This piece was written by Ann, partner of one of the photographers at the event, for her friends and family. However, when we saw it we asked if we could share if further, as it gives a wonderful insight in to how our sport looks to the outsider. This was her first experience of a stand up paddleboarding event, and we are very grateful for the opportunity to share her thoughts. Thanks Ann!
Leslie was asked to be photographer at a two-day paddle board event. What’s that? Some sort of river and sea sport. He packed the twenty-kilo bag for the camera with the special lenses. He packed another bag with another camera. He packed two binoculars in their bags. Two tripods for cameras or telescopes. Sunglasses, hats for both of us, jackets for both of us. Sandwiches, a flask of tea, bottles of water.
I packed a book. I’ve always hated sport.
What is a paddle board? It’s like a hard, plastic inflatable canoe, though there is no space to sit in it. Instead, the sportsman (or sportswoman) stands on the upper surface to paddle it. The point of sport is to paddle it faster and further than anyone else.
I didn’t read my book. I was fascinated to see how the paddle boards worked, to see school teams, individual children as young as seven, extremely fit teenagers, men and women in their twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, sixties and seventies, blowing up their paddle boards, and setting up little school or team picnic spots in the grounds. Meanwhile their families, dogs and babies were setting up their own little picnic spots as well, while the Kerikeri high school jazz group (winners in a national music competition) were entertaining people with saxophones and a keyboard.
“Here,” said Leslie, handing me one of his big, complicated, expensive cameras. “Can you take some pictures as well? Look through this. Press that.” I had a go. “What about talking to Marlene over there. She was last year’s woman winner.”
Marlene. We were talking together when Leslie took this picture.
Marlene was a very attractive fifty-year-old who looked forty, lithe and lean. She didn’t’t mind at all when I went up to her holding the camera, and chatted a bit while I took pictures, until one of the organisers distracted her.
“That’s a very big camera.” It was a Māori man in his forties, lithe, lean etc. The camera turned out to be a very good icebreaker, with him and with other people. So, his name was David and he was in the Dunedin team.
They had travelled all the way from the far south of the South Island to this river in the far north of the North Island. The organisers were very pleased about that. It was the first time a Dunedin team had come to their event. It was also the first time that individual children and school teams had competed.
I spotted a small boy holding a paddle. He and his father were sitting on the low steps for the prize winners. At the end of the second day, third prize winners would stand on the right, second prize winners on the left, and the first prize winner, on a slightly higher step, in the centre. The space for the third prize winner was empty, so I sat down on that and we had a chat.
Harry, his dad and me, sitting on the prize winners’ stand. I’m holding Leslie’s big camera.
The seven-year-old was called Harry, and his father was Geoff. Harry was competing in the under-nines. He had a sister, Lucy… “Over there. The one in the top with flamingos on it. Lucy’s only five, so she’s not very good at paddle boarding yet. And there’s Mum!”
Mum had their brown and white spotted dog on a lead, and by now she was walking towards us with her arm round Lucy’s waist and Lucy’s arm round hers.
Harry getting his prize – first place in his age group – at the end of the second day.
The big camera also introduced me to a man called Anthony. Lean, lithe, etc. He was amused by something I said. “I can see you’re a character!” He was competing in the under forty-nines. Before he took up paddle-boarding, he was a marathon runner. “This is my Dad. This is my Mum.” They come to all his events, and were very proud of him.
They were even prouder of him next day at prize-giving, when Anthony stood on the second prize step several times for different events, and then on the first prize step for over-all winner in the under sixties.
Marlene was up there as well, getting prizes, more than several times, and then, of course, for overall female winner.
Leslie took photos for the start of the first race, while we listened to the organiser, who was cajoling the children not to use their paddles as weapons to fight each other, and explaining the route of the sixteen-kilometre race.
Start of the sixteen-kilometre.
The sixteen-kilometre was for endurance and speed. Down to the mouth of the Waitangi River, out to sea and around the nearest two islands…
…back up the river as far as the Haruru Falls…
…round a buoy at the foot of the falls…
…down the river and out to the islands again (but not around them this time)…
…and back into the river.
They finished where we had been standing to see them leave.
Leslie calculated it would take them about four hours. Fergus, a sixteen-year-old who I also talked to before the race (the whole family was there and the whole family does paddle boarding), did it in an hour and forty minutes. He won the under-nineteens.
The speed of the paddles dipping in the water was very rapid when the race started. They were still flashing just as fast, in and out of the water, when we drove to the falls and saw one paddle board after another appear round a bend in the river, go around the buoy and back down the river.
Anthony in the lead as they come round the bend.
Leslie’s photos show the stamina and muscle of the men and women paddlers. What looks like a distant series of streaks in the water turns into individual boards and paddlers when the photo is enlarged. That’s because of the strength of his lenses and the speed of the shutter. It’s magic.
Look at the muscle and stamina of the two men navigating the turbulent water.
The magician taking a photo of the finish.
The people lined up along Leslie’s side and behind him are watching the finish line as the paddle boarders cross it. Then they will run down to the water to hand out tickets: first in, second in, third in…
Prize giving at the end of the day was a formality. The impressions we left with were anything but. Kids playing on the paddle boards, tug of wars, races, the Māori welcome, the camaraderie among the competitors who obviously knew each other well, the family picnic baskets and the mums, volunteers pitching in to help wherever needed — all these made it a quintessentially Kiwi family event. It was as if the clock hadn’t turned from fifty years ago. Thanks for preserving the Kiwi spirit, paddle boarders.