My trip to Australia wasn’t ever 100% about paddling, maybe not even 50%, but the paddling I’ve seen here on both the East and West Coasts have made me think that perhaps it should have been!!
The first paddle I went on was with Mackenzie Hynard over on the Goldcoast where he lives, a spectacular part of the world once you ignore the touristy high street and clubland that dominates the centre of Surfer’s Paradise. Macca and his girlfriend Alex showed me what the surf club lifestyle is like at Northcliffe Club, seeing the training for surf lifesaving that goes on, and then some of the social side of the club too which was just awesome. We definitely need to import that to Canada! Macca was also generous enough to give me a tour of the coastline and beaches before we headed out for my first ever ocean downwind paddle, heading out with Cory Hill. Talk about star studded – two world champions accompanying me…I was feeling the pressure.
Macca and I were going to be in a double spec ski, shallower and heavier than a surfski but basically very similar. Cory was very soon a small dot on the horizon, and it was all I could do to keep my paddle speed up with Mackenzie to make sure we got the boat on the waves and taking advantage of the runs. I wish I had a camera for the paddle as we saw a dolphin come up very close to us, and several shoals of fish jumping out of the water as one…best not to ask what they were fleeing from.
The 20km paddle was over pretty quickly, but the most exiting moments came as we got some huge swells coming into the beach at Surfers Paradise. It literally felt like I was standing up in the ski we were so vertical, and talking river with him afterwards I think the waves were bigger than he was anticipating too. Wayyyyyyyyyy too much fun. HUGE thanks to Macca for the paddle, and to Alex for driving us too! It definitely gave me a taste of what ocean downwind paddling is really like.
I had been hoping to do some sea kayaking in Airlie Beach too, but the weather wasn’t on my side and it was too windy for the Salty Dog company to go out. Maybe next time! So, the next paddle for me was over in Perth, where I entered the Sunset Surfski Series race #1 along with 280 others, most of whom like me were in town for The Doctor two days later. Wow.
The race was an 11km downwinder from Fremantle Surf Club to City Beach Club, and I don’t think I’ve ever been more nervous than when I was lining up on the beach for the start with the other women, wondering how I was going to get through the surf and out to the buoy when I’d never done such a thing before. I basically just went for it, which turned out to be a successful tactic as I made it onto the downwind part okay. The guys started a couple minutes behind us, and expectedly caught me pretty quickly. Macca gave me a shout of encouragement as he ripped past, and I just concentrated on trying to find runs without going too close into the shore. Reading the waves is something that I don’t think you ever stop learning how to do, so for my first race in the ocean I just tried to remember everything I’ve been taught, and find my way down without becoming shark meat. Thanks to Trish, Aimee, Hayley, Amanda and Kyeta in particular for their encouragement and help.
I had a blast. WHAT a fun race!! I came in something like 228th which was fine by me, and apart from a small tangle as we came into the beach and ran up to the finish line, I could definitely say I had an awesome first time racing. However, it did also make me realize that my skills are definitely in need of lots of work, and that with the wind forecast for The Doctor being ‘the biggest ever’ that it was likely going to be too much for me and I decided the following day to pull out of the race and enjoy the day as a spectator instead. I know my limits!!
That proved to be a good decision. Even on the ferry to Rottnest Island on race day, the waves hitting the side of the boat were impressive, and the swells had more than one person reaching for the sick bags. Once on Rottnest, it was an amazing sight, seeing 400 or so surfskis and SUPs lining up, but I had a fantastic vantage point from the official spectator boat, the Silverado. It looked like the first km to the turn marker were some of the hardest of the course, with many paddlers getting tangled up around the marker and with each other!!
We followed the paddlers off to one side, making our way past them until we caught up with my now old mate (ha) Cory Hill and Hank McGregor who were battling it out for first place. Watching those guys make it look so easy made you realize exactly how much skill was required. We followed the two of them for a while, but despite a pretty epic battle, Cory took the lead and was victorious in the end.
We also got to see the women come in at the end, although I was too far away to take decent photos. Rachel Clarke took advantage of a bit of a crash at that first marker, and pulled ahead and I don’t think she ever lost the lead. U19 Kyeta Purchase took second and Hayley Nixon third. Having got to meet so many of the women paddling this week and see them paddling, I am super inspired to improve my ocean paddling when I get back to Vancouver by getting even stronger at my sprints, paddling as much as I can at the Ambleside tide rip and maybe even a trip to the Gorge!
I’d love to come back again and actually race next time…what an amazing event!! Just to finish I’d like to give a massive shout out to Damien Kelly for first of all putting the idea in my mind to even come, and then for putting me up and sorting me a boat, paddle and pfd. This guy went above and beyond for me!!