Kiwi Adventure Racing Book in the making

27/01/2015 by Steve Knowles


To mark 25 years of the sport, Jim Robinson is writing a book on New Zealand’s role in the world of adventure racing, starting out with the stunning Alpine Iron Man. Over the last five months, Robinson has interviewed over 60 athletes, race organisers and others, and says he still has a fair few people to go.

As well as the big races, the planned book will include grassroots, young people’s and women’s events. “The initial plan was for a 20,000 word book. But it’s already gone over twice that,” he says. “There’s a massive amount of stuff that has happened in AR, beyond the racing itself."

Outdoor Quest 2004

Photographs thanks to Derek Paterson

Sections include the Raid Gauloises, Southern Traverse, Eco-Challenge, Chinese stage racing (Mild Sevens, Wulong), GODZone and ARWC.

Especially for the earlier years, there's a lot that's unrecorded, or was recorded only in the print media of the time, he says. "It's starting to feel like a good read."

Primal Quest 2003

Here are a few totally random extracts.

Alpine Iron Man:

… The 1987 race was back down south and rebadged ‘Fresh-Up Iron Man II’. Judkins says he wanted to reflect the terrain showed in the Silver Screen television commercial, which was still being aired. He was quoted at the time, “I thought the event was getting a bit soft. It’s time to kick New Zealand in the bum again.” Iron Man II competitors flew to the saddle of Mt Aurum, skied into the Aurum Valley, ran to Skippers Creek, paddled the grade-four Shotover River, and road cycled the Wakatipu Basin to Queenstown. The level of difficulty shot up from relatively accessible — to positively fearsome. Before the race, Queenstown’s Mountain Scene reported, “Robin Judkins is beside himself with glee. He’s sent out 6000 entry forms for his ‘tougher than tough’ Iron Man event [and got] just 14 confirmed competitors”10 (on the day, 18 turned up). Looking back, he enthuses, “it was so awful to look at! It was brilliant! The Alpine Iron Man became an instant cult! It reached its zenith at that time in terms of the people and skills.”

1989 Grand Traverse:

… Pretty much from the go, the three home teams were out front. One report had it that “the New Zealanders made a tremendous amount of ground to the Broderick Pass on that first day and the Europeans were out of the race from that point … Early on in the event two Europeans were injured and the Canterbury team believed that made them cautious. They were not prepared to travel at night as the New Zealand teams did.”7 But another 1989 report suggested the local dominance was no surprise, quoting Dave Bamford: “we organisers always knew a New Zealand team would win. The teams didn’t know, but we did. We always calculated the race times twice — European time, then Kiwi time.”8

One of the injured was Frenchman Eric Billoud, who had worked as a white water rafting guide on the Shotover and Kawarau Rivers and would soon make New Zealand his home. Billoud was racing for French team Breitling. “Over Broderick Pass we got off the ridge. It was night. The scrub up there is very thick and you can’t see what’s coming up. I basically stepped forward and fell over a bluff.”

Gérard Fusil:

… Did the Grand Traverse live up to your dreams? “Yes. It was really difficult: weather, rain, water, disputes. It was exactly what I was looking for! With the experience, we later organised very interesting courses for the Raid Gauloises and Elf Authentic Adventure. But the first race in New Zealand was so new! Everybody enjoyed it, even after incredible difficulties. It was real adventure. Every morning, everybody was thinking, ‘What will happen to me today?’ Every day was a surprise.”

2003 Raid Gauloises:

… New Zealand’s Team Seagate was Nathan Fa’avae, Neil Jones, Jeff Mitchell and Kristina Strode-Penny (now Kristina Anglem). The Kiwis had another difficult race, but then, this final Raid Gauloises was one of the most extreme of them all. Kyrgyzstan is wedged between China and Kazakhstan: the race crossed the country, climbing to 4000m.

Strode-Penny went into the race ill. “I cried on the start line,” she wrote for a post-race presentation. Later, freezing cold, Seagate stopped at a remote village to buy food and clothing and one of their bikes was stolen. They found it by following wheel tracks. “We seemed to have bizarre things happen to us [but] the last leg was beautiful, flat calm lake, stopping to swim out of the boat along the way … For the first time I remember laughing wholeheartedly and actually being into what I was doing – racing.”

Spring Challenge:

… “What I like the most is the lifestyle changes the event creates for some people. It really does expand horizons, it’s a feel-good event,” Fa’avae says. Sia Svensden, who has twice been a winner, comments “I think women thrive in all-women events. Winning is not the main goal for 99%, [they want] to feel valued, challenging themselves in a supportive environment.” Sarah Fairmaid is similarly enthusiastic. “There were a lot of people having these great first-time experiences, ordinary people getting a glimpse of what a big race is. You could see it light them up. I’ve never heard so much laughing and chatting in an adventure race!”

Spring Challenge

Photo supplied Spring Challenge


… “It’s so blinking inspirational! Some of those kids, they were almost empty [of energy]. The only reason they were getting to the finish is they were almost carrying each other! There are some amazing kids out there.” That’s David Tait, organizer of Go-4-12, talking about the 2014 race, held in the Ruahine Ranges of inland Hawkes Bay. Go-4-12 is (as with the Hillary Outdoors events) affiliated with the New Zealand Secondary Schools Sports Council and it’s the New Zealand Secondary Schools Adventure Racing Championships, alternating with the South Island championships (see below).

The first Go-4-12 was held in 2006. “A young lady had done Tim Wilkins’ [Hawkes Bay] adventure race and she wanted to do something a bit longer,” recalls Tait, an adventure racer who had been working in outdoor education for a couple of years, “dealing at the coalface of unmotivated kids”. The idea had resonance and with several others, “we just made it happen!”