A couple of years ago I enquired about entering one of the Ocean Races in my Valley Rapier, a design that is essentially an elite surf ski with a deck. I was told that they no longer allowed sea kayakers to enter after a slew of safety incidents over the years & a perception that sea kayakers were less skilled in rough water, needed rescues etc etc.
Having listened to a couple of famous ocean race stories involving sea kayakers, without agreeing entirely with their conclusion I have to say I completely understood their viewpoint & figured instead I'd see what all the fuss was about with surf skis, inspired by the brilliant videos that Rambo shoots around the world of these high octane events.
I got to learn a new skill set & love paddling my ski, but those of us sea kayakers with the skills & intent to run a real blue water race have been left to invent our own private paddles downwind at sea, and look on at the Ocean Series like a kid who got a Cabbage Patch doll instead of the Lightning McQueen race car for Xmas…
There are the harbour races, & more & more of these flat water events are popping up, enriching the local paddling scene as they appear. I entered one a couple of years back & quickly worked out that without sea conditions to read, ride & use to my advantage, my fitness meant that a flat water race was just an hour of grunting hard with none of the rewards that the sea provides for your efforts (that is big long rides where you can suck in some big ones & don't have to paddle!)
Local paddling identity & founder of the Southern Districts Ocean Paddlers Steve Newsome, told me last year he was planning to reinvigorate the grand old 'Caltex Bridge to Beach' race, a surf club challenge that had first been run back in 1984. He asked how we could get sea kayakers back into the mix. Rob suggested a pairs event whereby they could enter as a team of two, and their finishing time would be the time when the last of the pair crossed the line. The logic was that a pair of sea kayakers racing together would be able to help one another out in the event of a problem, and it also fits better with the ethos of our sport being a more collegial one than other paddlesports with a competitive base.
Steve agreed and for the first time in many years there will be an open ocean race run in which us sea kayakers are welcome. Yay!
The 2012 Bay to Beach will be run on February 25, starting at Bonna Reserve at the western end of Silver Beach at Kurnell, head out through the heads of Botany Bay past Cape Solander & Boat Harbour, across the expanse of Bate Bay, around the headland at South Cronulla & into Gunamatta Bay & the finish. It's 18km which will take you from the calm of the Bay, through the invariably confused water of the southern cliff line around Cape Solander, out into unbroken open water with the prospect of a Nor Easterly tailwind all the way along the Cronulla beachfront, then around into the lee of Port Hacking. It's hard to imagine a course with such a great variety of water & the prospect of summer sea breezes & fast running seas.
Sea kayakers wishing to enter should consider several aspects. First, there is about 5km of unlandable cliff from Cooks Landing all the way to Boat Harbour. The water around here in a Nor Easter is confused & multidirectional, but nothing like the sort of genuinely big conditions you get around the Royal National Park or several other headlands along the Sydney cliffline. You should be well versed & practiced in the art of assisted rescues in rough water, and some experience in big open water conditions would be almost a pre-requisite.
Steve has enlisted the local surf clubs to patrol the course in support boats & RIB's, so the safety margin is way higher, but by the same token it's not quite as easy to get a kayak on board a support boat if there is a big problem, so it's a good idea to be sure of your skills.
We are sponsoring the sea kayaking side of the race and will be offering a generous prize pool, because basically we want to race in the event & do everything within our power to ensure it continues to be a race in which we can participate! Who knows, if the concept is a success we might see pairs of sea kayakers admitted back into the Ocean Race series.
You can enter the race HERE - entry is $45 which includes a race singlet & a BBQ lunch at the presentation party afterwards. It would be great to see a huge sea kayaking field, & to maybe see this race turn into our annual event for blue water racing as well as a classic for the coean racing ski & OC1 guys.