Monday, 31 March 2014

Kayak for Kids, A Breath of Fresh Air


I'd consciously finished my season of races & events after last weekend's Bay Runner Race at Cronulla, a long summer of sorts that began with the Hydrothon, and included some fantastic days out like the Myall Classic, Hawkesbury Classic, the 20 Beaches & the Royal Challenge.
It's been a rewarding few months, with something slightly different on the horizon to train for, an excuse to keep getting out on the road or the trail or the sea or the river & keep in shape.
I asked paddling mate Steve Dawson what he was doing over winter, as he & his wife Kate do the entire Marathon Series in various craft ranged on the their back lawn (umm.... 16 of them to be precise), and he mentioned the Kayak for Kids Race as being a good one & a lot of fun.
I entered a few days before, expecting nothing much more than what is on offer at the series of B-lining ski races that are increasingly populating each summer weekend.
What a surprise then to rock up to Blues Point Reserve early on Sunday morning & see such a vast & diverse flotilla of craft on the banks of the harbour, getting set for the 16km race.
Steve's traditional pre-race Macarena.
Everything from the 3-person plastic sit on tops - as Steve says 'design consideration #1, stackability' - to wide rec boats, sea kayaks & a few skis.
The golden thread of this race is the 3 person boats. They're crewed mostly by non paddlers, again not something I was too up with until I heard eventual winner Matt Blundell doing the pre-race briefing & carefully describing how to correctly orient the paddle!
They're the first ones off, and a king tide combined with some ferry wash to make this a brilliant spectacle, as one by one, kind of like penguins launching off a rock, the crews piloted their boats down the sandstone steps & into the breaking clapotis.
Fun & games as the teams boats take to the water.
I swear I saw three women paddling off with the handbags tucked neatly into the footwells, an assortment of garbage bags storing (hopefully not very) valuables, and defying Matt's professional instruction, a fair proportion of competitors with the paddle backwards! 
One thing I didn't see was a jut-jawed frown though, this was a big bunch of people having a big bunch of fun.
It was quite a sight, hundreds of little yellow boats bobbing up & down, framed neatly by the Opera House & Harbour Bridge.
The 'own your own' boat class was next, & we negotiated the same launch & paddled towards the Harbour Bridge awaiting the start. Compared to the more serious races, it was great to see so many different boats out on the harbour. I was especially pleased to see so many sea kayaks, & if I'd known the race was so inclusive I would have left the ski at home & brought one too.
Is there a better paddle race panorama anywhere on the planet?
I was trying to work out how the organsiers managed to get the claimed 17km out of a course that was maybe 13km at best, but the serpentine route went right into several harbour beaches (to facilitate the crew changes in the 3-person teams event), and essentially hugged the foreshore all the way around to Middle Head. 
The Kayak for Kids race course.
The first can was an interesting experience. I paddled in full tilt, a bit consumed with the slightly faster guy in front of me & the slightly faster guy closing in on me from behind, looking up only when I saw what looked like the M3 on a Friday at peak hour, except all yellow. The concept of rounding the can anti clockwise was loosely followed at best, and I think more than a few of us puffing along & staring at our GPS's felt a little silly at 'racing' in the midst of such a hilarious scene.
I applied a couple of friendly 'direction assists' to get both my ski, & the yellow boats in my path pointing the right way, & I was away again.
The weather gods had been kind to a field possibly not too conditioned to moving water, & it was as calm a day on the harbour as you could hope for. I took the closest line as I could to the sandstone cliffs that ring Sydney Harbour, enjoying being up so close in the benign seas & wind.
The Marquee City at the finish.
The finish was welcome after racing the last few legs into an outgoing tide, on what was yet another unseasonably hot & humid Sydney day.
Organisers had built a marquee city at the finish, with free drinks & sausage sangers, and the presentations featured several parents of kids for whom the Lifestart charity has clearly made a difference. It was nice to have the charity which underpins the entire event put so elegantly, and eloquently, into the picture.
Kate & Steve did really well, finishing 7th overall as the 3rd double home. Another honourable mention goes to Les Westerweller, who told me as we sat at the start line he wanted to break 2 hours, yet bolted home in 1:46 on his V8. Not bad for an old bloke Les!
Yet another another mention however to Emiel Temmerman, who picked up his V10 Sport on Friday having paddled it once - EVER - with no other paddling background at all, and paddled/swam home in 2 hours. If that's not inspiration enough to get out & have a go I don't know what is!
I'll definitely do this one again, it was fun, traversed a varied and scenic course, and considering the much lower skills base of many of the participants, was quite brilliantly run. Thanks also to my mum Suzanne, who volunteered to drive the car for Steve, Kate & I & save us the long shuffle & parking fines!

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