Spring Challenge South – Westport – Saturday, September 29
For the first time in its 12-year history, the annual Spring Challenge all-women’s adventure race will be held on an exposed coastline, courtesy of its Westport location.
This super-popular, sold-out event on Saturday, September 29, hosts 450 teams of three, who will experience all the dramatic sea-scape, weather and wild scenery that only the South Island’s West Coast can offer.
Spring Challenge organisers five-time Adventure Racing World Champion Nathan Fa’avae and his wife Jodie, plus their key staff members, have been busy over the past 10 months designing a course that will take the 1350 women through rafting, mountain biking and hiking stages as they navigate their way through 3, 6 and 9-hour courses.
Teams do the entire course together, traveling through the stages as a unit – meaning it is not a relay where different team mates do different stages. In adventure racing, the whole team does everything together.
Nathan says Westport has been an excellent location to work with and many people from the township have offered tremendous support for the event.
“We wish to acknowledge the work and efforts from the Buller District Council and the Mayor Garry Howard. The Department of Conservation has also been very helpful for the areas we sought access for. The course couldn’t have come together without the access to private land and the Westport landowners have embraced the event by opening their land for this adventure. Their West Coast ‘she’ll be right’ attitude has been refreshing and appreciated.”
Nathan adds that due to the area’s geography, the course has been designed with weather-proofing at the forefront, as the West Coast can be a wild place at the mercy of the Tasman Sea.
“However with that comes power and beauty. Our goal was to design a course that encases what is special and unique to the area and for us that was the mountains meeting the ocean. This will be the first time that the Spring Challenge has been on exposed coast line, with ocean swells and waves, weather and views.”
Although the exact course remains a secret until the map hand-out the night before the event, Nathan has revealed that the day will begin with the first wave of teams starting their day at 6am rafting on the Buller River – the largest river on the West Coast of the South Island. Another wave will start at 9am and the final group of 3-hour teams will begin at 12pm.
“The Buller River mainly travels through gorges on its path to the ocean but the last few kilometres broaden to an expanse. Over time, the river has created the delta landform from deposition of sediment, which is where the event course will take place. The significance of the Buller River is key in this event. Once off the river, competitors will head overland through farms, winding their way to the beaches. The finish line in the Westport region will require some navigation in the final hour and then it’ll be time to celebrate and reflect,” Nathan says.
Nathan has had many years adventure racing successfully around the world and raced together with Jodie for the first time to finish fourth in the 2018 Godzone Fiordland, which means that as a couple, the Fa’avaes know a thing or two about what makes a great course.
“We sincerely hope the participants like what we have created for this year. We want them to take delight in and appreciate what they’re doing on course. Their adventures will take in rafting on a mighty river, biking through natural landscapes, walking on wild coastline, navigating their own way and firing up their senses with all the West Coast scents, sights and sounds,” Jodie says.
World-class navigator and Nathan’s Seagate adventure racing team mate for many years Chris Forne, of Queenstown, has created the maps for the event, including an orienteering map.
“Navigation is a big factor this year and we expect to see the strong navigation teams featuring highly,” Nathan says.
While many of the teams are participating solely with the goal of seeing the finish line, there is also the top percentage going hard for a podium spot. The 9-hour course features some of the South Island’s toughest, fastest, adventure racing women, such as, Christchurch veteran team Just for Girls Adventure made up of Sia Svendsen, Sara Prince and Susie Wood. They can expect fierce competition from Swordfox – Georgia Whitla, Jen Walker and Meg Bichard; Back on Deck – Emily Kelly, Lara Scott and Hannah Bechanan and the Huhu Grubs – Neroli Wall, Emily Forne and Emily Wilson.
Along with the key staff, many of whom have been involved since the first Spring Challenge back in 2007, there will be about 120-staff and volunteers working throughout the weekend.
“From us and our staff team, we’re excited and ready to deliver this event as best we can. Let’s all have an awesome weekend, whatever the weather and whatever the adventure serves up. A big shout of thanks must also go to all our wonderful sponsors, who get behind the Spring Challenge,” Jodie says.