Racer chafes with ‘old school’ tribute

Skara Bohny skara.bohny@stuff.co.nz



Stuff NZ Newspapers



What do you get when you combine a love of sport with an interest in history and an inability to turn down a challenge? If you are endurance sports coach Matty Graham, the answer turns out to be a whole lot of chafing, as he recreates the circumstances of the first Coast to Coast – a 1983 event organised by Robin Judkins with just 79 entrants – for the race’s 40th year. Graham, who grew up in Hokitika and was often taken to see the race start by his dad, was inspired to take up the challenge by his long connection to the race and some books about early 1980s events. He is now fundraising to make a documentary with production company The Film Crew, following his upcoming Coast to Coast race, and interviewing some of the original competitors and race founder Judkins. Graham hopes to show the finished documentary at the Mountain Film Festival. Graham, now based in Wa¯ naka, is hoping to raise $10,000 by January 29. ‘‘It does cost quite a lot to make a film, I’ve found out,’’ he joked. Graham said that while the film would follow his race, what he really wanted to focus on were ‘‘the original guys and girls who did that first event’’, and the technological advances that have been inspired by the Coast to Coast. ‘‘The whole saying ‘Standing on the shoulders of giants’ can’t be more true than for this – even if you don’t realise it, if you’re lining up for the first time this year, there’s so much technological development that has happened in those 40 years. ‘‘There’s so much that we take for granted, in terms of equipment, that’s been shaped with blood, sweat and tears.’’ Almost all of the original Coast to Coast entrants managed to finish the two-day event, with just two people not completing the race. Graham, after training with oldschool 1980s equipment, said their achievements were nothing short of ‘‘incredible’’. ‘‘A lot of them found out about a month before and said, ‘Oh, my neighbour’s got a bike I can borrow’, or learned to kayak three days before on the Avon River. ‘‘There was a bike with a baby seat attached to it – I believe the baby wasn’t in it. ‘‘There were some really good times done with that old gear.’’ Since May last year, Graham has been documenting his attempts to track down and train with ’80s equipment – right down to the Swanndri, stubbies, and fruit cake for energy – on his Facebook and Instagram pages, ‘‘Old School Coast to Coast’’. The only modern things he will be either using or taking with him are concessions to updated health and safety standards or laws – including a bike helmet, as helmet laws were not introduced until 1994, and first aid kits and emergency weather gear. ‘‘The bike and kayak are the big ones. [Jeremy Forlong], who owns a bike shop in Dunedin, Off the Chain Cycles, he got in touch and said he would build me a bike – he had all these old parts and put them together for me. ‘‘He was so thorough, there’s not a bolt on it that’s not authentic. ‘‘The kayak came from my Dad . . . There’s a bit of a story to that one. That’s the kayak that I first started out in, so even if something else came along, I would probably stick with it.’’ In fact, Graham was going to use that kayak in his first Coast to Coast, at age 18, but switched to another after someone told him it was ‘‘too terrible’’ to use. That advice had checked out, Graham said. Training runs using the old kayak had proved that it was ‘‘amazing’’ in the right conditions, but ‘‘not so good when it is flat, you have to paddle in a straight line, need to move around specific objects or paddle for more than 30 minutes’’. Graham said that so far, all the old-school gear had proved to be, for the most part, ‘‘inefficient and uncomfortable’’. During his training runs so far, it took all his energy to keep the kayak going in a straight line, he said. As for the bike, ‘‘if you were to compare it to flight, the bike that I’m using is essentially what the Wright Brothers flew in for the first time – modern bikes are like space shuttles’’. He said the project had made him fall back in love with the race, which he has done six or seven times – despite the extra difficulties.