SEAGATE TAKES ON GODZONE
Considered one of the toughest, both physically and mentally, adventure races on this planet, GODZone is the largest and most technically-challenging multi-day event on offer. This year's Chapter Five was held at the top of the South Island in the Tasman
‘ It was truly rewarding to be part of such an awesome team of talented girls.’
GODZONE REQUIRES TEAMS to be made up of four brave, and some would argue slightly mad competitors to navigate across some of the most spectacular scenery and wilderness areas New Zealand has to offer, to find a series of checkpoints using only a map and a compass. Each team member must stay within 100 metres of each other the entire time while covering 530 kilometres attempting a number of disciplines including tramping, climbing, mountain biking, kayaking and rafting. A non-stop style of racing gives the teams up to seven days to complete the challenge, with Team Yealands Family Wines, the winning team from this year's race, crossing the line after three days, 13 hours and 44 minutes.
While teams are made up of four, rules state that each team must have one female, with most teams opting for a three-to-one scenario. But for the first time in the history of the race there were three all-female teams entered. One of these teams was Seagate, which included Sophie Hart, Fleur Pawsey, Emily Forne and Lara Prince; four of the best female adventure racers involved in this sport at present. ‘Seagate' was and continues to be wellknown in the adventure racing scene, having been one of the most dominant teams in the world over the past few years. But after Nathan Fa'avae's decision to retire, the original team which also included Stu Lynch, Chris Forne and Sophie Hart, parted ways. The idea to form an all-female team under the Seagate name came about after Sophie made a ‘dumb decision' to cross a swollen river while racing GODZone the year before. “Chris had swum over already and so I followed. I nearly didn't make it across. Luckily, Chris reached out and grabbed me, pulling me into one of the last eddies before a nasty section of probably a class five or six rapid.”
Racing in a team with people who are more experienced and stronger than herself, Sophie admits it's easy to let the decisions fall to them. Usually, when paddling she teamed up with Nathan who is one of the best kayakers in the sport, and would follow Chris around the hill tops, who is known as one of the best navigators in the sport. And Stu is “undoubtedly one of the most skilled people I've been lucky enough to race alongside.” But what Sophie realised after that river crossing was that she needed to make her own decisions. “I can't keep relying on others to lead the way for me,” she says. And so the seed was sown…
When word got out that an allfemale team had entered, the support and encouragement were almost all positive. However, there were a few who were not so impressed and quick to point out that surely they were breaking the rules, suggesting that four girls couldn't race together in one team. “Presumably, that resistance was just a reflection of insecurity amongst a few guys who were afraid of being ‘chicked!'” says Fleur. They also heard complaints that they were ‘stealing' all the good girls. So while they might be four of the best, “there are a damn sight many more out there, who, coincidentally, are probably much more skilled and capable than the people who were inclined to complain in the first place,” Sophie adds.
They entered in a very positive frame of mind, focusing on their race with the aim to make smart decisions, be competitive and hopefully finish within the top ten. “We had nothing to prove; we had nothing to lose,” Sophie said. “We had a superb summer adventuring and up-skilling, so whatever the result, the journey to the start would have been worth it.” They knew that when they crossed the finish line, the feeling of satisfaction would be as good as any win.
Stage One saw the competitors start on the beach at Kaiteriteri, immediately entering the water for a swim before getting in their kayaks. As a team, they had decided to stay within their limits and be conservative during the initial stages. “The start of these races are always a bit tiresome. So many teams punch above their weight and sprint off the start line to fight for seconds,” says Sophie. Swimming takes on a whole new meaning too, weighed down by the extra gear such as shoes, a baggy race bib, a clip card around your neck
and a GPS tracker stuffed down the back of your wetsuit.
They were relieved to get in their double kayaks for the next section, a 27-kilometre ocean paddle towards Rabbit Island. A shortage of Barracuda's (kayaks), which were a pleasure to paddle, meant that two ended up in a heavy yellow kayak, more akin to a barge. “Fleur and I drew the short straw here and ended up stuck in this ‘pig of a boat',” Sophie said, both agreeing they had had never been passed by so many people on a kayak stage before. Coming into shore through the breakers proved a headache for many, with boats and people bobbing around all over the show. They picked their wave and just went for it. “We nailed the landing and cruised up the beach perfectly. Laura and Emily also surfed in unscathed.” To say they were happy was an understatement, and from that moment on declared that it didn't matter what happened during the rest of the race, their job was done. “See you later swimmers.” Sitting in 31st position (out of 58) they started Stage Two, which involved a mountain bike orienteering challenge before leaving Rabbit Island. Teams were presented with maps that covered two different parts of the island, allowing them to split up and complete it in pairs. “It was uncanny timing, and we rolled into the clip-card checking station together.” From here, they headed out on the Great Taste Trail towards Richmond and the Barnicoat Range before heading towards the Wairoa Gorge. Many of the locals were out in force, clapping and cheering the teams on as they passed. “I suspect it had a bit to do with Mr McCaw (Richie) being in town that day too, but we lapped it up,” Sophie said.
Things quietened down as it started to get dark and the forestry road they were following came to an abrupt end. Trusting their instinct, they bushbashed their way through gorse and blackberry, eventually popping out onto a well-formed road. As head navigator, Laura was busy apologising for the route choice when they turned onto the main road in front of teams who had been ahead of them at the start of the descent. Their summer of up-skilling was more than paying off.
Over the following four days the girls were put through their paces as they hiked through the Red Hills, kayaked across Lake Rotoroa, rafted down the Matakitaki River, mountain biked and trekked over Mt Owen, before hopping on their bikes for Stage Eight and the second to last stage. This took them through Kahurangi National Park, across the Arthur Range and towards Abel Tasman National Park and Totaranui.
Pulling into the final transition, they were sitting in an incredible 10th place. They were in good spirits, having managed a three-hour sleep at Stage Four and a solid seven hours during the ‘dark zone' while they were on the river. Laura's feet were giving her grief however, having acquired a nasty fungal infection making it extremely
painful to walk, even with the help of two sticks she'd picked up along the way. This wasn't helped by an hour of backtracking while on the Mt Owen trek, as once again the infuriating forestry roads sent them down a different route.
While at transition and sorting themselves out for the final stage, Team Sneaky Weasels arrived 15 minutes after them. They found this quite disappointing, as they knew that it was unlikely they would be able to hold them off for the five-hour paddle to the finish line. Getting onto the water as the sun was going down, the sea was like glass and they were treated to a stunning evening with a sky full of stars. Paddling steadily with Fleur and Emily talking non-stop to keep the sleep monster away, they pulled into Mosquito Bay to clip a checkpoint too early and ended up in the wrong bay. Unfortunately, this was enough to let the Sneaky Weasels get ahead, and then they were gone. “We spent the rest of the paddle admiring the night sky and discussing the highlights and lowlights of the previous four days,” says Sophie.
Pulling up onto Kaiteriteri Beach at about 10.30pm to a small crowd of friends and family, they had completed GODZone Chapter Five in 11th position – four days, 12 hours and eight minutes later. They were all stoked with their efforts, glad to be part of such an incredible race. “It was truly rewarding to be part of such an awesome team of talented girls,” says Sophie. “It was a very different experience for me, and I loved it.” Finishing just outside the top ten leaves these girls with unfinished business. “Perhaps we started too conservatively,” Sophie says. “I certainly feel like we raced well as a team, but I know we can go better.”
These four girls have more than proved that gender is no handicap when it comes to adventure racing. Sure, the power and strength of a male have their advantages, but for those with experience in multi-stage racing know that it's so much more than just the physical element. Events such as Spring Challenge have played a huge part in opening women's eyes to what they can achieve in this sport.
And as for the future of Seagate, I've been told to 'watch this space…'
For more information and coverage from GODZOne, head to their website www.godzoneadventure.com