17 December 2016
In fact, Mairangi Bay’s McKenzie was just 9mins shy of men’s winner, Australian Luke Cuff, who crossed in 2hrs 16mins 33secs. It showed how much McKenzie has benefitted from living and training on the Gold Coast, competing on the Australian ironman series, as she blitzed her inaugural race time in 2013 by nearly 16mins.
“I haven’t done this race in a few years but I’d like to think I’m stronger and fitter and I was definitely a lot stronger in the swim this year,” McKenzie said. “I definitely measure myself against the guys the whole time and it was a great feeling, ticking off the boys as I went along and setting little goals through the whole race.”
Today’s event was held in magnificent conditions for the fourth year in a row, with a lack of swell turning it into a survival of the fittest.
That was certainly the case in the men’s race, where Cuff had a sprint finish with Mermaid Beach teammate James Lacy and top Kiwi Cory Taylor.
The Australian pair caught Taylor on the 12km ski leg, after he’d opened a healthy lead on the 5km run and spectacular 1500m swim leg, which featured a 6m jump off the rocks on Moturiki Island.
The trio were then locked together through the last 6kms of the ski and the entire 6km board leg, before Cuff pounced with the finish line in sight.
Even then, he needed some good fortune - Lacy cramped 100m from shore and fell off, although he did well to get back on and chase down Taylor, pipping him for second.
“That was one of the hardest long-distance races I’ve done,” Cuff said. “It wasn’t so much the race, it was the elements we were racing in and the guys we were racing against. The guys were so fit, it was dead-flat, it was hot out of the water and cold in it and we really had to adapt to everything that was going on.”
Lacy finished in 2:16:42, just 9secs behind his good mate Cuff, with Taylor just a second further back.
“We all formed a pack at Omanu (the ski turnaround) and from there, we knew it was going to be extremely tough to break free and take the win,” Lacy said. “It was all about picking the moment and I thought I picked mine right but it was maybe a little bit early. It’s been such a great race though - it was an amazing day with a great backdrop and I couldn’t think of anywhere better to do a long-distance race. There’s nothing like that rock-jump in Australia so it’s fun to get over here and enjoy it.”
Taylor, meanwhile, now has the full set of podium finishes, having won the inaugural race in 2013, before finishing second behind fellow Kiwi Max Beattie a year later. The Gold Coast-based Gisborne product is delighted with how the event has grown, with more than 320 surf athletes taking part this year.
“It’s good to see how much bigger it’s got and how many people are doing it,” Taylor said. “When you get days like this, it’s perfect. I always seem to draw those results in races in New Zealand and don’t often come out with the best result but it’s fun to be a part of it.”
Fourth place in the men’s race went to 18-year-old Mount Maunganui local Hamish Miller, ahead of club mate Ollie Puddick.