Just call him Mr Coast to Coast. Steve Gurney is
synonymous with the multisport event, and today tells
Alistair McMurran why he loved it so much.
The Coast to Coast has been Steve Gurney's race.
He has competed in the one-day event 18 times and won it a
record nine times.
The event captured Gurney's attention from the start.
"I was immediately drawn to it," he said. "Humans, and
especially males, are inescapably drawn to adventure. The
Coast to Coast has provided an outlet for that."
Gurney (48) spent 20 years of his life competing in adventure
"I loved the concept of being personally self-responsible,"
He covers this topic in his book, Eating Dirt, which will be
published in August.
"We have a climate of cotton wool at the moment. Kids are not
allowed to fall out of jungle gyms or climb trees because the
school doesn't want to be found liable."
Gurney came from a different era and was allowed to do
adventurous things when growing up.
"I had to learn the mountaineering and outdoor survival
skills or I would die," he said.
"I liked challenging myself, coming close to death sometimes,
and being caught out in bad weather. Because I was clever,
skilled and had done the training, I survived.
"Adventure racing throws obstacles at you all the time and
the team that deals with the obstacles the best wins."
Winning the Coast to Coast in his fifth attempt was the
highlight of Gurney's endurance racing in New Zealand.
"It was very significant and meant a lot to me to finally win
it," he said.
"It's part of my life. Not a day goes by when I don't get an
email or a phone call from someone asking for advice."
The multidiscipline events have become part of Gurney's life
and have provided the material he uses as a motivational
"I chose to make my job out of this lifestyle," he said. "The
Coast to Coast is an important part of it."
The Coast to Coast taught Gurney never to give up. In his
first attempt he was 22nd; he moved up to third the next year
and he was runner-up in his third attempt.
He was second again in his fourth race and finally won the
event in his fifth attempt in 1990.
"I was dead keen to win it," he said. "I failed in four
attempts but didn't give up."
His biggest regret was not to get his 10th win. He got an
ankle injury, finished second and later required surgery.
"I'd become a bit arrogant and a bit cocky with all the wins.
To crash close to the 10th win taught me a valuable lesson."
His most memorable overseas adventure was to win the Echo
Challenge in Malaysia in 1994 despite suffering from a severe
leptospirosis infection. It was not until a month later that
he found out he had been on the edge between life and death.
Added to his problems was a hospital bill for $92,000 from
Singapore and Borneo.
"It was such a close call and made me aware of risk
management and re-energised my passion for adventure," he
Gurney won 12 international races, the most significant a
10-day race in Ecuador that was won after a tussle with a
The race included a climb up 5897m peak Mt Cotopaxi.
"A lot of competitors didn't make it up the mountain because
of altitude sickness," he said.
"I enjoyed the toughness of it. We had to be resourceful and
tactically savvy to know when to rest during the heat of the
Gurney enjoyed the race because it involved different skills
- mountaineering, rock climbing, mountain biking and
He still lives in Christchurch but is considering other
options because his house and his land have been badly
damaged by the earthquakes.
He has also been dealing with the aftermath of an incident
last year when the car he was driving collided with a train
near Rangiora. Gurney pleaded guilty to careless use of a
motor vehicle, and was left with whiplash problems in his
neck and shoulders.
"My job is to be aware of my environment and challenges," he
said. "How could I miss a simple thing like a train?
"When we get busy we tend to unconsciously focus out stuff.
It was an unconscious filtering going on."
- Steve Gurney -
• Age: 48.
• Home town: Christchurch.
• Education: Canterbury University (mechanical
• Occupation: Motivational public speaker.
• Record: Coast to Coast, record nine wins (1990-91,
• Adventure race wins: Echo Challenge in Malaysia
(1994), 10-day endurance race in Ecuador.
• Honours: NZ Order of Merit (2004).