Graham paying homage to original race in 1983

Matty Graham could be just another competitor in the Coast to Coast next month — if you do not look too closely at his equipment. He tells Marjorie Cook why he is going old school for the great race.

There are just two ways for Lake Hawea multisport coach Matty Graham to finish the two-day Coast to Coast on February 11-12, his bike mechanic, Jeremy Forlong, says. His legs will fall off or he will have quads the size of a monster."

Forlong should know. The owner of Off the Chain Cycles in Dunedin has spent the past six months restoring Graham’s raw, steel-framed, 1983 Mercier 10-speed, complete with an authentic but "virtually impossible to get" Shimano 600 gear set.

Graham (35) said his 39-year-old racing bike really only had two gears: "One is too hard and the other is too easy".

The six-time Coast to Coast veteran loves his leather-seated French bike, even if, at 10kg-11kg, it is 4kg heavier than his modern road bike.

"If you think about history of flight technology, this would be the equivalent of the Wright brothers’ plane, the first thing that flew well," Graham said.

It has been 10 years since Graham last competed in the Coast to Coast. Studies, family, children and work intervened.

This year, the 40th edition of the first two-day race, he has decided to give it a seventh shot.

Matty Graham, of Lake Hawea, plans to do the Coast to Coast in 1983 style with a 10-speed and a...
Matty Graham, of Lake Hawea, plans to do the Coast to Coast in 1983 style with a 10-speed and a rudderless kayak. PHOTO: MARJORIE COOK
But instead of kitting up with his latest, lightest, carbon-fibre multisport bling, he has decided to honour the era of the first Coast to Coast in 1983, and multisport pioneers such as Joe Sherriff (Alexandra), Steve Gurney (Queenstown) and Alister Metherell (Christchurch).

Graham wants to race as authentically as possible, which is why he has also chosen a rudderless, wide kayak of uncertain provenance that his dad, Phil, has been keeping in the bushes at his Hokitika home.

Kayak maker Grahame Sisson has confirmed the boat was a type used for racing in 1983 and is probably an old Quality Kayak brand, although there has been some difficulty placing the exact model.

Graham has been poring over old photos to work out what to wear — and, yes, cotton stubbie short-shorts, a woollen top of some sort and a pair of slippery-soled running shoes is the way to go.

No Lycra, no polypro, no lightweight merino.

This means chafing. And there will be no special costume changes in transition, because the pioneers wore the same outfit from start to finish.

Graham has spoken to Sherriff and others about their first race and discovered things were not hugely comfortable in wet stubbies on the bike or when running over Goat Pass.

He has practised in stubbies so has some idea of what he is in for. But he has not yet found the right woolly.

Graham with a 1980s-style shoe he will wear in the two-day event. PHOTO: MARJORIE COOK
Graham with a 1980s-style shoe he will wear in the two-day event. PHOTO: MARJORIE COOK
"It is quite hard to find a 40-year-old jersey," he said.

Graham said if he could travel back in time to the 1983 start line, he did not want to look out of place lining up with the younger versions of Sherriff and company.

"Joe Sherriff, I sat with him for an hour and chewed his ear off. He was a great source of information," Graham said.

There is still a lot to get sorted between now and the February 11 start at Kumara.

Graham is keen to borrow a 1983 car — perhaps a Hillman Hunter, without a roof rack or modern tie-downs. Just a towel on the roof and rope to secure the kayak would do.

Graham cannot be 100% authentic because he must obey safety rules and wear certified helmets and a lifejacket. But one more thing will be like 1983 — he is racing Sherriff , Gurney and Metherell.

Back in 1983, the veterans literally lined up for the unknown in terms of the course and experience, Graham said.

"There wasn’t really a thing called multisport then. They borrowed bikes, rocked up and did it with what they had. And they had that extra layer of not knowing."

Graham dives over the flooded finishing line at Sumner Beach during the Coast to Coast in 2008....
Graham dives over the flooded finishing line at Sumner Beach during the Coast to Coast in 2008. Waiting with open arms is his fiancee (now wife) Lily. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Graham said modern Coast to Coasters benefited from all the veterans’ experimentation with gear, nutrition, clothing, technology and logistics.

"The biggest difference between then and now is 40 years of experience. We really are standing on the shoulders of giants.

"I wouldn’t be where I am today, coaching sport, if it weren’t for the Coast for the Coast," Graham said.

In 1983, the two-day race was the only way to tackle the 243km course from Kumara on the West Coast through the Southern Alps to Christchurch.

Now there are several different types of races, including the elite Longest Day, first introduced in 1987. It starts on February 12.

A documentary, Old School Coast to Coast, will be filmed during this year’s event.

Graham’s support team consists of father Phil and friend Rick Croft, both of whom have supported Graham on his previous Coast to Coast attempts.

Graham’s wife, Lily, and children Elsie (8) and Merritt (6) will also giving encouragement along the route.

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