As The Ultimate Waterman event heads down to the South Island, defending champion Daniel Kereopa, from Raglan, is lying in sixth place after the first two disciplines after being plagued by cramp and a suspected pinched nerve in his leg.
The New Zealand-based event, which involves eight elite international watermen competing against each other in eight different surf disciplines, kicked off with a waka (outrigger canoe) and a prone paddle race in Auckland over the weekend.
Daniel was coming sixth overall after the first two races – with his best disciplines yet to be competed – with American Danny Ching first, Australian Mark Visser second and Hawaiian Zane Schweitzer third.
The athletes and crew headed down to Queenstown on Monday for two days of rest and recreation while organisers tried to identify the best locations to compete the shortboard, longboard, standup paddle surf and big wave disciplines in the event.
This mobile event, which wraps up in Auckland on Sunday with a standup paddle endurance race, may come to Raglan or Port Waikato on Friday for the longboard discipline – one of Daniel’s specialities – depending on conditions.
The underwater strength run and swim race will be held in Auckland on Saturday under the watchful eye of famous Hawaiian waterman Laird Hamilton, who is one of the event ambassadors along with fellow Hawaiian Titus Kinimaka.
The 16km outrigger canoe race at Takapuna last Saturday was won by Danny Ching, with Hawaiian Connor Baxter second and Mark Visser third.
It was a close battle between Kereopa and newcomer Zane Schweitzer for fourth. Kereopa passed Schweitzer near the end of the course but because of leg cramp, could only hobble to the finish line while Schweitzer sprinted ahead.
Kereopa’s leg problem was also apparent the next day at Piha, during the running part of the grueling 6km prone paddling race. He was again pipped at the post during the sprint to the finish line with the other newcomer, Brazilian Caio Vaz, and entered up with another fifth placing.
The surf lifesaving-based discipline involved four laps on a prone paddleboard on a course where the athletes paddled out to markers offshore, then caught waves back in – all while lying or sitting on their boards – ran around the flags on the beach before heading out for the next lap.
It was an exciting and close race, with many of the athletes sharing the same waves and one of the race leaders, Connor Baxter, losing his board early on and having to swim back to shore to retrieve it.
Zane Schweitzer won the battle, breaking away from frontrunner Mark Visser in the final leg to win, with Danny Ching coming third.
Event organisers are this week pinning their hopes on forecasts of a big swell expected on the West Coast on Wednesday or Thursday. If this fails to deliver good surf conditions, the team will look to the East Coast instead.