs in Tahiti in July.
"It shows the quality of the race. I have always thought this was one of the toughest races and most fun races in New Zealand, which is shown by the numbers attending.
"It is great to be recognised as one of the best events and to be used as a trial. It is also great it is all being done in the name of James who was our good friend.
"I bet he would be stoked to know the best paddlers in New Zealand are coming to compete in memory of him and then try and be in the New Zealand team.
"He was also one of New Zealand's best paddlers, so it is pretty cool."
Racing starts off Pilot Bay at 10am tomorrow with the best vantage points for spectators on the base track of Mauao facing Matakana Island and also the blowhole end of Moturiki (Leisure) Island, which is the 5km mark.
"You will be able to see where the race is heading and who is in front. Thanks to Southern Trust we are able to have GPS tracking on every canoe which makes it great for friends, family and an international audience to watch the race live on-line," Roozendaal said.
"So you can watch from Leisure Island and have your phone there and you will be able to see who is in front and what speeds they are doing as well which is cool. But it also helps our safety team with ensuring everyone completes the 33km course safely. Being a memorial race, safety has to be the key to this race."
The first paddlers are expected to arrive at Maketu about midday.