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Trashy beats flashy in clash of pedallers and paddlers

It was all sleek lines and flared wings vaguely reminiscent of its mothership, but out on the water Earthrace couldn’t match it with a couple of old bikes mounted on top of twin corrugated iron hulls in Saturday’s hilarious recycled raft race — part of a very successful Maui’s Dolphin Day — in the Kopua estuary.

Amid an unusually large turnout of weird and wacky craft the Pete Bethune entry stood out with its pencil-thin hull in ominous black, and with a range of technological features the former round-the-globe skipper was proudly having video-recorded on the beach only minutes before the start.

And with one-time world rowing silver medallist Rob Hamill as one of the paddlers, you might’ve thought Earthrace was a shoo-in for line honours — well, to make it around a few buoys and cross first back under the spectator-lined Kopua footbridge.

Foster Kalmo — a paddler for the Raglan Surf Life Saving Club entry The Clubbies, the defending champions — confessed to being “a bit nervous” about the formidable-looking entry right alongside them on the beach.

But as it turned out the real threat came from the Meek family, wily old campaigners in the annual fun race. And pedal-pushing outmuscled paddle-power as Phil (Piripi) Meek and biking companion Sven Ludwig showed a clean spray of salt water, flung up paddlesteamer-style by old spades, to the rest of the fleet.

Despite still winning comfortably aboard 2-Stroke, Phil reckons he and Sven would’ve truly “blitzed em” if their scrap metal rudder hadn’t broken off — first on launching, and again after rounding the final buoy into the home straight.

Not only that but the old chains kept coming off the bikes so the Clubbies, who finished second, always looked a threat on their barrels-and-bamboo creation no matter how hard he and Sven pedalled.

It was “quite scary” having to stop and tend to technical difficulties on the final leg, Phil says. It’s the taking part that counts of course, but having been well out in front mid-race they’d have been “devastated” to lose.

A serial raft race recidivist, Phil’s now notched up two wins, two seconds, a fifth, “maybe” a sixth and a seventh in what’s become one of Raglan’s iconic events. Coincidentally the race trophies are made out of old car parts by older brother Chris — himself right up there in earlier events, along with sons Matt and Joe.

Any hopes of winning as sunk as the Ady Gil, the Earthrace outrigger — crewed by Pete, Rob, Ben Clipson and Nathan Pettigrew — clawed its way to a still creditable third despite nearly beaching just before the footbridge. Close behind in fourth were Team Metal on their oversized inner tube.

Meanwhile winners of the best raft trophy were Angus McDonald and Rodger Gibb aboard — most of the time at least — Totara Trough.

The introduction of a recycled fashion show proved a hit at this year’s Maui’s Dolphin Day and organisers say they’ll definitely run this event again next year. Results were:

First: The Maui Mermaids: Ella Mc-Leod, Jo Tweedie, and Amelia Penfold
Second: The Bubble Guppies: Madison Cobham-Petch, Myaaliyah Rainey, Micheal Rainey and Isabeau Conjaerts
Third: TNT Creative: Tracy Brechelt, Tim Turner and their charismatic model… Charlotte Lauga.

*Whaingaroa Environment Centre and Xtreme Waste teamed up again this year to bring Maui’s Dolphin Day, featuring the recycled raft race and fashion show, to Raglan

Edith Symes

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