Thursday, 14 October 2010

East Coast Blast

Matt Bezzina crashing through an ocean wave (photo Rob Mercer)
I joined Wendy Stevenson, Matt Bezzina & Rob Mercer on a paddle yesterday from Watson's Bay, just inside the southern head of Sydney Harbour, to Malabar, approximately 22km south of the heads.
We'd had yet another unusual weather pattern around Sydney with a strong Nor' Easterly wind blowing for a few days, and this had kicked up a great 2-3m swell from the east, with a fast running metre or so of sea from the north running over the top. It was a one way trip; none of us fancied a slog back into the 20kn breeze blowing hard from the north, so we arranged a car shuffle, and headed out from the shelter of the harbour into a wild & lively sea.
Wendy & Matt are accomplished paddlers in their own right, Matt having just paddled Bass Straight with Mark Schroeder, and Wendy a dynamic & skilful kayaker with a long background in performance sports. Although years of conditioning make it almost a reflex to keep an eye on your group members, it was great to be out on such a steep & wild sea, safe in the knowledge that your partners are all capable of looking after themselves.
The eastern beaches of Sydney bear southeast to Maroubra, then back west again, so we decided to head out a few kilometres to give ourselves a good chance of lining up the mostly nor' easterly following conditions as far astern as possible. Paddling east provided some great sights, with big walls of water rearing & occasionally breaking, and the unforgettable sight of Rob, Matt & Wendy simultaneously cresting a really steep one about 3km of the heads with the salt-hazed cliffs of North Head in the background. 
We turned & headed south & my boat felt like it had grown an engine. Propelled along by the tremendous surfing sea, we had the pleasure of numerous 'self surfs' - where you find yourself running at top speed without having actually tried to catch the wave. With the crests regularly breaking we all had a few whitewater experiences too. As Matt said afterwards, you look at the sea breaking around you on these sorts of days, knowing that one is going to get you sooner or later, hoping it isn't a real big one, then when one finally does, you get a short broach & are released into the deep green water with only a short thrill to show for it. I don't know if anyone truly gets used to the sound of breaking water behind you in the ocean though, it's an unmistakeable sound & you have to force yourself to ride 'whats in front' rather than try to predict what's coming from behind.
I found the trip a bit frustrating, not really getting into the groove until we'd nearly reached our destination. I think my recent ski paddling has conditioned me to accelerate with a far lower hull resistance than my sea kayak affords, and the transition back into a boat where you definitely need a bit more ring-craft to ride runners wasn't automatic. Watching the video of the trip afterwards, it was clear just how much stroke blending I was doing. A couple of strong forward strokes, an edge dropped, a forward stroke left hanging in a dynamic low brace, the odd high brace, even a couple of bow draws as a steep crest offered a chance to haul my bow around to a take off. This highlights the fact that strokes are such a fluid concept, that there isn't much point in learning a perfect forward sweep or low brace when it's not considered as part of an arsenal of linked techniques to control your boat. For all of the technical challenges, there were three things that would have helped me on this little blast - fitness, fitness & fitness! A month out of your boat is along time, and the cobwebs of a month of moving house and more bloody travel took a while to broom away. And, there is nothing truer than the fact that you're only as good as your last paddle. 
Sydney's eastern beaches flashed by as we flew down the coast, past Bondi, then Tamarama, Bronte, Clovelly, Coogee & finally Maroubra. In a big open bay, the trip past Maroubra some days feels like a graft, but this day we glided by on the following seas in a blink. All too soon we were were rounding the big rebound & confusion off Magic Point & entering the long bay of Malabar, to finish off with a few little surf waves off the reef inside the bay.
There were smiles all round as we paddled into the calm shelter of Malabar & touched down. Raewyn Duffy, our club mate from the NSWSKC, had kindly offered Rob & I a car shuffle back to Watsons Bay, so we packed up, dried off & headed back on the 45 minute drive to our start point. Thanks Rae!
Matt's trainer phone app had recorded a tick under 24km for the trip, covered in about two & a quarter hours. Considering we'd spent the best part of half an hour paddling due east, the following seas certainly gave us a helluva ride once we lined it up behind us & quite literally took off south.
Rob, Matt, Mark Wendy, all smiles after our downwind blast.... (photo Raewyn Duffy)

**The video was shot on my Kayalu RAM Mount with the 8" exrtension toughbar, with a Panasonic Lumix HD camera, all stills are by Rob Mercer (& the music is 'Revolutionary Kind' by Gomez).


  1. Thats great footage Mark, well worth the effort it took for you and Rob to raft up out there numerous times adjusting kit and cameras.

    What a great paddle it was - I hope we can do this kind of thing more often. Great post!

  2. Thanks Matt, I think the video goes pretty close to capturing what it was like. If I had a bit more in the tank I might have got you in the frame a bit more! Great paddle, the most fun I've had in ages. Thanks again.


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