I’d like to paddle in Hoe Toa… but I’m not sure what to enter!

Event Organiser Victoria Stuart takes you through her pick of the action, complete with some insider tips to help calm those first-race nerves.

I’ve been paddling for 9 years now, but I can clearly the moment I became a paddle boarder – it was at a “Boobs on Boards” Day at Takapuna Beach.  My youngest child was just four months old, the middle one not even two.  I remember getting on that board and paddling all the way to the Cable Buoy and back, and I remember  the sensation of freedom I felt as my paddle propelled me forward across the blue water.  I was hooked. Not long after that I must have done my first SUP race, a 3km Tuesday night Takapuna Beach Series, on a Big Easy.  Like it sounds, the board was a giant (12’ x 32”) surfboard, and super easy to balance on.  The wind was blowing from the south east, and there were little rolling bumps that I started surfing downwind back towards the shore on the home run.  I got so caught up in the fun of trying to ride the waves that I ended up way off course and heading for the swim marker… oops.  I made it to the finish line eventually, happily worn out but feeling somehow energised, and eager to go again.

Stand Up Paddling as a sport has become somewhat more complicated since then. In the early days there wasn’t such a thing as a “race board”.  Everyone had big, heavy, all-round sups that looked like oversized surf boards.  We called it stand up paddle surfing.  And ‘racing’ was really just an excuse to meet up with other paddlers for a regular social paddle and a bbq afterwards.

Over the years we’ve seen an evolution in board construction, and the introduction of specific board shapes for different purposes. Not only can you now buy a “race board”, you can now buy a race board for flat-water, a race board for choppy water, a race board for downwind, and a different race board for surf.  Then there’s the question of board length… 12’6, 14’, 17” ? It must seem pretty confusing and even off-putting for newcomers keen to get into the sport- but it doesn’t have to be.  No matter what kind of board you have, there is something for you at Hoe Toa.  All of the shorter distance events have a surf board and an inflatable board class, so you can turn up with whatever is lying around the family bach confident there will be plenty of others in the same boat (so to speak).  Many of the races are “social” or fun events, designed as an easy and enjoyable introduction to the sport of stand up paddling for people of all ages and skill levels.  And for the more experienced paddler, there are world class courses that attract some of the best paddlers in the world, providing exciting spectator viewing and the chance to race alongside your heroes.

Ask Auntie V

To make it a bit easier to enter, I’ve put myself in different shoes so you can get a feel for the events that are for you.  See you at Orewa on 22-25 March!

I’m Patsy and I’m 63yo. I love flat-water paddling on my 11’ all-round board and I can keep going for about 1-2 hours at a time at a nice walking pace. Mostly I  go out with my friends on similar boards. Have to say I’m not that keen or confident in the wind or waves, but can handle a good breeze of up to about 15knots and choppy water. What should I enter?

You’d love the Hoe Marino Flatwater Races.  Given your preference for a longer paddle, I’d recommend the 5km Hoe Marino on the Orewa Estuary on “Distance Day”.  You could also attempt the 1km Fun Race on the Estuary on Technical Day, and if you can convince your friends to join you, try doing a lap of the Teams Relay on the main beach.  It’s only 600m and you can paddle on your knees if you need to.  You can always leave it to register on the day for the Relay to make sure you can handle the conditions.  Remember, sometimes Orewa can be glassy and flat!

I’m Max. 9yo. Just started paddling this summer on my Dad’s surf SUP, but really love it. I can get a bit knocked around trying to get out in surf over 50cm, but I’m into shortboard surfing and I know how to catch a wave in to shore on the SUP.

Let’s keep it fun and give you a taste for SUP racing with some other kids your age.  Enter the 2.5km Hoe Marino Junior Race on Distance Race Day – in the U13 category.  And then on Technical Day if the forecast is for smaller surf you could try the 2.5km Surf Race, or if its looking a bit too gnarly, stick to the 1km Hoe Ngahau Fun Race in the Estuary. This will have a few turning buoys so you’ll get a chance to show off your surf skills and the manoeuvrability of your board.  There’s an U13 category in this race too. If Dad’s got a team in the Relay Race, make sure you jump on a board and paddle the course next to him as the U17 team member!  And keep an eye out for the Giant Inflatable SUPs because they’ll be a ton of fun with some of your new mates from the kids race.

I’m Lucy and I’m 12yo. I’ve been SUP racing a few times at the City Surf Series, I do ok –  well, I’m not coming last! I ride an old 12’6 Race Board I’ve borrowed off my cousin, and I’m pretty confident in flat water and small waves and chop. I’ve never really raced more than 3km before.

You’ve been training all summer, you have the board and the skills, so its time to step it up a notch and go for the Junior Trophy.  That’s a combination of the 5km Hoe Marino Flatwater Race in the Estuary on Distance Day, and the 2.5km Hoe Toa Surf Race at the Beach on Technical Day.  Enter the U17 category in both of these events to be in the running for the Junior Trophy, and make sure you are hydrated and eat a healthy breakfast!  You’ve got this!  If Race Day comes and you’re nervous about taking your race board in the surf, do some practise runs with your friends first, and don’t be shy about changing to an all-round style board if you need to.  Annabel beat all the boys at Piha on an all round board one year.  Remember it’s meant to be fun.  Don’t take it too seriously.  And make sure you’re available for a Relay Team that needs a Junior Paddler.  All the teams need at least one prone, one woman and one junior!

I’m Michelle, 51, and I used to do triathlon but my knees don’t love running anymore. I have  a hand-me-down 14’ Race Board. I’ve never done a SUP Race, but I thought maybe it was time to re-invent myself.  I love paddling downwind and going on long distance paddles with my partner. 

Now, you’re the quintessential Hoe Poto 8-10km Distance Race paddler.  Fill up that Camelbak, arm yourself with a couple of squeezegels, a PFD, a flare, and a cap to keep the sun out of your eyes and you’re off.  The Hoe Poto is designed to go straight downwind, with a minimum of upwind or crosswind. It’s the half-marathon of SUP racing, and a chance to try downwind racing in a safe, supported environment.  You have a good base level of fitness, and you’re not afraid of a being on the water for a couple of hours. Plus, you’re in the Masters 50+ Division.  You could even be the “Dark Horse” and win this!  On Technical Day enter the 2.5km Hoe Toa as a Novice 14’ & Under Race board paddler, and team up with your partner and some other friends to do the fun Teams Relay later in the afternoon.

I’m Hannah and I’m 15. I train a few times a week with a few other paddlers, and I’m starting to beat the women in my weekly 3km race. 

Sounds like the Junior Elite trophy U17 is yours for the taking!  Enter the 8-10km Hoe Poto on Distance Race Day and the 4km Hoe Toa on Technical Day.  You’ll need to make sure your nutrition and hydration is really on point for the long distance, and you use your surf skills. Sit back and enjoy the ride.  On Technical Day you’ll race in two separate 2km Heats.  Your combined points from those heats will determine whether you go through to finals (top 30%) and if you don’t then your combined points from the heats will determine your age group placing. 

Hey, I’m Jennifer (23yo). I only have a 14’ Board and I’m consistently placing on the podium in my division  class.  I’m not in Annabel or Penelope’s league so I’m not too worried about making the NZ Team.  Am I making the right decision about the board I should be racing at Hoe Toa or should I be on 12’6? 

You never know what could happen before ISA Worlds. If you have even a tiny desire to represent NZ in Brazil you need to find a 12’6 to ride at the Hoe Toa NZ Paddle Champs, the primary selection event for the team.  All team selections will be based on 12’6 for women as the NZSUP committee has voted to follow ISA Recommendations.  In 2019 the ISA has announced it will change to 14’ for both men and women (but really, who knows).  Meanwhile, beg, borrow or buy a 12’6 for this race and start training on it as soon as you can.  There are many situations where a 12’6 can be the better and faster board choice.  You’ll need to enter the 16-20km Hoe Tawhiti and the 4km Hoe Toa to be in the Womens Trophy Class.

I’m John. I’m 33 and I’m into surfing and SUP Surfing.  I haven’t really given much thought to racing or flatwater paddling – why would you when you can surf?  The longest board I own is a 10’3 x 28” Gun – designed for big waves.

You need to enter the Surfboard class. 2.5km Surf Race. That’s at 9am on Technical Race Day, so you’ve got time for a nice early surf session before briefing at 8.30am.  A 2.5km fixed course, in and out and along the beach.  Take the Gun, it will be fast and manoeuvrable. And join a Relay Team – they could use your surf skills, and it will be a good chance to jump on a race board and get the feel for it…  but watch out, its kinda addictive to go so fast…

I’m Eddie, 45. I travel a fair bit so I’ve got an inflatable 11’6 SUP.  I love exploring, am not scared of the weather and am learning how to catch waves. What event is for me?

Sounds like your board is perfect for a Flatwater Race.  Go the 5km Hoe Marino in the Estuary, in the Surfboard/Inflatable Board Class, on Distance Race Day.  Then on Technical Race Day, come and try the 2.5km Hoe Toa – there’s an Inflatable class in this race!  Make sure you talk to lots of people and put your hand up for a Relay Team – you’ve got all day to make some friends to join at 4pm, or invite a couple of your own mates along to make up the team.  You only need the one board!  Take advantage of the Board Demos on the beach with our sponsors, try out a hard all-round board in the surf, and have a go on a race board upwind and downwind.

I hope this little “Ask Auntie V” advice column has been useful.  Remember, if you really do need some advice on which race you and your friends should enter, just email me at newzealandsup@gmail.com or text/call on 021 644 129.

When we first started the NZ SUP CHAMPS in 2011, there was one race category.  50 people turned up at Kohi Beach on a beautiful blue-sky day, got given a t-shirt with a race number on it, and charged up and down the harbour with a beach run to finish. There was no novice category, no juniors, no over 50s.  You simply got on your board, paddled hard and enjoyed the camaraderie afterwards.

But has that much really changed?…  there might be faster, fancier boards available, and a bigger choice of race distances, but at the end of the day it’s not about the board you ride.  It’s not about how fit you are, how far, or fast you can paddle.  It’s about coming together to celebrate our passion for the water; about setting yourself a challenge and giving yourself kudos when you achieve it.  But most of all, its about being around a great bunch of people who also love the water.

Don’t be shy – #joinus.  Convince a friend to come and do it with you.  You won’t know until you try it!


Victoria Stuart

Event Organiser