Queenstown multisporters in this weekend’s gruelling Coast to Coast will be trying their hearts out for a local kayaking coach.
Steve Norton, 43, has been dishing out kayaking tips to seven local entrants and also acts as support crew on Saturday for Longest Day competitor Mike Kelly.
Norton’s tuition could make all the difference – the 67km kayak leg is the longest in the 243km race from the West Coast to Christchurch.
Kayak king Norton, who has himself enjoyed top placings in four previous Coast to Coast two-dayers, has held free kayaking lessons locally each Tuesday for two years.
He rates Kelly, 32, as a top-five Longest Day contender.
Kelly’s completed four Longest Days, finishing sixth in 2008 and, despite nutrition problems, 10th last year.
“His paddling has got incredibly fast,” Norton says.
He also names Tom Lucas, another experienced Longest Day contender, as potentially another top-10 finisher.
“He’s over a bad injury and looking the best I’ve ever seen him,” Norton says of Lucas.
Logan McMillan and Dougal McPherson, two Waiheke Island athletes who have been training here this summer, also come under Norton’s wing.
They’re competing as individuals in the two-day Coast to Coast, starting tomorrow.
“They’re coming along in leaps and bounds,” Norton says.
He also has high hopes for two local newcomers, Kelly’s partner Josie Cederwall, 34, and Mary Jane “MJ” Spring, 31, who are also doing the individual two-day event.
They’ve only been kayaking a year but have already competed well – Cederwall won the Clutha Classic.
“Josie’s quite gifted at it, so I think she’ll go far, and MJ is paddling like a demon,” Norton adds.
He also rates Jo Phelan, 41, as a top-10 chance in the two-day individual veteran category.
“She couldn’t paddle a couple of years ago and is now paddling incredibly well.”
Phelan has also been assisted by her partner, top kayaker Brent Herdson – the pair competed as a team in the two-day event in 2008.