Monday, 16 December 2013

The Twenty Beaches Ocean Classic - Tailwinds & Free Beer!

When I first got my surf ski in early 2010 I'll admit to having been inspired by the skill & athleticism of the guys & gals paddling the series of Ocean races around Sydney over the summer. The brilliant video coverage from Rambo's Locker showed tremendous skill on the open water in these demanding but exhilarating craft, in the downwind conditions that I loved paddling more than anything else.
Rambo at the start - his videos were my original inspiration for wanting a ski.
It probably took me a good couple of years to build up the competence to be able to confidently paddle open water on my old V10S, and once I thought I was going to be able to paddle one of these big races without being hauled out by an RIB, I was keen to enter.
But, late Spring is always a ridiculously busy time with family & business, and rather lamely, I've never managed to get my stuff in one pile to set aside some time to give this great race a crack.
SUP Start at Freshwater Beach
This year I decided I was going to put it in the calendar & have a go. 
My mate Stacka volunteered to do the car shuffling, so I was sorted.
A flaky forecast for days in advance meant we were unsure of whether this downwind race would go from Palm Beach or Freshwater, but the early arrival of a strong southerly system settled the debate on Friday evening, & Freshie it was.
We turned up at midday to find the whole area around Harbord SLSC buzzing, hundreds of skis, SUPs & Outriggers running through preparations on the grass behind the dunes.
At 1pm we moved onto the beach where the organisers announced a beach start, in knee deep water. The southerly was wrapping around Blue Fish point & giving the false impression of an easterly breeze, so the first wave of SUP & Outriggers went off into a decent headwind & choppy wind waves.
Our start was scheduled for 1:30pm, and as a group of probably 200 skis we made our way into the shore break to await the hooter. It was a damn impressive field, with pretty much every contemporary Aussie ski champ on the line, along with superstars like Grant Kenny, Oscar & Dean Gardner, all very humbling.
The (unintentional) staggered start
I'm not quite sure what the starter said (if anything) to make the 80 paddlers at the northern end of the start line think it was time to start, but it must have sounded convincing. As one, they mounted & charged off into the breakers, as those of us possibly with a better grip on the megaphone instructions stood and watched. 15, 30, 45 seconds ticked by, and I turned to Matt Blundell who was next to me & asked him what we should do. We both figured they'd recall the false start but nothing happened for another 30 seconds, so I figured Matt didn't need a head start from me & decided to cheat as well.
The start was frantic, punching out through the small surf & stiff breeze to the first turning can, then a left turn & away.
The 6km section to Long Reef was dominated by rear quartering conditions, still great fun but reasonably technical. Once wide enough on Long Reef I turned and lined up Bangalley Head and away I went. There were occasional small sections where the headlands threw back some bumps but mostly it was just runner after runner after runner, probably as good a set of conditions for a ski as you could hope to have.
Some fun & games in the beach break at the finish
All too soon the lighthouse at Baranjoey came into view, I rounded the southern headland of Palm Beach, and then scooted around the final can before catching a neat little wave into the beach & the finish.
My last wave....
There was a surf life saving dude on hand to grab my (upside down) ski, and I jogged up the beach to the line, smiling from ear to ear.
The way the pro's finish....
It even got better, the presentation ceremony was like a big BBQ for people shaped like Sonny Bill Williams, with sausage sangers (big bloody snags of course), and free beer. Yep, you heard it right.
Presentation ceremony at Palm Beach Surf Club
Stacka & I spread out on the grass & enjoyed the trophy presentations & lucky draw, chatting to fellow paddlers about what a top day it had been on the sea.
The race was jointly won by Jeremy Cotter & Tim Jacobs. Cotter was first across the line, but TJ had stopped not long after the start, whilst leading, to render assistance to a struggling fellow competitor & set off a flare to alert a rescue craft. So, without any formal redress for lost time (he was still only marginally off the leaders at the finish), the organisers decided that the spirit of ski paddling was more important than a scientific result, and made the concession to Tim for effecting a rescue. Great stuff I thought, kudos to all involved in the decision.
Just to top off a perfect arvo on the sea....
My own impressions of the race? What a ball tearer, unimaginable fun, a test of both my endurance & technical skills & a great participant event. Speaking to Jeppo, a mate who did a great time, 20 minutes faster than my 2hrs 2minutes, he has been training really hard for months in advance of the Ocean Series, is a fit bugger to begin with, and considered his time a good reward for lots & lots of hard work. So, it's not something to just roll up & do, no question. Rightly it's a premier ocean racing event & should be treated as such, but what an event to aspire to, if you're someone like me who has come into this surfski thing over the past few years.
The video above hopefully captures some of the magic of the Twenty Beaches, from my perspective watching most of it from some ways back in the field. On a sobering note, if I look like I'm working hard & getting a few decent runs, remember that my top speed over the 25km, was only marginally higher that the average speed of the winners!
Congrats to the organisers & all paddlers involved, and thanks to Stacka the Attacka for the ride & the advice. Next year we should both be on the water.
Haven't quite managed to lose this smile....


  1. you were wearing shorts!?!? the fashion has changed it seems :-)
    Well done Mark!

  2. Yes mate, couldn't get enough signage on the smugglers for such a high profile event. Still not sure how 'Epic' or 'Think' would go over the front of the speedos taken out of context....


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