[Sponsor Love] NZ Enduro: Back Country Enduro Racing At Its Best

[Sponsor Love] NZ Enduro: Back Country Enduro Racing At Its Best

*Editors Note: Following the 2017 edition of the NZ Enduro race organisers Anka and Sven Martin approached Trail Fund NZ with the goal of raising funds to support the trails used by the event today and in the future. And now thanks to the generosity of the Martin’s and their loyal sponsors including Santa Cruz Bicycles, SRAM, RockShox and Bontranger (full list of awesome people here), and of course riders like you who bought tickets to our raffles, approximately $10,000 has been raised so far to support the trails! Nice work team.

The NZ Enduro is fast becoming a must-do event not only on the New Zealand enduro calendar but also for international racers. The three-day stage race takes riders through some of the top of the South Island’s wildest and most technical trails, rolling over beech-leaf cornflake litter, through pristine native bush and boasting a chopper shuttle on the third day – the race always sells out and has an annual wait list.

The trails – Wakamarina, Nydia Bay, and Whites Bay – are part of what made Anka and Sven Martin fall in love with New Zealand and decide to move here, so it’s fitting that they’ve taken over the organisation of the race that features them.

The couple has been running NZ Enduro for the past two years, albeit between Anka racing international multi-day enduros and running riding and yoga retreats, and Sven blasting around the world as a sought-after sports photographer.

While they can be tricky to pin down, Trail Fund NZ caught up with Anka to have a quick chat about how this year’s race went, plans for next year and, of course, the trails themselves.

What was different this year to previous years you’ve run the event? Weather obviously!

Sunshine, glorious sunshine! After last year’s weather bomb on Saturday and having to cancel Sunday’s racing (and the heli drop!) we made a number of changes in many areas - most of them focused on safety, medical access, the comfort and wellbeing of riders and marshals and trail sustainability.

In context, this meant improving the efficiency of timing picks ups, shuttles and offering more shelter. We also had a whole new back up venue with four exciting stages had we needed to cancel Sunday’s heli-drop on Wakamarina; trails that were suited for wet, wet riding, matched our native backcountry feel, had good evacuation access and, of course, lots of shuttled vertical descent to reward the riders with in lieu of a helidrop.

I remember hearing that you were thinking of adding a day to the event at some stage – is that possible for 2019 and which trails would you throw in? 

You heard right! Of course our goal is to grow the event into more of a multi-day event at some stage, and hopefully, we can add a day or even two onto the now three-day event in the future. Whether it will be 2019 or 2020 still depends on a few things, and the trail or trails of choice will remain a bit of a surprise for now, but I can say that we’d like to make our way through the Top of the South, east to west.

While countries like France and Italy have literally thousands of different trails and historic trade routes you can use for itineraries, New Zealand doesn’t. We hope to keep the native backcountry feel and use hard-to-access, lesser-used, point-to-point trails – but a lot of that depends on concessions and safety plans, which are long, drawn-out processes. 

One thing I always hear about NZ Enduro is the AMAZING swag that racers get! How do you sort all of that out?

Ha ha, lots of time behind the computer! Between Sven & myself we have A LOT (not going to give away my age now) of years of racing and working in the bike industry behind us, and that is how and where you build up all your relationships and contacts over the years. Never burn bridges kids! We want to partner our event with like-minded companies. One of the requirements is that they contribute to the rider bags with useful items and also contribute to the trail advocacy raffle that raises money for past or future trails we use. (HL: )

Is the race only for top riders? If someone can handle grade 5 trails but isn’t super-fast, would they still have a good time?

While the race is not suited for beginners, it is most definitely not only for top riders – our goal is to keep it local and not too pro-heavy. We want everyone to mingle and ride together. The trails that we race on are technical – even the top, top pro’s have to get off on some sections – but that is just the nature of the type of trails we use and that’s what we like about them, they’re not your usual race tracks.

In saying that though, you have to be a confident, strong technical rider to get through the weekend, but it is a great challenge and goal to work towards. It starts on easier trails and progresses, so if riders feel they are in over their heads they have ample time to back out or withdraw before they get to the “dreaded” stage two – dropping into Nydia Bay on day two. 

NZ Enduro uses natural trails for the race. Does that set it apart from other multi-day races?

A huge part of why we choose the trails we do is because we love natural trails. It is one of the biggest reasons why we chose to move here and live in the Nelson region.

We love that you have to hop off every now and then or scoot or tripod through a section, and I love the imperfection and the ever-changing nature of the trails. I don’t want to dumb it down, I don’t want to build bridges over the creeks, I want people to experience these natural trails. There are enough homogenous bike parks out there. 

What are your motivations for putting money back into the trails?

Simple. You have to give back. We have to work together to build, maintain and develop these areas. It’s a win-win situation for everyone. You can build new sections, tweak existing sections for sustainability or simply maintain existing natural trails.

We have gifted the Marlborough MTB club directly, and in conjunction with Trail Fund NZ, thousands of dollars, and the improvements were seen and enjoyed by all. Some of the money raised this year will also be earmarked towards future trails the event may use if route additions or changes are made. 

How important do you think it is that events give back to the trails they use? 

I don’t think it should be a choice. It should be mandatory to give back, to maintain and to help develop any area where they decide to pass through or make use of during an event – and not just in terms of dollars either.

The biggest way we give back is through NZ Enduro volunteer-based trail work activities. In the months leading up to the race, we make multiple visits to the trails with big working groups loaded with saws and tools. The stages are cleared, made safe (not sanitised) and problem areas are identified and worked on.

The trails are given a ride through for post event clean up as well. Over the course of the year, that adds up to hundreds and hundreds of hours of volunteer work. For anything big or for sections that require power tool work (chainsaws), we notify DoC. They are a great partner and just before the event this year, they helped us clear five big trees on Wakamarina and another on Nydia Track.

Do you work closely with DoC to use the trails for the race? Do you have to give any undertakings that the trails won’t be trashed?

Yes, we work very closely with DOC and we are honoured that they allow us to use these historic dual use native trails. In return, we respect the lands and sensitive (cultural and environmental) areas we pass through.

There is the concession fee and trail user fee, per rider per day, that goes back to DoC and there are very strict guidelines and undertakings done each year. They monitor our activities in person onsite each year and environmental impact assessment reports with photos are conducted both pre and post event.

The numbers are strictly limited (140) to reduce impact and we have instituted procedures and policies to deal with litter, course tape, trail damage, etc. Last year we cancelled day three for both environmental impact and safety and evacuation concerns. In conjunction with the DoC concession, there is a very thorough and strictly audited Health and Safety plan that needs to be followed and updated each year.

We are not required by the concession to do as much trail work as we do or plough as much money as we do back into the trails and community, but we do so by choice anyway. We want to be responsible users and stewards of the land. 

Anything else you want to add about the trails?

These are special trails that we fell in love with when we moved out to NZ, and we love to share them with people, for them to experience how beautiful it is out there, so it’s way more than just a race to us, it’s a bit of an adventure to experience some of our favourite trails in the world and we love how we are able to involve as many truly Kiwi food, drink and product partners with the event as possible.

We like to keep it local while making a big international splash in the international MTB media and racing scene. We are proud to have attracted the worlds best enduro racers to rub shoulders with the locals.

What other event can you win a trophy Silky Saw, lovely pounamu greenstone pendant and celebrate with a Magnum of Moa beer and tub of Pic’s peanut butter under the blades of a whirling helicopter?