Power boat legend celebrates four decades racing

Tony Hall comes from a family steeped in Kiwi hydroplane racing history. He tells Caroline Wood why he is still competing after nearly 45 years in the sport.


Tony Hall has been involved in power boat racing all his life. His first race was on the Wairau River in 1970 at the age of 21 years. No other hydroplane driver in New Zealand has been racing as long as Tony. He is now 65 years old and is still racing at speeds of over 230 kilometres per hour in his boat Foreno Tapware.

The Hall family has power boat racing in its blood. Tony’s dad Don Hall was also heavily involved in the spectacular sport, competing against the likes of Sir Len Southward, who drove the stepped hydroplane Redhead in the early 1950s. And Tony’s two sons are also involved in racing. Brendan, 37, races Armageddon, while Daniel, 35, shares the driving on his dad’s boat and regularly has the crowds on their feet with his super-fast driving.

Tony also has something else in his blood – type 1 diabetes. But it has never for one second held him back. Or made him think twice about being heavily involved in a dangerous sport, where a momentary loss of concentration could have fatal consequences.

He said: “I find that I relax when I’m driving the boat. The faster I drive the more I relax. Yes you have to concentrate but you have to do that if you drive at 100kph or 220kph. The main difference is the noise and you certainly notice that.

“On race days I make sure that my blood level is between 7 and 10 mmol/L before I climb into the boat but if you have a real hard race you can burn a lot of sugar very quickly. As soon as I take off my helmet, my son looks into my eyes to check me over.

“I always check my blood after a race. And I never hop into the boat without testing my blood sugar first even if it’s for a test run. I have never had a problem in the boat because of my diabetes.”

Tony, who lives in Horowhenua Beach, Manawatu, is a life member of the New Zealand Power Boat Association for ‘services to the sport’.  As well as competing in racing regattas all over the country, he also trains young drivers new to the sport and is involved in making sure the
racing regattas are carried out safely.

Hydroplanes are boats that skim across the surface of the water – drivers literally ‘fly’ them across the top of the water like an aeroplane.

Hydroplanes only race on rivers, lakes and in harbours – where the waters are calm. Tony has won three national hydroplane race titles and about 15 island titles and has been racing for 35 seasons.

Tony was diagnosed with diabetes when he was 27 years old after a stressful event when his wife got appendicitis and peritonitis while she was pregnant.

He said: “The doctors seemed to think I started showing signs of diabetes after the stress. I decided I wasn’t going to let it stop me doing anything I was planning on doing.” So he carried on playing rugby and boat racing.

By his early 30s Tony was working in Australia and driving for hours by himself through outback Queensland, Northern Territory and New South Wales. “I just had to learn to control the diabetes really well. If I hadn’t, I would have been dead out there. I have never let diabetes stop me doing what I want to do.”

Power boat racing is a hobby for Tony, who has worked at a senior management level in a variety of businesses in Wellington and Christchurch.

Tony Hall accepts one of his many power boating titles.

Tony Hall accepts one of his many power boating titles.

After four decades racing, does he have any plans for retiring from behind the wheel? Tony reckons he has another two or three years of racing left in him but that will depend on how his health goes. But his son Daniel will carry on racing his boat and take the Hall power
boat racing dynasty forward.

Tony has a clear message for any young person diagnosed with diabetes – decide what they want to do in life then get on and do it.  “Whatever you do it’s important to understand how the diabetes works but also to understand that there is really nothing you can’t do even with diabetes,” he says.

Tony shared his story in the Summer 2014 issue of Diabetes magazine. Subscribe to Diabetes NZ today to receive your copy.

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Jo Chapman