Last week’s Hoe Toa Paddle Championships in New Zealand produced plenty of great moments, but perhaps the greatest was seeing dark horse Tara Hope claim the beach race national title after battling all the way to the line with top 10 international athlete and overall event champion Penelope Strickland in the beach race.
The understated Kiwi – virtually unknown on the international scene before last weekend – took the points for Team NSP and was clearly thrilled with her victory, one that even she admitted was a little unexpected.
It’s always cool to see new names reaching the podium, so we had a chat with Tara post-race to get her thoughts on the victory and paddling in general. Take a look below, and follow @tarahope_sup and @nspsurfnsup for more.
SUP Racer: Hey Tara, congratulations on winning the beach race national title at Hoe Toa on the weekend! How was the event? And how did it feel to win your first national title?
“Thanks Chris! It’s always a pleasure to race along side the best girls the country has to offer. They are all such a great bunch, we get along and support each other so well. Everyone has upped their game considerably this year, it was a tough weekend on the water.
“To be honest, I don’t really know if the win has actually sunk in yet. It’s all a little surreal still. I finished second place in the distance event the day before, so winning the surf race really topped off an already successful event for me.”
What was going through your mind when you hit the beach side by side with Penelope for that final sprint?
“It wasn’t until seeing the recap later that I realised how it had played out. I managed to milk the smallest of bumps coming into the finish, I was thinking a million different thoughts at once: don’t fall off, don’t take your leash off too early, don’t take it off too late, don’t get off the board too early, don’t get off it too late, don’t drop the paddle…
“I wanted to finish strong and end up as close to Pea as possible. She’s such an amazing paddler, the possibility of winning never even entered my mind.”
For those who have never visited NZ, can you sum up what the SUP community is like over there? How are the conditions year-round?
“I live in a small town called Nelson at the top of the South Island. We only have a very small group of paddlers interested in paddling where I live, and it’s mostly recreational — that side of the sport is growing like crazy down here. Any serious racing I want to do involves driving almost 900 km and a ferry across the Cook Strait to Auckland on the North Island.
“The conditions in Nelson are always amazing, I can paddle all year and have access to pretty much any kind of water within a few hours.”
Can you tell us a little more about your background? When did you start paddling, and *why* did you start paddling?
“I began paddling about 5 years ago. We had recently moved to Nelson and had our second child when I made an off-hand comment to my husband about trying SUP. Next thing he had booked me a private lesson.
“I entered my first race about 18 months later when visiting family in the North Island and one of the guys there suggested I enter the Nationals, so I thought, “Why not?” And as they say, the rest is history. I was hooked!”
How long have you been with Team NSP? What’s your board of choice?
“I joined NSP last season. Shaan from NSP New Zealnad has always been really supportive and helpful, and I recently got my hands on a 14′ x 22″ Ninja which I’ve fallen in love with. That board is so light, so fast and so easy to maneuver.
“At the Hoe Toa Nationals it was definitely all about the Sonic for the distance race, that board is amazing upwind and down. Then the Puma for the surf race — it’s so stable and picks up waves when there isn’t anything there.”
How do you stay fit when the board stays on the rack? What kind of cross-training do you do?
“I am lucky enough to paddle year-round, but if I can’t get on the water I like to go for runs around some of the beautiful local spots. I’ve learnt to love running but honestly I paddle here regardless of the weather or temperature.
“I also get out with some of the local waka-ama (traditional outrigger canoe) girls when I can too, either in the OC6 or I borrow one of their singles for a play. Most of the time I’m out there paddling on my own, so it’s always nice to be able to join someone else on the water.”
Thanks for the insights, Tara! And one last question: Which international event would you most love to win?
“I’d really love to get over for Chattajack or the 11 City race one day! The opportunity to represent my country and wear the silver fern at the ISA Worlds would be a dream come true as well.”
So there you go. Tara Hope, the new name in NZ. Get this woman to the 11 Cities, NSP!