It is both a deeply sad time and a profoundly satisfying time of year for Paul Roozendaal.
For around two-and-a-half hours, Paul can be at sea and alone with his thoughts for a great mate – James ‘Bhutty’ Moore, who died tragically during a 30 kilometer waka ama run up the coast from Maketu to Tauranga.
Paul was there that day. There were high winds and huge swells on Sunday, July 27, 2008. “Just like when the swell is up and the surfers go out - well these conditions were great for us.” Except one man wouldn’t come home.
“We lost sight of James when we were out around Motuotau,” says Paul. James texted for help and called his partner to tell her he loved her. The following day his body was found in the shallows off Matakana and the remnants of his canoe were strewn along the shore line.
“No-one will ever really know what happened,” says Paul.
On the Sunday morning of February 3 this year, there will be the tenth anniversary running of the James Moore Memorial Race, fondly called the Bhutty Moore-morial race. And members of James’ family will be on the beach to see the field off.
Paul Roozendaal created the race to help him cope with the loss. “It was always just going to be a day when we remember our friend. We go to the same beach and make the same trip up the coast. We re-enact the day we lost him, in his honour, and over the exact same course.”
Paul says the James Moore Memorial Race has become New Zealand’s favourite race for surf ski paddlers and waka ama paddlers. It attracts fields of up to 120 athletes – including some from France, South Africa and Brazil. A memorial paddle has become an international event.
There was a suggestion the race was too long for a lot of athletes – that it could be a bigger event if it was shorter. “But we want to keep to the same course James set out on,” says Paul. “It’s about him.”
Each year the racers take flax flowers on the journey. “They are cast into the ocean halfway down the course.” There have also been stories of a spiritual connection out on the water during the race.
“Some paddlers have talked about sensing James’ spirit near Rabbit Island. They have been struggling at the point of the course where we lost James. They ask for help and they feel James gave them strength and guidance.”
One racer asked for help, asked for directions. “She said a bird flew over and away to the left, or a fish jumped a certain way. She took that as a sign and it worked really well for her.” They are just some of the stories.
There’s a bit of a front coming through next week which will bring northerly winds and a swell. And some rain. The racers will be dictated by the weather and may race in reverse, from Mount Maunganui to Maketu.
And when it’s over, Paul, family and the rest of the paddlers will retire to the Turkish cafe at the Mount to talk about a son, a brother and a dear friend, lost having an adventure at sea. But always remembered.