Auckland's Hauraki Gulf was supposed to be churning last Saturday. The forecast had King and Queen of the Harbour race director Garth Spencer excited with the organising body frantically preparing to move racing to Sunday to take advantage of an approaching weather system.
But expected wind speeds did not materialise and an Auckland-to-Waiheke course with Saturday racing was settled upon.
Sleek carbon racing craft lined the water's edge at Okahu Bay: 10m back surf ski, stand-up paddleboard and waka-ama paddlers waited anxiously for the start of the 2016 Surf Ski World Series. Among the jostling athletes were some of the world's best watermen and women, including men's and women's World Champions Cory Hill and Teneale Hatton and medallists Michael Booth and Rachel Clarke.
Tahiti's Niuhiti Buillard smashed home ahead of NZ Olympian JP Tobin and Sam Thom to win the men's SUP division, while local Piha girl Annabel Anderson snatched the women's win and 4th SUP place overall. It was a Kiwi trifecta in the women's SUP with Penelope Strickland and Ange McKee picking up 2nd and 3rd places respectively. Kiwi Tupuria King stormed to victory in waka-ama.
As expected, the battle for Queen of the Harbour was fought between Kiwi girls Hatton and Clarke despite a late start from the latter, as Clarke recalls.
"It was extremely tough with conditions being dead flat but we had the benefit of an outgoing tide. I had a terrible start and was in the back half of the field getting on the water.
"I managed to get going well after that and slowly made my way up through the group. About 3km into the race I caught up to Teneale and for about 2.5km we were side by side.
"Then I managed to pull away on some small runs and kept pulling away. I felt really comfortable and strong the entire way."
Kiwi domination continued in the women's surf ski with Clarke clinching her fourth Queen of the Harbour title from Hatton in 2nd and 3rd place going to Orewa's Stefanie Crncevic.
It was Australia all the way in the men's surf ski with Hill and Booth charging into Waiheke's Matiatia Bay to claim 1st and 2nd respectively, followed closely by country mate Mark Anderson in 3rd. With water sports - particularly SUP - currently experiencing a surge in popularity, Spencer is excited about the future of water sport in New Zealand.
Auckland King and Queen of the Harbour
What: 26km downwind paddle: surf-ski, stand-up paddleboard and waka-ama
Where: Hauraki Gulf, Auckland
For more information: www.pacificoceanpaddlers.com