The Arawa Classic River Race is New Zealand’s premiere kayak race for good reason.
The Classic combines the hostility of alpine weather conditions, the perils of a winding, rocky grade 2+ gorge and the rigour of a 67km event in such a way that only a true all round champion kayaker can stand out.
Since the first Classic in 1989 the race has attracted a significant number of New Zealand’s World Champions in kayaking including Mike Bassett - World 20km Champion, Andrew Martin - World Down River Racing Champion and Ben Fouhey - World 1000m K1 Champion. Each in their turn has won this race.
Many top national and international multisport/adventure race competitors have also competed against these top kayakers, including John Jacoby, of Australia, Simon Dark of England.
But still completing the Classic is not beyond the weekend paddler who adequately prepares. For them, witnessing the splendour of the Southern Alps from a perspective known by but a few and the sense of achievement in completion become a lifelong highlight. The skill, courage and tenacity required are such that every finisher commands respect amongst peers.
The Classic is run on a 67km stretch of the Waimakariri river starting at Mount White bridge 23kms south-east of Arthurs Pass on the road to Christchurch. Passing through rocky rapids and bluffs of the gorge competitors emerge at Woodstock for the final 15kms of braided river to the Gorge Bridge. While the course remains the same, its challenges vary greatly with river flow. Every trip holds something new. The legendary Coast to Coast is only other event to use this course. In comparison to a multisport event the Classic recognises the elite paddler, initiates prospective Coasties and serves as a life barometer for the returning faithful.
For many, preparation for the Coast to Coast is in itself a life-changing experience. We develop an appetite for the wilderness that becomes a lifelong passion and go forward to live longer, healthier lives enriched by the company of like-minded people.
Prospective competitors are well advised by the truism “you’ve been able to run since you were two and ride since you were four but kayaking … that is a whole new kettle of fish”. And after months of preparation, your first Classic is the day the “trainer wheels come off”.
Friends and family of competitors concerned about the hazards in such an undertaking can take heart in the knowledge that the Classic, now in its th year has never lost a competitor to serious injury. The same cannot be said for this stretch of river outside our safety managed environment and this is why the Classic is so important to developing kayakers.
|Event||Date||Course||Fastest Times||Race Director|
|Classic River Race - Summer 2022/23||TBC||Classic - We Hope||Your Name Here||0:00:00||Your Name Here||0:00:00||TBC|
|Classic River Race - Summer 2021/22||Jan 15th||Classic @53m3/s (Otarama Gauge)||James Munro||3:53:20||Fiona Dowling||4:21:58||Shani Clark|
|Classic River Race - Summer 2020/21||Jan 16th||Classic @52m3/s (Otarama Gauge)||Dougal Allan||3:52:55||Olivia Spencer-Bower||4:20:23||Jennifer Johns|
|Classic River Race 2019||Dec 14th||Alternate - The Willows to Kaiapoi||Dougal Allan||1:57:04||Kate Cambie||2:11:16||Simon Trotter|
|Classic River Race 2018||Dec 8th||Classic||Sam Manson||3:34:09||Kate Cambie||4:00:50||Simon Trotter|
|Classic River Race 2017||Dec 9th||Classic||Sam Manson||3:55:20||Sophie Hart||4:22:22||Simon Trotter|
|Classic River Race 2016||Dec 11th||Classic||Hadyn Lockie||3:38:19||Kate Cambie||4:02:10||Len Smyth|
|Classic River Race 2015 | 2015 Novice||Dec 13th||Alternate||Robert Pommie||1:46:55||Sophie Hart||2:00:59|
|Classic River Race 2014||Dec 14th||Classic||Sam Goodall||3:42:57||Olivia Spencer-Bower||3:58:36|
|Classic River Race 2013||Dec 8th||Alternate||James Feathery||2:14:43||Wendy Riach||2:42:42|
|Classic River Race 2012||Dec 9th||Classic||Matt Blundell||3:34:06||Sophie Hart||3:51:49|
|Classic River Race 2011||Dec 11th||Classic||Matt Blundell||3:48:56||Olivia Spencer-Bower||4:11:49||Bianca Teague|
|Classic River Race 2010||Dec 5th||Classic||Paul Massie||3:45:59||Olivia Spencer-Bower||4:03:00|
|Classic River Race 2009||Classic||Matt Blundell||3:34:22||Olivia Spencer-Bower||3:55:34|
|Classic River Race 2008||Classic||Daniel Busch||3:28:46||Bianca Porteous||3:45:32||Andrew Wagg|
|2007||Classic||Ian Huntsman||3:58:18||Rosie Shakespeare||4:25:32|
|2006||Lower Waimak||Andrew Martin||1:55:54||Liz Blazey||2:15:08|
|2005||Classic||Ian Huntsman||3:41:35||Marnie Fornusek||4:12:44|
|2004||Classic||D Hunter||3:39:24||M Fitzpatrick||3:58:50|
|TopSport Kayaking Classic River Race 2003||Dec 7th||Alternate||Ben Fouhy||1:11:51||Marnie Fornusek||1:21:50|
|2002||Classic||Ben Fouhy||3:26:21||R Rhodes||3:58:13|
|Classic River Race 2001||Alternate (Lake Pearson)||Robert Nichol||Marnie Fornusek|
|Ferrymead Restaurant & Bars Classic River Race 1999||Classic||Paul Massie||3:58:46||Penny Edwards||4:13:34|
|1998||Classic||Paul Massie||3:58:57||Jane Moulder||4:27:43|
|Bridge Tavern Classic River Race 1997||Andrew Martin||3:28:54||Angela Ross||4:04:49|
|Racecourse Hotel Classic River Race 1996||Classic||Andrew Martin||3:36:52||Marnie Fornusek||3:59:20|
|Velissio's Cafe & Bar Classic River Race 1995||Classic||Eric Billoud||3:27|
|The Russley Hotel Classic River Race 1993||Classic||W Steinwendiner||3:31:02||Lynne Fuggle||4:00:06|
|Marine Tavern Classic River Race 1992|
|Coker's Hotel Classic River Race 1991||Classic||Alan Roxburgh||3:54:04||G Genet||4:47:54|
|1990||Classic||Mike Bassett||3:52||Jo Wyatt||4:33|
|Coker's Hotel Classic River Race 1989||Classic||Darryl Forsyth||4:07:39||Jo Wyatt||4:38:00|
The race starts at Mt White Bridge, accessed from State Highway 73 which runs between the West Coast and Canterbury, through Arthurs Pass. The Mt White Bridge and the start are signed posted, just past Lake Pearson travelling west or Bealey travelling east.
Come prepared for any type of typical mountain weather - from an icy cold river and freezing southerly winds to hot sunny conditions that make you wish you put more sun screen on. Canterbury in early summer is predictably unpredictable.
The first section to Gooseberry Stream is made of shallow braids and usually this is the perfect "getting used to it" section. However in the first 15 – 20 mins you will come into what is termed the Rock Gardens these are broken into four, sometimes five sections and each season they change in "degree of difficulty” In 2018 the infamous Rock Gardens were running particularly kindly. The first and second rock garden were very easy compared to previous years with the third and fourth sections providing a greater challenge for paddlers. Expect some bigger waves and fast moving water. A good warm up for the challenges that lie ahead in the Gorge.
The gorge is another hour away for beginners and the river remains braided all the way there. Once into the gorge itself there is no way out except by boat of some form so make sure you are prepared and the craft you have chosen isn’t the $800 20 year old boat that no one else wanted.
In the gorge you are now in Multi-sport heaven the Nirvana of long boaters. Bring your happy face and favourite food as you need to settle in for another 1½ hours of true white water paddling and adventure as bend after bend and bluff after bluff brings exciting new tests of your skills and of course fitness.
After that you will approach Woodstock and a the gorge has gone and now its up to you to navigate even more braids and hopefully not to many willows as the bridge looms ahead you know it is the finish line and the team will be there to greet but don’t drop your guard as the last couple of kms has been known to put the best kayaker upside down.
On average you will encounter
To compete in the Classic River Race you must be competent to paddle your chosen kayak through the course. In order for your entry to be accepted, you will be required to submit a Grade 2 Certificate with your entry form.
Competitors who have successfully completed the Rasdex Classic River Race or the river section of the Coast to Coast event in the last 5 years need only state the most recent race year at time of entry.
Novices and those from outside of Canterbury should consider obtaining experience on the Waimakariri River before the race.
Most people who struggle on the river seem to struggle mostly with reading and negotiating eddy lines and dealing with bluff turns – make these items a priority as well as learning how to chose your lines. Do not plan to follow other competitors as the person you are following in the race may not take the best lines!
The kayak must be suitable for the level of paddler – for first time entrants, it MUST be the same level of boat as assessed in gaining their Grade 2 certificate. All kayaks must have pillars and two flotation/air bags or extensive watertight sealed compartments that are drainable. The minimum requirement is two rear flotation/air bags of 20 litres each - correctly inflated and secured in the kayak. Wine bladders are not acceptable!
Please ensure that your boat is river worthy. Check that:
Race numbers will be available to be collected at Mt White Bridge on race day. Please attach BOTH of the numbered stickers to each side of the front of your kayak. Your number needs to be seen from both sides of the river at different checkpoints. Please ensure the numbers are put onto a clean/dry surface to prevent them falling off - they must be visible to race officals and safety personnel at all times throughout the race.
If you enter the Prologue Series please leave your race number on your boat, this will be your number for the entire series. Your race number will only change if you change race category.
The compulsory gear list has been established to align closely with the rules set for the kayak section of the Coast to Coast multisport race. The following list is compulsory and must be carried (in a drybag) or worn by all competitors:
This is a minimum requirement - feel free to include additional gear if required. All of the gear specified must be worn/carried. Failure to do so will result in you being withdrawn and disqualified from the race.
We allow synthetic, natural or composite thermal products. Cotton is unacceptable. Competitors should experiment for themselves with what best suits their needs for the activities and level of exercise they engage in. A compression garment is not a thermal garment.
All competitors are responsible for their own race food and drink. The duration of this race is between four to seven hours. Please ensure you have sufficient food and drink for the race duration AND spare food as required in your compulsory kit.
It is each competitor’s responsibility to ensure that they are carrying all of the compulsory gear, wearing their PFD, spray deck and helmet and that their boat is grade 2+ river worthy. Any competitor seen on the river not wearing their PFD, spray deck or helmet will be immediately withdrawn from the race.
Checks of compulsory gear and airbags will be made before the race. Further checks will be made at the end of the race. Any competitor found to NOT be carrying ALL of the compulsory gear (including airbags) will be disqualified.Remember to support OUR SPONSORS when sourcing your gear, sustenance and training.
No Gear, No Race, No Refund!
Competitors who withdraw from the Rasdex Classic River Race must not leave the riverbank. They must wait for the tail end Charlie kayakers to arrive.
The last place to pull out of the Race once you have started is Gooseberry Stream (after the Rock Gardens). If you are not feeling confident, please pull out here. There will be officials on the bank with a vehicle to transport you back to Mt White. Please make sure you check in with the officials.
If you decide to pull out later in the race, you can be carried out by jet boat. Whether or not the jet boat will take your kayak out is completely up to the jet boat driver – and you will be charged to do this. It is your responsibility to have you kayak removed from the river.
If you decide to pull out of the race, PLEASE let the Race Director or the Time Keeper know (they will both be at Gorge Bridge). We don’t want to spend the evening combing the river looking for unaccounted people. If you pull out of the Race, please stay with your kayak on the side of the river where you are clearly visible – DO NOT try to walk out (it’s a long way from anywhere!). Put warm dry clothes on and if you are cold, get back in your kayak. Wait for an official to come to you.
The Classic can't happen without the support of our generous sponsors. Click on the logos or links below to find out more about them and what they offer the kayaking community in Canterbury and beyond.