Capsized canoes, paddleboarders and hordes of food at Waikato 100 race

With a lifejacket stuffed with sachets of energy gel, Patrick Fontein winces as he slides into his kayak. 

He’d just stopped for three minutes to devour a selection of calorie-dense food, after kayaking 50 kilometres of New Zealand’s longest awa. 

And there was another 50 to go. 

Paddle boarders, kayakers and waka ama athletes all took on the Waikato River.

CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF

Paddle boarders, kayakers and waka ama athletes all took on the Waikato River.

Fontein was one of 240 participating in the Waikato 100, an endurance water sports race which begins in Hamilton and finishes at Elbow Landing Ski Club, 100 kilometres away. 

READ MORE: * Fledgling Waikato 100 race on the Waikato River grows in popularity

Kayakers, rowers, paddle boarders and waka ama teams hit the water before the sun had fully risen on Saturday. 

It’s an event founded by the Waikato Rowing Club and co-organised by former Olympic rower Rob Hamill. 

It was a two-minute pit-stop in Rangiriri for Patrick Fontein, who paddled the 100 kilometre course.

CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF

It was a two-minute pit-stop in Rangiriri for Patrick Fontein, who paddled the 100 kilometre course.

After four hours of kayaking, Fontein stopped in Rangiriri, where supporter Suzy Brookes had laid out a banana, yoghurt and a muffin on a little blanket. 

The kayaking is going well so far, “although I’m getting a little bit tired”, he told Stuff from the boat ramp, while Brookes helped him refill his Camelbak with water.  

Fontein, who usually sticks to land, has competed in ultra marathon but has only been kayaking since the beginning of 2019.

Participants stopped to cram down food every 20 or so kilometres.

CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF

Participants stopped to cram down food every 20 or so kilometres.

“He’s extreme,” Brookes said, packing away the uneaten food, while Fontein headed back onto the water. 

The event held four options for participants: 100km, 50km, 25km and a team relay. 

It meant a range of athletes –  from “weekend warriors” to competitive athletes – could join, Hamill said.  

Patrick Fontein was among 240 entrants in the Waikato 100 race.

CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF

Patrick Fontein was among 240 entrants in the Waikato 100 race.

“We have kayakers who kind of have never really kayaked before,” Hamill said. “It doesn’t have to be about winning. But absolutely it is for some people.

“It’s like the fun runs – there are always those super competitive fun runners.” 

Hangi, barbecue and a couple of ice-cold beers were a tasty incentive for the end of the event. 

Waikato 100 co-organiser Rob Hamill says the event was about getting people moving and looking after the Waikato River.

CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF

Waikato 100 co-organiser Rob Hamill says the event was about getting people moving and looking after the Waikato River.

The changeover stops – every 20 kilometres or so – were a flurry of eating and drinking for the athletes. 

In Rangiriri, one waka ama team were frantically scooping buckets of water out of their capsized vessel, seconds before they were due to leave. 

“It can be a little bit of carnage.” 

Isaac Geisen, the first Kiwi to row solo across the Atlantic, was among the participants.

SUPPLIED

Isaac Geisen, the first Kiwi to row solo across the Atlantic, was among the participants.

 Isaac Geisen, the first Kiwi to row solo across the Atlantic, was among the participants, Hamill said from the banks of Waikato River at midday. 

“He’s a real character. Actually as I speak he’s coming last, dead last in the fleet. But he’s intent on doing the whole 100 [kilometres]. 

“I was on the phone to him just before and I said mate we might have to pull you out if you don’t make the cut off time. 

“He said ‘mate, I’m doing the 100’.” 

The goal of the event was to encourage people to get moving and address the river’s water quality problems in a “neutral non-finger pointy way”. 

“Everybody is part of the problem so everybody has to be part of the solution … From cigarette butts out the car window to farming and sewage. 

“We get people connecting with our precious awa, the Waikato River. When you connect with a natural resource, you tend to advocate and fight for its wellbeing.”