Champions crowned at 2020 Auckland King and Queen of the Harbour

The flagship Vaikobi King and Queen of the Harbour event witnessed a maiden men’s surf ski title for Ben Keys and a superlative ninth women’s crown for Rachel Clarke in Auckland on Saturday.

Over 100 paddlers took to the water for the iconic surfski event, which took place from Te Atatu Peninsula to Takapuna Beach in relatively calm conditions and light winds of around 10-12 knots.

The men’s race was expected to serve up a hugely competitive battle, and so it proved as just over half-a-minute separated the top three paddlers in a compelling scrap for glory over the 24km distance.

The decisive break was made in the run up to North Head when Keys (Ocean Ski Canterbury) unlocked the door to victory by pulling clear of nearest pursuer, the teenage talent Kalani Gilbertson. Keys 35, the 2019-20 Darcy Price Series winner, managed to open up a 100m advantage from his nearest rivals and held on to claim a memorable victory in 1:48:13.

In a titanic battle for second, Gilbertson, 17, produced a late burst of acceleration to power clear of Sam Newlands (Bay of Plenty) and grab a highly accomplished second by a two-second margin in 1:48:43. Toby Brooke (Kupe-Wellington), who was in the fight for second until the latter stages placed fourth in 1:49:53. Waka Ama star Tupu King made an impressive surf ski debut to place seventh in 1:52:55.

The men's podium for 2020 King of the Harbour- Kalani Gilbertson, Ben Keys and Sam Newlands

An elated Ben Keys said of winning his first King of the Harbour title: “It is a race I’ve done a few times over the years and I’ve finished anywhere from 20th to sixth. It is a race I never really thought I would win, so to finish first is cool; it is nice to get my name on the trophy.

“I was in the lead group of five or six and we kept changing the lead coming out of the river into the harbour. The group then thinned out and it was Kalani and I at the front. It then changed into a run chase rather than a wash riding race and that’s where I got my advantage from the Harbour Bridge to North Head.
“I was aware I had a 100m lead but I’ve lost a couple of race from that kind of lead, where the paddlers have come from different angles. I had to keep tabs on where the other paddlers were. It was good to win.”

Kalani Gilbertson (right) just edging in front of Sam Newlands at the finish line to claim 2nd position.

Gilbertson, who is less than half the age of race winner Keys, is better known as a flatwater paddler but he did have some specski surf lifesaving experience and managed to put in four sessions on the surf ski prior to the race.

Keen to try his hand at as many paddling activities as possible, the Aucklander added: “I honestly just wanted to have fun, meet lots of top people and gain extra knowledge of the sport. I had no real expectations coming in.

“It was a great battle for second. Sam pulled me along in his wash, but I still had a little more left in the tank. I thought; why not give it a crack and use my kayaking power.

“I’m really happy (with my performance),” he adds. “It is not the easiest thing in the world, I have a lot of respect for surf ski racers. It is definitely a hard sport.”


Takapuna Boating Club paddler Rachel Clarke has proved a master of this event for so long, and she claimed her ninth Queen of the Harbour title with a dominant display.

The former World surf ski bronze medallist, retired from international competition earlier this year but the 30-year-old Aucklander still had too much for her opposition as she clinched victory in 1:56:06. Race director Danika Mowlem (Takapuna Boating Club) took time off from her official duties to enjoy an impressive outing to place second in 2:01:55 with Aucklander Elise Legarth edging a tight tussle for third by just over half-a-minute from Carly Tyler, wife of men’s winner Ben Keys, in a time of 2:06:59.

Race victor Rachel Clarke said: “It was a tough slog out there and it is good to get another race in the bag. We were going with the tide and it was fast, and I just tried to stay with the guys as best I could.
“I’ve not done any specific training for the race as I’ve been focusing on surf lifesaving. But I didn’t worry about my fitness (from the surf lifesaving) and I treated the race as a good training session.”

On whether Clarke would come back to complete the perfect ten next year she simple remarked: “We’ll see.”

Rachel Clarke (Takapuna Boating Club) cruising to a dominant victory to claim her 9th Queen of the Harbour title.

In the Waka Ama field, Jack Wormald took a decisive victory, finishing the 24km course in 2.06.55 ahead of Eric Waterson-Holland and Jason Eruera who had a tight tussle up until the finish. Emma van Berkel won the women's division ahead of Rose King and Angela Hobson.

In questionably the hardest category of the day, Jan Dunlop claimed victory on the Stand Up Paddleboard, over Graeme Taylor and Jordon Zagonal.

Well done to all the competitors, and the Takapuna Boating Club paddlers who achieved success on the day:

Rachel Clarke- 1st Female overall
Danika Mowlem - 2nd Female overall
Jess McDuff- 2nd Female Masters
Andy Logue- 2nd Male Masters (45-55)
Ian Mercer - 1st Male Masters (55+)
David Blackford - 2nd Male Masters (55+)
Peter Dallimore - 3rd Male Masters (55+)
Tom Ashley and Tim Brabants- 1st Double ski

For the full results of the race visit

Photo galleries of the event

Jan Dunlop after winning the tough 24km course on a Stand up Paddleboard.