By Jim Robinson, David Ling Publishing, 2016. Softcover, 167 pages, $40.
With this breezy history of adventure racing in New Zealand and around the world, journalist Jim Robinson has provided a great service to the outdoors community. The focus rightly stays on the early adopters and innovators in adventure racing (and sometimes multisport), showing where their journeys took them. Robin Judkins put outdoor passion, competition and media together and re-sold the outdoors to New Zealanders. Gerard Fusil came from far away to run New Zealand’s first adventure race, the Grand Traverse, and took his concept to the world. Kiwi Geoff Hunt followed in his footsteps with the Southern Traverse.
Mostly, however, the book focuses on the outdoor folk who caught this wave as adventure races emerged around the world, and surfed it to some of the most outlandish places on the planet. People like Steve Gurney, John Howard and Kathy Lynch, and their modern contemporaries Chris Forne, Stuart Lynch and Sophie Hart – as well as that giant of a character, Nathan Fa’avae, who somehow fits in both camps. For them this book must read like a holiday album, an Instagram-like facade of smiles, good light and beauty.
With this last point also comes my one criticism. The focus on the winners and the finish line, perhaps perpetuates some censures of adventure racing: its lack of adventure; that races are contrived; that racers, cartoon like figures, merely skip across the surface of the landscapes, encased in the bubble created by the event, oblivious to the rhyme and reason of the world around them.
Perhaps the sheer scope of the book precludes consideration and understanding of who these people really were or are, and what they got out of completing these challenges. These weekend warriors, training in the early hours before working nine to five; exploring our backcountry as they develop their skills, fitness and friendships. Travelling to the ends of the earth to challenge themselves to the ends of their physical and mental limits once or twice a year.
This shortfall, however, is minor. Overall the book covers the history credibly, and concludes well by connecting to the present and suggesting what lies in the future. Recent changes include the spectacular rise of women-only adventure racing, the committed action of the likes of Hillary Outdoors in creating opportunities for young people and events at a local level. A great photo near the end of the book shows competitors in the Bay of Plenty’s Manawahe Adventure race, running fresh and youthful
from the start-gun; they are the future of our outdoor community.
Early in the book a quote from Gerard Fusil contends, ‘An adventure is above all the dream of a great journey, as far away as possible’. But a greater truth might be the value of adventure shared with friends closer to home. As successful businessman Ron Anderson says, ‘The Southern Traverses were one of the best things we’ve ever done in our lives, especially the ones down in Fiordland. The people you did it with, you built incredible relationships with them. You built incredible respect, the utmost respect’.