Tom Weeks’ debut in the OC1 paddling competition over the weekend turned out to be an extra special one.
Weeks’, who normally takes part in V6 races, received some “guidance” from an unexpected well-wisher in his first competitive singles event on Saturday.
A humpback whale suddenly popped up before the turn at the halfway mark of the 10km race near the end of the seawall, taking the paddlers by surprise.
Weeks and young surfski paddler Yannick Tinirau were closest to the magnificent creature who playfully “guided” them before swimming away.
“It was probably four to five metres away from me, I think it was probably curious and popped up to check what was happening. It’s always good to see a whale especially when its your first time participating in the singles event,” Weeks said.
Veteran paddler Serena Hunter said: “I would have been pretty distracted from the race if I had a whale pop up in front of me like that.”
Weeks said he was overwhelmed by the experience but pushed on to the finish line.
“I think the experience with the whale was probably my win. I can retire now,” he said with a laugh.
In 2015, Weeks had an underwater encounter with a whale. “It’s been a while since I have seen a whale and that close too.”
The touching moment of the whale raising its tail right in front of the two paddlers was captured by photographer Toru Nooroa.
The photos have gone viral on Facebook since being posted on the Cook Islands Canoeing Association page.
Nooroa, who was one of the competitors, said this was her first-time photographing a whale.
“It was just a lucky moment,” she said.
The exciting encounter may have left Weeks and others emotionally overwhelmed, but for some it was all about the race.
A great line up of 25 paddlers on OC1s, V1s and surfskis took to the line in Saturday’s race over 10km to the end of the seawall and back.
Young surfskiers Te Aroá Pekepo and Kohl Horton again took first and second overall spots in 56:20 and 57:06 minutes, respectively.
National rep Andre Tutaka George was first paddler and third overall after finishing the race in 57:58 minutes with Phil Ave a minute behind in 58.48 minutes and Tupuna Amo right behind him.
Serena Hunter said: “There were close battles throughout and good times on the day.”
Jade Tierney was first female surfski in 59:50 minutes with Serena Hunter on her OC1 in 1.00:28 hours, and Lily Tierney close behind on her surfski in 1.00:40 hours.
There was also a short course option of five kilometre to the Islander Hotel and back. Curtis Sullivan in his first singles race completed the course in 30:25 minutes with Joyce Fortes and Emilene Taulu finishing in second and third, respectively.
The next race on the Cook Islands Canoeing Association calendar is the V6 race which has seen a record number of canoes on the water this year. This event will be held in a fortnight’s time.