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Kayaks, bikes flip in wild Raglan weather but race chiefs unfazed

Kayaks were flipped in the harbour, several people were blown off their mountain-bikes and riders also faced a complete “white-out” at Te Uku wind farm on the top of the Wharauroa Plateau but organisers of the big ARC adventure race based around Raglan at the weekend were unbothered by it all.

Some might say it was “a bit reckless” to go ahead with the annual event as Cyclone Lusi bore down on the country and locals were warned to batten down the hatches, co-organiser Keith Stephenson acknowledged to the Chronicle.

But Keith said that he, fellow organiser Andy Reid and their Adventure Racing Coromandel support crew were confident they had all contingencies covered in this their 14th year of the race, which was being held in Raglan for the first time.

Keith pointed out he was in town all last week, in touch with the local Coastguard and being advised by the most up-to-date MetService data.

Changes were in fact made along the way because of the weather forecast, he said, with Saturday’s dawn kayakers setting off from Kopua footbridge on a shortened course and the last six hours of the 24-hour race wiped completely because of the conditions.

Even so a third of the dawn kayaking fleet capsized up-harbour and two Coastguard jetskis and an ARC inflatable rescue boat were kept busy helping right the craft, though Keith emphasised most kayakers would have been able to do so themselves.

The 24-hour entrants – the first of whom finished the course in Pirongia at 2am on Sunday – didn’t do a night kayak down the Waipa River or an extra mountain-bike and trek that was to follow. They were at risk of hypothermia when competing in such extreme weather conditions, said Keith, and using “a helluva lot more energy getting from A to B”.

Marshals and roving paramedics were on hand throughout the course, he added, and radio communication kept everyone in the loop.

Keith admitted there were “pretty hefty blows” up on Mt Karioi to challenge competitors early on as they trekked from the Te Toto Gorge to the Te Mata side of the mountain. That leg of the race was sandwiched between two mountain-biking stages which saw some competitors blown off their bikes in the gusts.

Those crashes didn’t faze Keith any more than the kayaking capsizes. “Most (competitors) will wear battle wounds before the finishline,” he quipped, pointing out accidents could equally happen while entrants were out training.

After biking roads and farmland to the Bridal Veil Falls, competitors had to plunge under the falls to reach a checkpoint. “Each checkpoint they get to is worth time credits,” Keith explained.

More mountain-biking took competitors up to the top of the wind farm 430 metres above sea level, where they could hear only the ‘whoosh’ of the giant turbines as little as 10 metres away. “It was all compass work up there, which was good,” says Keith.

Then it was down to Vandy and Waitetuna Valley Roads, and around to the Karamu Caves. That’s where the two eight-hour races – one with the traditional kayak leg, the other using standup paddleboards in Kopua estuary – ended, though not before caving, rock-climbing and rifle-shooting disciplines.

Those in the 12-hour adventure race carried on trekking the Four Brothers Track – finishing on top of Old Mountain Road – while the 24-hour contenders biked to the base of Pirongia before trekking the mountain a final six or seven hours.

One four-person team however made a ‘navigational error’ on Mt Pirongia, breaking out onto farmland at daylight to find they faced a 35-kilometre trek back to the finish line at Pirongia.

Needless to say they weren’t at prize-giving back in Raglan late Sunday morning, said Keith.

More than 200 endurance junkies came to Raglan to tackle the series of tough land and water-based challenges, in teams mostly of four but also of two and three. None knew the exact course until registration the night before, but all were kitted out with the survival gear they needed for what is known as the adventure of a lifetime.

Many of the 100-odd teams involved were made up of secondary school students and they “had a ball”, said Keith who reckoned the conditions were perfect for outdoor education.

“It made them a bit more alert, conscious of safety and looking out for each other.”

He now wants to encourage them over to Coromandel to enter the North Island Secondary School Adventure Racing Championships in September.

Raglan seen as ideal for adventure race of own

ARC adventure race co-organiser Keith Stephenson was impressed with Raglan’s “au naturel” environment for the race, which has been held away from the Coromandel only three times since the gruelling event began in 2000.

“I can see Raglan doing a (regular) six or eight-hour adventure race here,” he said, looking to the future.

“Raglan could have three or four teams of its own … and it’s great exposure for the young ones.”

While Raglan had no competitors in the adventure race, local sports events promoter Lisa Thomson organised a group of Raglan-based volunteers to help out around the course.

Keith said he and all the ARC crew were especially grateful to local landowners with whom they negotiated for more than six months to get the course finalised.

Edith Symes

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