Nelson adventure racer Nathan Fa’avae talks about his most recent foray into reality television. Photo: Jonty Dine.

Nathan’s Adventure Racing mission

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Every few weeks we sit down with someone with a story to tell at the Vic. We call it ‘Burgers, Beers and Banter’. This week we catch up with Nathan Fa’avae, the six-time world champion adventure racer. Nathan is preparing to give a talk at a fundraiser next week, helping his son get to the adventure racing nationals.


Nathan Fa’avae has been all over the world taking on the toughest adventure racing courses the planet has to offer.

But most recently he took part in a 10-day eco-challenge exhibition race in Fiji, created by the production company behind TV shows ‘Survivor’ and ‘the Apprentice’.

The show is hosted by none other than the world’s most famous survivalist, Bear Grylls.

“I was a little bit cynical wondering how much of him on TV was real,” says Nathan.

“But I thought he was fantastic and showed a lot of interest in what we were doing, I think he would have preferred to be racing.

“It was a really big production with about 50 teams, many of them world-ranked and they dedicated a film crew to every team.”

Nathan says the final result will be spectacular as a substantial amount of money had been thrown at it.

“With no sponsors permitted, every team was given $50k just to help with costs. They would have had ten helicopters flying above at all times. The budget would have been millions and millions, such a cool thing to be a part of.”

Nathan is under a strict confidentiality agreement, so can’t give the results of his race, but says it included mountain biking, trekking, stand-up paddling, and rafting. Teams raced through the night, sleeping only about two hours a day.

“That was sometimes considered a luxury.” While it was tagged as “the toughest adventure course in the world,”

Nathan admits to participating in tougher races. He says the sport isn’t without its dangers.

“I’ve been in races where people have been killed. It’s a dangerous sport and there are real risks.”

He says the toughest races are when you’re ill or injured.

“I’ve had races before with altitude sickness or in the tropics getting an intestinal bug, those are the really hard ones. The worst of these came in 2013 during the world championships in Costa Rica.

“Three of us got a tropical foot infection. Our feet were disappearing in front of our eyes, we had never seen anything like it before, so we pulled out of the race and went to hospital.”

His side went into the race as defending champions but left with a ‘did not finish.’

“That was about as bad as it gets, we were quite disillusioned and bummed out.”

He says they came away from the race spending a lot of time building a picture of ‘the ultimate team’.

This acted as a turning point for his team, who went on to win five out of the last six world.

Nathan’s children are also keen adventure racers having grown up with two outdoor mad parents.

His son Zephyr and daughter Jessie are both nominees for the Nelson Sports Awards this weekend as a result of their orienteering prowess.

“Our kids didn’t have much choice really; it is just what we have naturally done and essentially by osmosis they have absorbed the perfect skillset for adventure racing.”

Zephyr’s Motueka High School junior adventure team took out the regional event and have qualified for the national final at Great Barrier Island next month.

“It’s quite extraordinary what they’ve achieved as Motueka does not traditionally have an adventure team.”

As they weren’t expected to win, the school must now raise $10,000 to get the team to the final.

To help raise funds, Nathan will speak at Trailways Hotel on November 28, sponsored by Smart Business Centre.

“If you’re in a leadership role and struggling, I think you will get a lot out of my talk.”