This year we had two of our biggest events fall on the same weekend, Challenge Wanaka (multisport) and The Christchurch Super Slam (beach volleyball). It was a nervous week leading up to both events as a small COVID outbreak plunged the rest of the country into Alert Level 2 for three days and if extended, both events would have been cancelled. Luckily the team of five million once again pulled together, helping the Alert Level drop back down to Level 1 in the South Island and both events could go ahead.
Challenge Wanaka kicked things off on Thursday with the intermediate and secondary schools event which also doubled as the Otago secondary school championships. It was also the first time the new Challenge Wanaka race course, situated just outside of the Wanaka Township in the beautiful Glendhu Bay. Thursday also saw the running of the second annual Adaptive Challenge, which is open to anyone under 25 with an impairment. It’s an epic way to help those who would normally be excluded from such events be able to have a go and be part of the action. It’s events like this that help create Challenge Wanaka’s family festival vibe and draw thousands of competitors every year.
Day two had a bunch of action at the Challenge Wanaka Expo hosted by Bike Glendhu including live Q&A talks with some of New Zealand’s top multisport athletes including the likes of Braden Currie, workshops and demos. Friday also saw the next generation of kiwi multisport champions taking their first step into triathlon with kids as young as five trying their hand in the Junior Challenge. These little grommets blasted their way through a course consisting of a 50m swim, a 3km bike ride and a 1km run, enough to wear out some adults!
Saturday started bright and early with the pro’s tackling the half ironman course first right on sunrise. With no international athletes able to make it due to boarder restrictions (including our Aloe Up Ambassador Laura Siddall) the field looked a bit slimmer but there was still plenty of talent on hand. The Women’s race was close throughout the swim with 2020 runner up Hannah Wells and Rebecca Clarke going into transition one neck and neck. Hannah then through the gauntlet down during the bike leg, establishing a 4min lead at T2, before extending her lead on the run to finish in first place, 10min ahead of Rebecca Clarke, with Maeve Kennedy-Birdsall in third.
The men’s race was a battle that came right down to the wire. Local legend Braden Currie went head to head with ‘the new kid on the block’ Kyle Smith for the third time this summer (with Kyle narrowly winning the first two). Kyle made it out of the water first and established a 4min lead throughout the bike leg, but Braden wasn’t going to give up that easy and chased Kyle down over the 21km run leg to create a dramatic finish with just 13 seconds between the pair. Kyle got his third win of the summer, with Braden in second and Jack Moody in third.
The pro race was just the start of a jam packed Saturday which also included multiple age groups, team races, the AquaBike (a great event for those who don’t enjoy running) and a final wrap party to finish things off!
Meanwhile over in the garden city, the country’s most high profile beach volleyball event was about to take place. Round three of the New Zealand Beach Volleyball National Tour is the only event of the series to take place in the South Island and the only event not held on one of New Zealand’s beautiful natural beaches. Instead just over 240 tonnes of sand was trucked into the famous Christchurch Cathedral Square to create a unique inner-city setting. This unban location helped gain a lot of attention from both the general public, local and national media alike which is great for such a small sport like beach volleyball and should help it’s growth.
Throughout both Saturday and Sunday the nation’s top Men’s and Women’s beach volleyball teams battled it out on the manmade court in front of great crowds. By Sunday afternoon the finals in each division were held and winners were crowned. On the women’s side the team of Francesca Kirwan and Olivia MacDonald took out what was at times a tight contest and proved why they are always one of the favorites for any comp. The Men’s final was a pretty one sided affair with our Aloe Up Ambassadors and Commonwealth games bronze medalists, Sam and Ben O’Dea steamrolling their way through to their second straight event win after a lengthy injury induced break.
The next event on the New Zealand Beach Volleyball National Tour will be the Mauao Super Slam on the weekend of March 12th followed by the Tour Finals the weekend after on the 19th.
We were stoked to see so many kiwis of all ages and walks of life, getting outside, getting involved in such well organized events, be it as a competitor, volunteer or spectator. With both events being blessed with amazing summertime weather it was great to see the large majority being sun smart too!