How 72 Year old Bob Cook learned to kayak and compete in the 2-Day Individual Coast to Coast Race 2016.

Bob Cooke's Story

My Coast to Coast journey began when I was nearing my 72nd birthday in July 2015.

I had competed in many endurance and adventure races, initially in UK in the early 90’s and subsequently in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China so, after moving to New Zealand 10 years ago, the Longest Day became a “must do” race but there were 2 preconditions I needed to become eligible to compete: Complete the 2-day event, and have a valid Grade 2 Certificate.

I searched for kayak courses in the Canterbury area and liked the look of Canterbury Kayaking web site but saw their age limit for the Grade 2 Course was 65. I contacted Sam Milne and he told me that provided I was fit and a competent swimmer, he would accept me on his course.

The real fun for me began in early October 2015, in a Christchurch swimming pool, with 3 other Coast to Coast “hopefuls” plus Sam and is assistant instructor, on the first day on the Grade 2 Kayak Course. I think we spent more time underwater than on the surface, which was key to building confidence for kayaking in rapid flowing water. Later that day we moved to a lake to learn and practice proper paddling techniques, plus more capsizes and self-rescue methods. The second day, after another session in the swimming pool learning how to roll we drove to a camp site near the Hurunui river and our first taste of white water rapids.

Sam’s primary focus was always safety and his initial instruction included self-rescue and assisted rescue techniques from rapids in and out of the kayak – cold but exciting and enjoyable, when you have learned the correct techniques.

On the 3rd and 4th days of the course, we progressed to paddling some real grade 2 rapids and 2 of our group of 4 trainees completed a 10km (approx.) section of the Hurunui river, lead by Sam, to gain their Grade 2 Certificates. At that stage, I was not quite as competent paddling rapids and crossing eddy lines, so Sam scored me at 90% and recommended I join another group for a day or two the following week, which I did, paddled the full 10km (approx.) section of the Hurunui river and achieved the Grade 2 competence level.

The next stage was progression to a multi-sport kayak; Sam recommended a Paddling Perfection Adventurer for me, which is somewhat more stable than a full racing kayak. He loaned me a demonstration model to try and I then bought my own for the multi-sport course the C2C race. It has proved to be a perfect solution for me, just a little heavier and slower than some other models but I have always felt confident in it. The other trainees and I all completed the multi-sport course with a guided paddle of the last 14km of the C2C river (Woodstock to Gorge Bridge), without any “swims” !

I also enrolled on a couple of Canterbury Kayaking’s Rolling Lessons and managed to complete several unassisted rolls (in the swimming pool) but I never needed to use the technique on the river, due to Sam’s excellent instruction in negotiating rapids and picking safe lines.

The next step was to paddle the main Waimakariri Gorge, the crux of the C2C kayak stage, which I did in December 2015.

Sam’s formula for that is to take a jet boat upstream from Woodstock, with kayaks on top, to a section of the river above the start of the main Gorge, then paddle down. It was helpful to see rapids and other potential hazards from the jet  boat, before being guided by Sam down the best lines.

The river flow was quite high, which made many of the rapids easier to negotiate, so I signed-up for a second trip, when the flow was similar to that expected for race day. Due to adverse weather conditions, the second trip was postponed to two days before the race, which worked very well, with recent recollection of the river on race day.

The “proof of the pudding is in the eating” – on 12th February I managed to complete the first 3 stages of C2C (Run from Kumara Beach, Bike to Aitken Corner and “Run” (not very much running by me) over Goat Pass to Klondyke Corner, finishing with 40 minutes to spare before the cut-off. I was delighted to be greeted by Sam at the Klondyke camp site, with a pat on the back for making it that far. Then, on the morning of 13th February, after the 15km bike ride to Mt. White Bridge, Sam was there with one of my assistants to give encouragement and help me launch into the river.

I can honestly say that I really enjoyed the kayak stage, having confidence to negotiate all the rapids without a swim and all the shallows without getting out of the boat, except for on particularly tricky rapid which had an optional bypass where I took a short “lunch” break and time to stretch my legs.

I arrived at the end of the stage, at Gorge Bridge, in 7hrs 47mins. feeling quite fit and ready for the final bike stage.

I finished at New Brighton in an aggregate time of 23hrs 59mins, to be greeted as the oldest competitor to complete the entire 2-Day event.

Featured Training

Grade 2 Kayak Course

Start here. Learn to kayak & gain your Grade 2 Skills Certificate.

Learn to Roll Lesson

Evening pool sessions that make learning to roll easy and fun.

Coast to Coast Course

The second phase to training for the Coast to Coast Race.

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