Waiheke beach race grows legs
It’s a sight you’ll see nowhere else: a race around a circuit that’s half sandy beach, half blue sea, hard-fought with a putter and then a roar by more than 60 amphibious boats.
They are Sealegs, the product of Kiwi ingenuity, invented and manufactured in Auckland.
Although they are exported to 55 countries around the world, their greatest concentration is on Waiheke Island, used year-round to drive from bach to beach and into the water for a spot of fishing.
On one day a year, though, the Sealegs camaraderie becomes serious competition in the Onetangi Beach Races. Being held next Sunday, February 11 — the date dictated by the timing of low tide on Onetangi’s 2km of wide, sandy beach — the Sealegs race is, for many, the highlight programme.
From a line scraped across the wet sand, teams run to their boats, fire up the engines and trundle impatiently along the beach. Then they head into the water, retract the wheels and transform instantly into racing craft, water pluming up behind them as they skim around the buoys and back to shore. Wheels down, engines up and they’re back into trundle mode again to reach the finish-line first to claim the honours.
It’s an event the originators of this annual, and free, family day out could never have foreseen back in the 1890s. of the day’s Organised now by Waiheke Rotary Club as a fundraiser for local community groups and charities, the profits this year will purchase such diverse needs as dictionaries and defibrillators.
But for the thousands of locals and day-trippers who flock to Onetangi, it’s all about the classic pleasures of a day at the beach, supplemented by the fun of the races and competitions.
The Sealegs race is the greatest novelty, but there are the classics, too: horses power along the beach, and cute, hairy ponies in miniature racing sulkies are driven by children in slower but equally fiercely fought races. Segways skim silently along;
and lovingly-maintained old tractors give the impression of speed as they lumber down the beach, drivers bent over to lessen wind resistance.
There are running and wheelbarrow races for the kids, and some intense rivalry between the island’s police, ambulance, coastguard and fire crews in their obstacle race.
Between races, spectators can go for a dip and fuel up at the food trucks stalls or restaurants. There are sandcastle and sculpture competitions, a Big Dig for the kids, and Fashion in the Field contests for all.
A Silent Auction for $14,000 worth of donated goods runs throughout the day and includes accommodation, restaurant meals, wine and a fishing trip — not, though, in a Sealegs.
Sealegs compete on land and sea, in Waiheke Island’s race day. onetangibeachraces.co.nz Horses provide more traditional contests at the Onetangi Beach races.