New Zealands premier river race. Since 1989


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.


Past Winners

Event Date Course Fastest Times Race Director
Male Female
Name Time Name Time
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
1994 D Higgison
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
Do you have any records or storys to expand on or embelish the history of the Classic? Please contact us:


Getting There

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.


Blow by blow...


Mountain Weather

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

  • Bluffs 28 +
  • Rapids 30 +
  • Corners / Bends 60 +


  • First option to pull out - (Gooseberry Stream) 13.5km
  • Woodstock first sign of civilisation - 52km
  • Total distance 67km +


Your Ability

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.

  • A Grade 2 certificate is not compulsory for the Prologue race series. However, it is highly recommended. All other rules, conditions, compulsory gear and information on this leaflet will apply to the Prologue Series Races.
  • A Grade 2 Certificate is required to be presented to classic@arawa.org.nz for all first-time competitors in the Rasdex Classic main event before entry is confirmed.
  • Presentation of a Grade 2 Certificate is not required if you have completed The Classic River Race or the kayak section of the Coast-to-Coast multi-sport race in previous years.
  • The race Safety Team reserve the right to refuse entry or withdraw any competitor they deem unfit to safely complete the race. Competitors need to ensure adequate training time on grade 2 rivers and ensure that their chosen kayak is appropriate for their kayaking ability.
  • Both Double kayak participants MUST have their Grade 2 Certificate – this will be enforced.

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.

Kayak Training

Novices and those from outside of Canterbury should consider obtaining experience on the Waimakariri River before the race.

  • Spend time in your race boat.
  • Practice self rescue skills – this is something that everyone needs to be able to do
  • While the ability to perform an eskimo roll is not a compulsory kayaking requirement, we strongly encourage competitors to attain this skill.

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!

River signals

Please make yourself familiar with river signals. An understanding of river signals is important. The main situation where these could be used on race day is for officials directing competitors to where they are wanted on the river, either for counting or avoidance of hazards.

Your Equipment

Your Kayak

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:

  • The hull is free from cracks or soft spots.
  • Your kayak is fitted with 20L of buoyancy, over and above the manufacturers foam pillars.
    • Air bags - securely tied in.
    • Sealed bulkheads - e.g. as featured in sea kayaks.
  • The foam pillars are intact.
  • The rudder is attached securely and the cables/lines are in good condition
  • Old race numbers have been removed/covered from the boat.

Your Race Number

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.

Your Gear

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:

  • Buoyancy vest (PFD) securely fitted, free of defects and of 50N minimum buoyancy (type 406 specialist PFD that complies with NZS standard)
  • Kayaking helmet
    • Bicycle helmets are not acceptable.
  • Spray Skirt
  • Paddle
  • Drybag containing:
    • Survival Blanket
    • Thermal Hat (or balaclava) and Gloves
    • Waterproof long sleeved paddle specific jacket (seam sealed and constructed of a durable material, minimum of neoprene cuffs) - to be either worn or in a dry bag
    • Waterproof pants (seam sealed and constructed of a durable material)
    • Spare, dry set of polypropylene long sleeve top and long johns - suitably sized.
    • Long sleeved mid layer thermal top (with insulation properties of 220+ gsm)
    • Thermal socks, synthetic, merino or similar (for if you have to spend a period of time on the river bank)
    • Spare Food
    • First Aid Kit
      • (which must contain a 1.5m long (un-stretched) roll of 5cm wide crepe bandage, a 5m long roll of 2cm wide strapping tape, 10 band aid strips, a triangular bandage, small scissors and 4 pain relief tablets (that can be used to treat pain in case of injury while help arrives - always follow the directions for taking medication)
      • Any competitor specific medication (this must also be recorded in your entry so race medical staff are aware of any potential conditions or issues)
    • Duct Tape - minimum 10 metres.
  • Foil survival bag (not a blanket) which must be carried either in their PFD or in a pocket on their person
  • Whistle attached to the outside of their PFD or bib

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.

Compulsory Gear Checks

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!

Your Race Day


  • 7am-8am ALL Competitors must register at the registration desk to collect their race pack and race number. Any outstanding payments must be paid prior to receiving your race information. You must sign in so that we know you are there and ready to race. Late arrivals may be refused entry – no refunds.
  • 8.30am Race Briefing – this is compulsory and all competitors and safety officials must attend.
  • 9am sharp Race Start time. Classes will be sent off in waves. The first class will start at 9am sharp.

Starting Order

Starting order will be advised at the race briefing. Competitors will be started in waves. Classes will be started in order of expected finishing time. Slowest classes will be started first. There will be no seeding within classes. In the event of limited entries, some classes may be combined. If you are not contesting the race for a placing, please don’t start in the front rank. The organisers reserve the right to combine classes if entries do not meet minimum requirement.

Timed Start

Each wave will have a recorded start time. Any competitor that crosses the start line PRIOR to their class starting will have their individual start time recorded plus one minute added to their overall time.

Cut Off Times

Any competitor not past Gooseberry Stream by 11.00am or Woodstock by 2.30pm shall be withdrawn from the race.

Withdrawing from the Race

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.

Jet Boat Operations

Jet boats are used on the Waimakariri River as part of our safety management system. They are extremely important for the transportation of officials, rescuing competitors, radio communications and evacuations of injured competitors. Please remember that:
  • They require less water going fast.
  • They pass going around, pushing the wake away from the kayak.
  • They are there for safety and transport.
  • A fee may be payable to transport kayaks that are recovered from the river during or after the race.

Your Support Crew


Please arrange your own transport. There will not be drivers available on race day. 67kms on the river = around 100km on the road!!

Woodstock Access and Driving Speeds

Inconsiderate behaviour may jeopardise future access for us and other users. If you or your support crew are driving to Woodstock to access the Waimakariri River, please be considerate of other road users. We have fielded complaints from the local runholder regarding excessive speeds on the shingle road down to the river. Sections of the road are on private land. Slow down. Please be aware of other road users, vehicles, children, stock and pedestrians. Note the last part of the road is rough with tight turns and is more suitable for 4WD's. No campervans or trailers please.

Our Environment

We are privileged to be able to run The Classic in an awesome environment. Please ensure that you leave it as you found it. ECAN has requested that there is no smoking on the river banks please advise any supporters of the Smoking ban and please remove all rubbish from the river banks.


The Rasdex Classic River Race supports  Biosecurity New Zealand in their attempt to stop the spread of Didymo throughout New Zealand's streams, rivers, canals and lakes. All kayak equipment must be cleaned, by the competitor or their crew, to biosecurity standards before and after the Classic River Race. Check out Biosecurity New Zealand for procedures. Didymo cells have been found in the Waimakariri River. Anybody sighting Didymo biomass should report it to the Department of Conservation at Arthur's Pass. It is essential that all precautions are taken to prevent further spread of the Didymo in the Waimakariri River.

Your Results

Prize Giving

The prize giving will be held in the Sheffield Hall This is at 14 Railway Terrace E, Sheffield. You must be present to collect any spot prizes. Place prizes can be forwarded to you if you are unable to attend the prize giving.


Results will be available on www.arawa.org.nz from the following Monday morning.

Your Updates

Check back to our website for race news and information. Important information will also be posted on Arawa Canoe Club's Facebook page:




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.

Naming Rights Sponsor


Funding Partners

To be confirmed

Platinum Sponsors

Ruahine Kayaks
Further Faster

Gold Sponsors

New World St Martins

Silver Sponsors


Lake Hood Accommodation Image
Vertex Altitude
The Bloom Room
Tussock Peak Motor Ldge Logo
Scotty Browns Bike Emporium

Bronze Sponsors

Em's Power Cookies


Freedom Fitness