Hearty bunch of kayakers gear up for chilly challenge down south

By Peter Thornton

Although the Waimakariri is a large braided river, the Brass Monkey race has gained a reputation as a safe, competitive event.
Although the Waimakariri is a large braided river, the Brass Monkey race has gained a reputation as a safe, competitive event.

They are hearty souls down south and none more so than the locals who brave the annual Yakima Brass Monkey Kayaking Series.

The Brass Monkey race started nearly 30 years ago when a guy named Nigel in the White Water Canoe Club wanted to learn how to paddle a Down River Racer to do the Coast to Coast. Two other members, Pete and Mike, offered to teach him.

"They invited others along, and over the years it has turned into the most important kayak race series in the country," said Colin Hogg, race director of the Brass Monkey.

Typically on race days the Series attracts about 110-120 competitors and in the past there have been more than 140 braving the cold to compete. It is half the fun of the experience.

"Without a doubt getting up early on a frosty and even misty morning to paddle down river with freezing air temperatures and cold water on the hands is part of the fun - or is it madness?"

With the sub-zero temperatures experienced across the South Island in recent days many would argue it is much more like madness.

The race is run over a distance of about 12km on the Waimakariri River just north of Christchurch. The Waimak' is one of the South Island's largest braided rivers and the section that the race series is run on is Grade 2 and offers a great race experience for elite to novice paddlers.

The series has grown steadily over time along with participation in the Coast to Coast and other multisport events which involve kayaking.

It has gained a reputation as being a safe, friendly, yet competitive, event. It has also been backed by regular sponsors and last year attracted the international brand Yakima as the naming sponsor who introduced the Yakima Trophy.

In 2012 the race organisers changed the format of the Brass Monkey to a four-race series with two consecutive days racing Saturday and Sunday mornings over two weekends, four to five weeks apart.

"This means that for most competitors there is the challenge of a weekend's racing where they have the chance to lift their game from one day to the next hopefully in the same river conditions," said Hogg.

"The feedback last year from the competitors was very positive as they liked the extra challenge."

Two weekends of racing makes the race more attractive for competitors outside of Canterbury to attend for a weekend's race.

In 2012 the Brass Monkey welcomed some North Island competitors as well as kayakers from Nelson, Greymouth, Hokitika, Tekapo, Oamaru and Dunedin.

"This allows kayakers to compete with each other during the winter whereas they would not normally have the opportunity."

The categories are all fiercely contested - from the novices who just want to complete the 12-13km course to elite athletes who are looking to shave seconds off their times.

Hogg said there was an element of strategy involved in reading the braided river and paddlers can gain valuable time by choosing the correct line.

"For some just staying in their boat and not having a chilly swim is enough of a challenge. Most of the competitors are a great bunch of people and enjoy being out in the outdoors and generally help each other."

The White Water Club volunteers provide the safety personnel and there is a significant amount of time invested in checking out the river and, when required, marking a route to avoid a hazard.

"Safety is also the responsibility of each of the competitors who are required to have their own personal safety equipment before they can race."

The Brass Monkey is a truly local series that is as much about camaraderie as it is about competition.

"There is no big prize money or even prizes for the winners - they are all racing for a chocolate fish - but ask any of the competitors and they all want to be the one picking up a chocolate fish at the prizegiving and get that recognition from their peers."


Yakima Brass
Monkey series

When: Event 1: July 6-7, Event 2: August 10-11

Where: The White Water Club, the Waimakariri River

For more information visit: www.brassmonkey.org.nz

- NZ Herald

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