Serena Hunter will join Teva, Tahiti’s finest women’s crew, for the women’s six-person outrigger Catalina Crossing next month.
She says to be invited to paddle for the team at the famous international 42 kilometre event that ends in Newport Beach is a tremendous honour.
The Catalina Crossing is the biggest race on the US calendar and one of the major races on the international long distance calendar.
For some years now the 42-year old elite athlete has consistently returned outstanding results in her chosen sport. She is now ranked second in world distance paddling after recently streaking to the finish line just behind Tahiti winner Marguerite Temaiana in the top Masters International Va’a Federation event held in Tahiti. The world distance championships is a distance of 18 km.
The Tahiti team heading for the Catalina race has gold medal winning open women’s crew from the recent world distance champs including top Tahitian paddler and world champ Hinatea Bernadino. The team have asked Serena and top New Zealand paddler Mariana Hodges (also of Cook Islands descent) to join their nine-member crew.
“I’m very honoured to have been asked. It’s such an awesome opportunity and I’m very excited about it.The Catalina Crossing is a race that I’ve always wanted to do, so to have the opportunity to race it with this awesome crew of paddlers is really awesome,” says Hunter beaming at the prospect of racing 42km off the west coast of the United States.
“The trip is all sponsored, so we just have to get ourselves to Tahiti and then everything’s sorted from there.
“So I’ll be leaving for Tahiti at the end of this month to get a few days together with the crew to get in a little training and blending in.”
The team will fly to Los Angeles on September 5 and will race on Saturday September 9.
Probably the best female paddler produced by the Cook Islands to date, Serena says she’s already had months of hard training leading towards the successful world champs in June.
“I was super-happy with my results there.”
Being ranked world number two is no mean feat.
“When it all comes together and you race hard against top paddlers it’s a really good feeling. And it was a bonus to come home with the result I had and then receive this invite to join the Tahitian crew for Catalina.”
The first Catalina Crossing took place in 1959. It is recognised as the top US outrigger event and is held over two days. It features women and mixed crews racing from Newport to Catalina Island on the first day, and the men’s crews racing back to Newport the next day. Each team has nine paddlers, interchanging throughout the race.
“So basically, competitors paddle hard out around 20 minutes at a time over four hours or so,” says Hunter.
This year is the 58th event. Last year’s race saw over 50 women’s crews on the start line, and Hunter says competition is expected to be stiff this year following on from the world distance championships in Tahiti.
The same man who coaches world champion Ray Preston has taken her training up a notch to prepare for the gruelling Catalina race.
He’s designed a programme that includes Serena training in her single outrigger and joining the men’s V6 with top male paddler Reuben Dearlove and his crew.
Serena says these training sessions have been a big help as paddling in a six man crew is quite different from paddling alone on a single outrigger.
With so many good teams lining up at the start line, Serena says competition is expected to be stiff this year.
“I’m guessing there will be some focus on the Tahitian crew. I think it is the first time the Tahitian women have fielded a crew to the Catalina race, so the pressure will be on, I’m sure, and it will be hard, intense racing. The crew is being sponsored by Fai Va’a and Air Tahiti Nui.”
Meanwhile, another invitation has been extended to the elite Cook Islands sportswoman from Hawaii.
“I received an invite to paddle in the Na Wahine o ke kai (Molokai crossing) with a Hawaiian crew, but it is a week after Catalina and would mean too much time away from the family. The Catalina invite was just too great an opportunity to be missed.”
When she returns from the US race, Serena will get straight into coaching the open women’s team in preparation for Vaka Eiva in November.
“So it has been a busy year paddling. I count myself blessed with the wonderful opportunities I have had this year, racing in the Takapuna Beach Cup in February, then Te Aito and the world distance championships in Tahiti in June, and now the Catalina Crossing coming up.
I count myself very lucky to have these opportunities and to have my family be so supportive.”