Kayaking: Brass Monkey gives relief from quakes

By Peter Thornton

Up to 150 paddlers of all abilities take part in the Brass Monkey paddling on the Waimakariri River. Photo / Supplied
Up to 150 paddlers of all abilities take part in the Brass Monkey paddling on the Waimakariri River. Photo / Supplied

With Canterbury locals still flinching with every aftershock, the rolling water of the braided Lower Waimakariri River provides the perfect place for escapism.

Tomorrow is race three of the Tuatara Tours Brass Monkey Series that has attracted between 120 to 150 paddlers of all abilities for each event so far in 2011.

The ever-evolving Waimakariri River provides a different challenge in every one of the series' five stages.

Race two was about 1km longer than the first race according to GPS readings, due to river braid changes as there was no significant rain during that fortnight.

When a flood comes between races, the river bed is completely reworked and process starts over again. This variation between races keeps the race route interesting.

For the race organiser, PaddlerZone, managed by Dana Dopleach, the series provides a number of benefits for earthquake weary people of Christchurch - a good outlet and escape, along with community support and continuity of routines for local kayakers.

The race distracts kayakers for three hours including briefings, set-up, racing and packing up afterwards, plus the time spent training, scouting and planning.

"It's an excellent diversion from the pressures of the earthquakes and a positive activity in its own right," said Dopleach. "Plus there is still time left in the afternoon to shovel liquefaction [sludge]."

The Brass Monkey has been in operation for almost 30 years and 2011, a year like no other in Canterbury, is no different for the event.

"It's amazing, numbers are up on last year," said kayaking rookie Linda Poulsen who is using the series to prepare for the individual Coast to Coast in 2012.

"People just want to return to normality. There are lots of things you can't do in Christchurch so it is good to have something in the weekends to look forward to."

"Most events around Christchurch are really struggling with about half the numbers they usually get," said Ian Huntsman who has helped organise the event since 1997.

"But we have had people turning up like normal and that is testament to the character of this event. It is the only chance to get out on the river in the winter. Everyone gets stuck in, in the cold."

Huntsman is a former New Zealand kayaking representative. He is determined to hold on to his 12-second lead in the open men's section with three events remaining.

"There are a lot of young paddlers who'd love to beat me but I am pretty keen to keep going and that competition is what I come back for every year," said the 45-year-old. .

Multisport legend Steve Gurney, who used to use the series each year when he was winning the Coast to Coast to test new kayak designs, Nathan Fa'avae and Huntsman are some of the higher profile athletes in the Brass Monkey.

"I can't wait to get back into it," said Gurney.

"Very seldom are there winter kayak events in Christchurch so it is great to keep you motivated and stop you languishing in a lack of fitness.

"It is reasonably serious white water - more so from the fact that it is so cold - if you fall in, you can suffer hypothermia. And it is the perfect place to prepare for the kayaking in the Coast to Coast."

The connection between the elite and the not-so elite makes the Brass Monkey and keeps it safe.

"It is amazing seeing the top guys go,"said rookie Poulsen. "They go so fast it feels like you are paddling backwards."

"There are plenty of trees along the river beds which add an element of danger if you don't know what you are doing," said Gurney. "But the volunteers and the competitors who look out for one another keep it safe."

The 48-year-old Gurney laughed at how competitive everyone (including himself) is.

"It is hard case watching people come to the river the day before to measure each section and get an idea of how the river has changed since the last time.

"It is full-on, on the river, but afterwards the camaraderie is huge. Everyone stays around afterwards and shares their war stories with hot chips and a beer. It is awesome."

Poulsen, 40, could not think of a better environment to hone her kayaking skills.

The Brass Monkey began when a member of the White Water Canoe Club wanted to learn to paddle a down river racer ( used in those days for the Coast to Coast) and two friends in the club agreed to teach him. They invited others in the club to join them and soon the club committee made it an official event.

Coming up

Today

Running and tramping:
Furneaux Lodge, Captain Cook's Landing. Queen Charlotte Track. Marlborough Sounds, 25km trail run from Ship Cove to Punga Cove.

Tomorrow

Mountain biking:
Galaxy Travel NDuro Winter MTB Series 2011. Rotorua.

Kayaking:
Tuatara Tours Brass Monkey Series Race Three. Lower Waimakariri River. The braided river from the Pylons to State Highway 1 Bridge.

Running and tramping:
Beginners guide to off road, Auckland Domain. Off road running skills, 5km.

- NZ Herald

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