Issue 02 AU/NZ • Spring 2012
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CONTENTS PADDLE MAG – SPRING 2012
THE PUT IN 8 Editors’ Letters 16 Event Wrap Avon Descent 18 Event Preview The Tekapo Throwdown 20 Event Preview 2 The Murray Marathon 22 Destination Vanuatu by folding kayak
FEATURES 26 Race to the Midnight Sun Chasing glory from Cairns to the Yukon in a voyageur canoe 36 First Descent Gunning for Gara Gorge 44 Guts and Glory Team Fat Paddler take on the Island Shamaal in Mauritius 52 Exploration An adventurous family discover a secret river in New Zealand 60 Adventure Hitting the road and hucking the rivers in Norway 66 Expedition Paddling the length of the Great Barrier Reef
12 Guest Guru Dean Gardiner, the godfather of
74 Boats, Blades + Boards The on-the-water essentials 78 A Good Time to Buy The best in paddling gear
Australian ocean ski paddling 84 Steve Fisher The story behind his new film, Congo: The Grand Inga Project 104 Michael O'Donnell The man behind Mission celebrates 30 years of manufacturing
WORDS OF WISDOM 100 Health Hand care and blister prevention by Amanda Rankin, Matt O'Garey, Steve Gurney, James Castrission, Roz Savage and Dave Cornthwaite
WATERWAYS 110 Glenlyon Dam 112 Shoalhaven River
THE TAKE OUT
114 Paddle porn Money shots for paddling pervs
94 How to Dawid Mocke explains how to take on a downwind classic like The Doctor in WA 98 Safety Paddling more than 2 nautical miles out to sea? Read this and live to tell the tale.
Adrian Kiernan runs Stordelsalva in Norway Photo by Sam Tregenza
Editorial AU • Patrick Kinsella
For as long as I’ve know her, my wife has always had an extreme aversion to cameras – well, at least the po It’s always kind of irritated me, and I’ve never really understood it. There’s something great about being fro an instant – even if you happen to be looking completely daft at that very moment. In fact, the stupider it funnier I generally find it, as acres of footage taken over the last three-and-quite-a-bit decades will attest. A few weeks ago, however, while attending a paddling clinic held by Clint Robinson, I had an experience in front of a camera that changed everything. Clint was always going to make me feel a little inferior. Born the same year as me, his mantelpiece is ever-so slightly more crowded and impressive than mine. My ‘Winner!’ trophy from the 2002 season of indoor football at Port Melbourne (second division) is probably slightly less shiny than his gold medal from the 1000-metres K1 singles final at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, for example. He added a bronze (in K2) in Atlanta and then completed the set in 2004 by pocketing silver at the K1 in Athens. And then there’s the 23 surf-lifesaver national titles and fact that he’s been World Champion in five different paddle sports…and so it goes on. I can live with that. There are plenty of people out there that are more talented and athletic than me, but where Clint really upset me was by filming me paddling a surf ski and then subjecting the footage to intense critical analysis. To be fair, it wasn’t all Clint’s fault. I could have helped myself by being less rubbish. And, true, that’s exactly what I’d signed up for by going along to the clinic in the first place. But, bloody hell, fancy juxtaposing poetry-in-motion vision of Knut Holmann (a Norwegian with one of the purest paddling techniques ever seen in competitive kayaking, who Clint beat in the 2002 final), with footage of me flaying around in the bay. It wasn’t pretty. Of course, after the tears had dried, I discovered that I’d learnt more in the three hours I’d spent with Clint than I had in the previous three years I’d spent messing around on various skis. And I’d also learnt something more fundamental than what I was doing wrong with my catch: sometimes you just need to take a more
serious look at yourself.
My training of late had become all about fitness and on improving my technique – which is a truly arse-ab things, but I needed it laid bare in front of me before footage revealed exactly where I was going wrong, C back to the basics, and I’ve been seeing and feeling although I may have left my run a bit late to threaten
We’ll be working with Clint in future editions to help but in this edition we’re delighted to bring you word from an eclectic crew of unbelievably talented indivi World Champion surf-ski paddler Dawid Mocke, new World Champion Nathan Fa’avae and whitewater leg
The generosity of such people, who have donated th immense knowledge to a start-up grassroots publica genuinely humbling, and I can’t express my gratitude has pulled together to make this edition happen.
I hope you enjoy reading it as much as we’ve enjoye Cheers,
Nice boat, shame about the face. Pat takes Dagger's all-river boat, the Axis 12 for a spin. See page 76 for the review
ointy end of them. ozen in posterity for makes me look the
d Iâ€™d been neglecting to work bout-face way to go around e I could address it. The video Clint then forced me to go the benefits ever since â€“ n his trophy cabinet.
p everyone improve their skills, ds of waterborne wisdom iduals, including current wly crowned adventure-racing gend Steve Fisher.
heir precious time and ation such as this, has been e enough to everyone who
ed putting it together.
Editorial NZ • Anthony ‘Antz’ Longman
RIVER LESSONS Instinctive decision-making A slight twist of the blade, a change of boat angle, I throw my weight forwards and then pull with all the power that I can muster. I let out a big breath. That was close. A lucky escape from a churning mess of a hole – one of those holes that you really, really, don’t want to end up in. Paddling whitewater delivers moments like these all the time. Sometimes there is minimal pressure and other times the result of a crucial missed stroke is a violent thrashing at the whim of the river. The lessons a river dishes out can be translated into many everyday scenarios. The consequences are generally less serious, but the adaptability and forward thinking developed during time spent reading rivers offers an insight into how you should look at life. Reality is, you’ll often get dealt a bad hand – it’s just like being pushed offline mid-rapid – but what matters is how you deal with each new situation. Do you react quickly and take control, or do you go with the flow to an uncertain future?
I’ve been guilty of going with the flow recently. Fair enough you might say, but if I reacted quicker to changes in my environment I’d end up in that better position more often, ready to continue on the journey, free from the fear of disappearing into that thrashing hole. Lift your head, scan the horizon line and plan ahead. The world and its river are ever changing and we need to be prepared for anything.
Anthony ‘Antz’ Longman email@example.com
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GUEST GURU • DEAN GARDINER
Some kind of molo monster Images Mark Donaldson and Ocean Paddler
A bone fide paddling pioneer, Dean Gardiner has competed in every Molokai since 1989, pocketing nine world titles in the process and setting a time in 1997 that no one has been able to better since. He’s been downwind paddling for longer than the concept has had a name and he introduced ocean ski paddling to Australia. A former commercial fisherman from Western Australia, the ocean runs in Dean’s veins and what he can’t tell you about ski racing isn’t worth wasting brain space on. Here he reveals how the road to paddling greatness starts with sucking at swimming… Growing up on the west coast of Australia, I surfed a lot as a kid. My family went away on holidays two, three, four times a year – almost always to coastal towns. Our favourite place was Denmark at the very bottom of Western Australia, where the beaches are first class and my extended family had farms. I was introduced to the surf club at Floreat Beach in Perth by our neighbour, and got into some of the competition. But I didn’t have the swimming background that all the good kids had, so I just concentrated on surfing and paddling boards and skis around.
The first ski I ever paddled was made from fibreglass. The cables for the rudder ran along the outside of the ski and were connected by cleats. Every time your hand went too close to the side you took a huge chunk of skin off as you hit a cleat, making paddling miserable if you did it too often. (Not good, especially with my shocking technique.) The winds blows nearly every day in summer on WA’s beaches so there was a choice: either bash into it or get dropped off up the coast and do paddle backs. It’s funny how paddle backs – downwind paddles – are all the rage now, but we were doing
them in the 1970s as 15 year olds on these old skis. The bigger guys in the club would row their surfboat and I would paddle one of the skis and just try and keep up with the boat. After school I moved northwest, to the area around Exmouth, where I worked as a fisherman for a few years. This was where my real passion for the open ocean developed. I feel it was during this time that I really came to understand the way the water moves and the different effects tide and wind has on the ocean. After several years in the north I based myself back in Perth and started racing surf skis. I started a fair bit later than most and just trained by myself the majority of the time. After a year or two I moved to a more competitive club at City Beach and started training with other people. Around this time I was getting help from guys like Greg Mickle and Rick Turner. Ken Vidler was the man at this time, as he was winning all the major races. (At this time there were no ocean races, just the Surf Life Saving Australia sprint events). Around this time I heard
about Grant Kenny winning the Molokai race as a 16 year old, and I thought ‘that’s the stuff I want to do’.
“It’s funny how paddle backs – downwind paddles – are all the rage now, but we were doing THEM in the 1970s as 15 year olds on these old skis.” I moved to Sydney in the late 80s and started paddling with the guys at Manly surf club. There were still only a small number of ocean races around, so Molokai was really the only major race on the program. I competed in my first Molokai in 1989 and have been there ever since.
GUEST GURU • DEAN GARDINER About 10 years ago I started an ocean racing series in Australia and brought the first ocean skis into the country. The first years of the series were pretty tough, with small numbers and reluctance by the old guard to get into ocean paddling. We made a major early investment in the sport, both financially and in terms of our time, and there were definitely times I just didn’t want to organize another event. Obviously times have changed and ocean races are now what most people want to do. There is now a series in every state and a very healthy national series, the Australian Ocean Racing Series (AORS). Over the years my focus has gone from racing, to organizing races, coaching, and providing good ocean-racing products. The days of me paddling fast are long gone and I rely entirely on my ability to ride ocean chop/swell. This is something that takes a while to learn and I believe there are only a few out there that really have the ability to teach these skills. The biggest thing with downwind paddling is enjoying the ride. Things that are enjoyable are very easy to learn. The process of getting to the enjoyment stage may be frustrating and tough but once you start linking a few then the fun begins and your skills improve.
Tour of the mantelpiece Besides his nine wins at Molokai, Dean has notched up victories in surf and ocean ski races all around world. Some career highlights include the following: 1989 – competes in his first Molokai 1993 – wins Avon descent in double ski with Guy Leech 1993 – wins first Molokai 1994 – sets a new course record at Molokai (3:24:08) 1996 – wins Molokai 1997 – breaks his own course record at Molokai, to set existing record (3:21:26) 1998 – wins Molokai 1999 – wins Molokai 2001 – wins Molokai 2002 – wins Molokai 2002 – starts up the ocean racing series, and introduces ocean ski paddling to Australia. 2004 – seals victory in the inaugural surf ski world cup in Cape Town 2010 – win over-40 event at the Doctor, Rottnest to Sorrento Beach 2011 – win over-40 event at the Doctor 2012 – wins Hekili Great Barrier Reef Ocean Challenge and the Mara’amu in Tahiti
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EVENT WRAP • AVON DECENT
DESCENT A dual display of power and paddling prowess, Western Australia’s Avon Descent is one of the world’s weirdest water-based races. Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2012, the idiosyncratic event has attracted a glittering display of paddling talent over the last four decades, with people travelling from all over the country – and the planet – to take on the wild waters of WA’s rivers. During the two-day race, competitors descend a 124km course along the Avon and Swan Rivers in a variety of power and paddle craft. Conditions range from long stretches of flat water, which test the endurance levels of the paddlers, right through to feisty rapids that challenge everyone’s nerves and skill levels. Having competed in 22 Avon Descents, veteran paddler and adventurer Terry Bolland is a legend of the race, and he was back again to see the event celebrate its 40th birthday. Terry attributes a lot of the race’s enduring popularity to the different challenges it throws at paddlers along the way. “No other race in the world that I know of has such a combination of flat water, easy running water and good thrilling rapids,” he told Paddlemag. “This, combined with a maze-like mass of tea trees and the fact that the water level is so different every year, mean that it’s rare to get the same conditions twice in a 10-year period.
“Every paddler that enjoys a challenge, an adventure just has to give the Avon Descent a go. It’s so rewarding when you finish this challenging race. Even paddlers that don’t finish the race enjoy the experience – the thrill of the rapids, the camaraderie of other paddlers and the pain they have suffered along the way. “It is unique, and in terms of TV viewing, having paddle and power makes for good viewing. These days, if it was just a paddle event it would still be a big success as most of the competitors are paddlers.” Terry has seen the race evolve over the years. “It’s run more professionally than it used to be,” he says. “But the biggest difference is the type of craft that competitors are paddling. The plastic kayaks and skis are much faster and more durable than they used to be, although they have become narrower and less stable. Ten years ago there were more kayaks in the race. Now there are more plastic surf skis.
“Even some of the top paddlers are paddling plastic boats now. Because of the rapids, paddlers in plastic boats have a better chance of finishing. Plastic boats are more forgiving and stronger than the composite boats.
2010, says Terry. “Many paddlers prefer high-water conditions because it’s easier, but I love it at any level. Because my endurance level is good, I love it when the river challenges me more.
Ski paddlers don’t have to be so skilled to get down the course. They fall off more, but when they’re able to jump straight back on. A ski gives novices a safer way to enter the race. That is one of the reasons why the Avon Descent is so popular because anyone can give it a go on a ski. Kayaks require more skill.”
“Most of the novices didn’t know any different anyway, and everyone I spoke to afterwards just loved it – even the ones that didn’t finish. The great thing about the Avon Descent is that you never know what it is going to be like on the day. You are in suspense right up to starting the race. When it is low you treat it more like an adventure race.”
Water levels were quite low on the river this year, which made conditions more physically challenging for paddlers. “Luckily the river came up a little overnight and it wasn’t as low as
Further information about the event see: www.avondescent.com.au
TALKING POINT Like the Murray Marathon, the Avon Descent cops a bit of criticism about it’s class structure. “This year the prize money was high,” says Terry. “But it all went to the K2s. Paddlers in plastic boats – the majority – seem to be left out year after year, and they feel neglected because the prize money and recognition is usual very low compared with the K1 and K2 class.” So what do you reckon – do these races need to revise their categories? Let us know by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org
Claire Duncan en route to winning the Female Long Plastic category
EVENT PREVIEW • TEKAPO THROWDOWN 2012
TEKAPO THROWDOWN 2012 Words and Images by Antz Longman
LIKE YOUR CHILLIES HOT? Then the annual NZ Pyranha Tekapo Throwdown in New Zealand might be right up your alley. Or perhaps you know somewhere else where you can launch yourself into an event that combines the disciplines of chilli chomping, whitewater kayaking and endurance racing? Even if you prefer your whitewater shenanigans without the bum burn, fear not – this is just one event of many that take place under the umbrella of the festival. Launched by Cumec magazine in 2007, the Tekapo Throwdown aims to introduce paddlers to a range of different disciplines in a fun, friendly, and ego-free atmosphere. The festival has grown every year as word of mouth spreads about its unique atmosphere. Held in the small alpine town of Tekapo in the centre of the South Island, the festival is centrally located for South Island paddlers and, for those coming from further afield, is easily accessible from both Queenstown and Christchurch international airports. Participants regularly travel from as far South as Invercargill, and as far North as Nelson. The past two years have seen over 80 paddlers attending the weekend, bringing friends and family too, due to the convenient location and free camping. All of the weekend’s action takes place at the Tekapo Whitewater Course, which provides free onsite camping, and fantastic riverside spectator opportunities. Water is released each day for up to eight hours, allowing participants to pack as much as paddling as they can handle into each day. Coaching and instruction courses have also been run concurrently with the festival’s events. But it was the introduction last year of the ‘Feel the Burn’ endurance race that really raised some eyebrows (and ignited some tongues). A strange event that
could be classed a short-course ironman, the ‘Burn’ sees competitors stuff a hot chilli into their face, run 500 metres, sprint 200 metres down a grade 3 rapid, and then piggy-back their partner 150 metres back to the start, before the partners have to go through it all themselves. It’s not all zany out-there events, though. There’s the Olympic discipline of canoe slalom to sample, or the vigorous gymnastic routines of a freestyle rodeo. Don’t forget your rescue kit either, as the ‘Rescue-Relay’ will get you practicing those long-forgotten rescue skills to get you sharp for summer. It all kicks off on the first weekend of November each year, with this year’s event taking place on 3–4 of November. Come along for a top weekend on the water, brimming over with kayaking camaraderie. For more about the event, look up NZ Pyranha Tekapo Throwdown on Facebook, or stay tuned to www.cumecmagazine.com and www.paddlemag.com for additional details.
WATCH THE 2010 EVENT
EVENT PREVIEW • MURRAY MARATHON
MURRAY MARATHON Victoria got its first Murray Marathon back in the summer of ‘69, but, unlike Bryan Adams’ first real six string, the race has almost always been used for good, not evil – although some competitors may not feel that way by the time they cross the famous finish line in Swan Hill on New Year’s Eve. Now an iconic feature of Australia’s paddling calendar, for the first four decades of its life the Murray Marathon was organised by the Red Cross. Since 2008, however, YMCA Victoria have coordinated the event, with profits disbursed back into the social, environmental and economic sustainability of the Murray River Region.
“But, over the past couple of years we have received feedback from paddlers suggesting that some nonhandicap options would be welcomed to enhance the event for participants. Paddlers now have the option to race on handicap or actual time. All existing entry types remain and we have added classes based on fastest outright time for singles and double craft.”
Despite its illustrious history, however, the event has been criticised in the past because the combination of its handicap system and the category definitions make determining overall results an opaque exercise. The good news is that the organisers have listened to these gripes, and this year they’ve prepared a couple of new ways to carve up this Boxing Day tradition.
Also new to the event this year is the 3-day challenge, aimed at paddlers who want to participate in the marathon but have to juggle Christmas and New Year’s Eve commitments. The 3-day challenge will begin on the 28th December in Tocumwal and will see paddlers cover 235km to finish in Torrumbarry on the 30th December.
“This year we have included new entry options, which include ‘fastest boat’,” said Lee Conway, VicSuper Murray Marathon Project Manager. “All previous entry types still exist and they are made up of handicap and nonhandicap classes.
The event is also evolving in terms of the type of craft competitors are choosing to race. What was once a solid sea-kayak and canoe race is now attracting ever more surf ski paddlers, and this year will see the first SUP relay team participating. Only one other stand up paddleboarder has ever attempted the race before, doing the half marathon in 2009.
Registrations for this year’s VicSuper Murray Marathon are now open with options to suit paddlers of all abilities – including 1 day, 3 day and the full 5-day challenge. For further information visit www. murraymarathon.ymca.org.au or telephone the event team on 03 9403 5000. To take advantage of the early bird offer, register before 31 October and receive a complimentary 10-pass card (valid for use at participating YMCA managed facilities anywhere in Victoria) and the chance to win an iPad. There’s also a bonus Mates Rates option for paddlers who introduce a new competitor to this year’s event. The mate’s rates offer provides a $50 saving on the registration fee for all new paddlers and provides $50 of ‘Marathon Money’ to the referring paddler who can be spent at the event on food, drinks and merchandise.
Action from earlier marathons, including the frst ever SUP racer.
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DESTINATION • THE VANUATU VENTURE
Four friends in four folding kayaks, an awesome archipelago of idyllic islands to explore, many beers to be drunk…one kickarse recipe for a pearler of a Pacific paddling adventure. Words Mick Shanky Images Bill Zombor
They clearly thought we were crazy. From the principle, to the teachers, to the gaggle of grinning and gawping kids. They were all happy to see us, but the whole lot of them thought we were out of our minds. In Vanuatu, canoes are a method of transport, or a means of fishing for food. And here we were, paddling just for the sake of paddling. But we weren’t mad. And we weren’t paddling purely for the sake of it. Not quite. We had a mission: we were attempting to circumnavigate the island in our folding kayaks. But first we had to get the nod from the head honcho. According to custom in Vanuatu, you need to ask for the permission of the village chief in order to land on their beach or snorkel on their reef. With this in mind, anxious to do the right thing, we’d paddled along the coastline, looking for the village. The first settlement we came across was the island’s primary school. Mistaking it for the village, we landed to seek out the chief and were greeted by a small group of school kids. This quickly turned into a very large group of school kids. And then their teacher and the principal – all of whom seemed delighted that we’d dropped in. After all, it’s not every day four fools in folding kayaks wash up on your doorstep. The kids were so excited to see us that I offered to take one of them for a quick trip in the kayak. I towed the Trak along in the shallows while he attempted to paddle and the other 90 or so kids erupted into fits of laughter. As we left, to cheers and waving, I pretended to fall out of my kayak, then rolled over altogether. The kids loved it. I found myself grinning like a madman. Like all brilliant ideas, the 2012 Vanuatu trip was conceived and planned over a couple of beers about a year prior to leaving. Three of us – Brian, Grant and I – had just returned from a two-week paddling sojourn through the Gilli Island group in Indonesia and things had gone so well that another trip was instantly on the radar.
The boss (Grant) proposed Vanuatu after reading a blog about Tranquillity Island Resort. The rest of us were easily convinced and so, in early May 2012, we arrived on the shores of the picturesque Pacific Ocean– island archipelago, each of us carrying a folding kayak in our luggage. This time we had a rookie named Bill to carry our bags too. Or so we thought anyway. He had different ideas. We were armed with three Traks and a Nortik Navigator – all ocean-capable kayaks that we knew we could rely on, and not a dollar spent on excess baggage fees between the lot of us. Tranquillity Dive Resort on Moso Island, off the northwest coast of Efate Island, turned out to be the perfect base for doing day trips in Havannah Harbour and beyond, and over the next week and a half we explored Moso and nearby Lelepa Island, all trips of between 20km and 30km. The water visibility was mind blowing. From the cockpit of our kayaks we could constantly see 20 metres or more down to the ocean floor, giving the illusion that we were flying rather than paddling. Gliding across this aquatic dreamscape we often spotted turtles and dugong, and the water temperature was a constantly inviting 26°C, so we swam and snorkelled everywhere we could. Terra firma drops away dramatically here though, as the islands are mere specs in the immense blue blanket that is the Pacific Ocean, and the depth quickly plunges to 160 metres in places – one reason why the US Navy used Vanuatu as a rear base during WWII. It’s tidal, though, of course, and you have to watch out for the many reefs – especially when paddling a folding kayak.
DESTINATION â€˘ THE VANUATU VENTURE The morning before attempting the circumnavigation of Moso Island, we assembled the kayaks and embarked on a preexpedition scouting trip. Beautiful, crystal-clear waters and azure skies greeted us as we set out on a 20km paddle, to assess the tidal flow at the top of the island. Arriving at our destination, it instantly became apparent the success of our intended trip would depend on the tidal flow. It was an hour before the bottom of the tide and our passage was blocked by exposed reef, which spanned about 300 metres to the main island of Efate. Armed with that knowledge, we set off in perfect conditions the next day and arrived at the top of the island with the tidal stream running flat-out, like a fast-flowing river. Passing through the narrow opening in the reef to land for lunch we were greeted by the most amazing site â€“ a volcano rising majestically out of the crystal blue waters some 16km away. With this incredible vision in front of us, we ate on arguably the most idyllic beach in the world. The water here has such a high salt content that you can float with no effort at all, and while digestion took its course we bobbed on the water, watching locals snorkelling and netting fish for their dinner. The 32km circumnavigation of our base island was the longest expedition of the trip, but some of the smaller paddles yielded fantastic finds, including some real treasures such as beach bar oases complete with cold beers and Pacific Ocean vistas. At one stage we were joined by John and Tina, a kayaking couple we all knew from home, who happened to be on their honeymoon. They were paddling three-piece Valley Kayaks, which they'd brought with them from Melbourne. To celebrate their union we headed for the luxury Havana resort on the main island, some 2.4km away. A further 2km along we discovered the Wahoo Bar, with good food, cold beer and a deck that is counter-levered over the water. Somehow, from this point on, the day trips always seem to end at Havana or Wahoo. So now we're faced with an enviable problem: where to next? With the portability of these collapse-able kayaks, the aquatic world is your oyster. Grant is talking about a return trip, to explore neighbouring Nguna Island. I'd love to go back too, but the islands off Phuket are singing me a siren's song, and my Trak might be heading in that direction next year. We'll just have to see what unfolds.
"The water visibility was mind blowing. From the cockpit of our kayaks we could constantly see 20 metres or more down to the ocean floor, giving the illusion that we were flying rather than paddling."
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In June 2012, a team of paddlers from Tropical Far North Queensland invaded distinctly untropical far north Canada to stage a daring raid on the world’s longest paddling race – the Yukon River Quest. They came in search of glory, but first they had to avoid killing each other… Story: Geoff Wright
Main image by Justin Kennedy www.jtkphotography.ca
The Yukon River Quest is the longest annual ultramarathon paddling race in the world, running 715km from Whitehorse to Dawson City. It begins on the longest day of the northern hemisphere’s calendar, the summer solstice, when the sun barely sets this far north. Our master and commander, Bodo Lenitschek, competed in the Yukon River Quest in 2008, winning his division in a mixed two-man canoe. Convinced that a team of outriggers could be competitive in the event, he returned to Cairns with a plan. First, he secured the use of a carbon-fibre voyageur canoe, poetically named Breaking Wind, the same type that holds the race record. Then a six-man canoe crew took shape: me (in seat 5), Ralph Seed (seat 1), Keith Vis (seat 2), Grant Davis (seat 3), Caleb Wiles (seat 4) and Bodo, the steerer, in seat 6. We like to think of the Down Under Dogs as an elite group of Cairns’ finest outrigger paddlers, but truth is, we were the only suckers that Bodo could coerce into joining him in such an escapade. Our average age was 52, but we had years of collective outrigger experience. Ralph offered his home at Tinaroo dam for our Yukon training camps, where we paddled a ‘classic’ outrigger canoe belonging to the Dam Outriggers. At these camps we combined training, team meetings, audio-visual presentations and dietary discussions. In each session we’d paddle 50–80km around the dam. The closest we got to a dress rehearsal was a 115km dusk-till-dawn paddle from Ette Bay to Ellis Beach. Launching under a full moon from Ette at 6.00pm, we were forced to turn back after 10 minutes as we’d rigged the canoe too close for the conditions and it was unstable. A quick re-rig and we left for Cairns, albeit now out of touch with the yacht we’d arranged to shadow us. Conditions quickly deteriorated, wind and
swell picked up, and the sky darkened with rain clouds, blocking the moon. We were 5–8km offshore and navigating by sight. Near midnight we had to beach the canoe on an island to extend the ama further out and repair a rigging ratchet. The trip took us 10 1 2 , and we were stuffed. It was a wake-up call. Morning outrigger training was ramped up after that, and we did two 20km paddles as a crew every week, plus another 20–30km per week in club crews or individually. We also had a personal trainer, who had us running, climbing hills and doing gym work. Ralph was adamant our stroke had to be extremely efficient, in both energy input and forward thrust, so it could be maintained for the many hours needed to complete the race. He also worked out that if we used our Xylo paddles instead of Zaveral lightweight paddles, we would be lifting an additional 20 tonnes of weight over the length of the race. We ordered Zaverals. We received recommendations from nutritionists, but the best advice came from Mike Le Roux, a local Cairns ultra athlete. He told us to take in 450 kilojoules of energy every hour, if possible breaking this down to 150Kj intake every 20 minutes. We used Optimiser Endura, along with gels, bars and wraps. For hydration we planned to carry sufficient water to get us midway across Lake Laberge, from which point there was little chance of consuming polluted water, so we’d drink from the river. The final special training we undertook was in a dragon boat, which was as close as we could get to the seating width of the voyageur. A few short runs in this revealed there would be a steep learning curve in terms of balance and precision when we took our final positions in our race canoe. Months turned to weeks, then days in a flash. We were well prepared physically, kitted-out as best as we could be without ever having seen the canoe, and ready for the Yukon.
MOST OF US HIT WHITEHORSE A WEEK BEFORE THE RACE. Bodo had already collected the voyageur and we were itching to get it in the river, but Caleb, who’d arrived in Whitehorse earlier, was missing in action. He finally showed on Friday morning, hungry and possibly hungover. But it was good to have the crew together, so we shoved some food down his throat and embarked on our first Yukon paddle. Team bonding wasn’t great. Grant was grumpy, Bodo pissed off we hadn’t paddled the day before, Caleb was still digesting breakfast and Ralph was tinkering with his heart rate monitor. Less than 20 metres into our first run down the river, things got worse. After the first huck call we were upside down. Caleb abused Grant, Grant abused Caleb, Bodo spat the dummy, Ralph tinkered with his heart rate monitor, Keith enjoyed a dip, and I was stunned into silence by the sound of our support crew’s laughter. In retrospect, this was the best thing that could have happened. It showed us just how unstable the canoe was, and how important smooth changes would be.
Roll number two at the Five Finger Rapids
We quickly came to respect our canoe’s ability to dump us in the water when we failed to offer her respect. She was fast and light, but murder to change sides in, and steering was challenging. During the week we experimented with the seating arrangements, changed the locations of buckets and holders, packed and tested the load distribution, and balanced and reloaded the canoe till we could do it in our sleep. Meanwhile Ralph tinkered with his heart rate monitor. We took the canoe down the river fully loaded and empty, and then finally did a fully loaded run 60km into Lake Laberge. By the end of the week we had most of the seating changes perfected, gear locations working, Caleb’s music machine playing, food and hydration methods in place and pretty well everything sorted, except for Ralph’s heart rate monitor. The last thing to do was to change the signage: Passing Wind became Down Under Dogs and we were ready to rock.
The team sewed extra padding into the seats of their paddling pants to ease the pain
OUR GOAL WAS NOT JUST TO FINISH, BUT FINISH FIRST and break the race record of 39 hours 32 minutes, set by a sixman voyageur team called Kisseynew in 2008. On sign-in day, officials checked our gear to ensure we had the mandatory equipment (which included bear spray).
At 11.30am on Wednesday 27 June 2012, we lined up under the start banner in full race gear, waiting for speeches to end and the race to start. A brief rain shower closed in, reminding us just how far from home we were. Rain in the tropics is just wet; rain in the Yukon is colder than snow.
At the race briefing we met a focused Californian crew in a voyageur called Such a Blast. Their personal profiles read like a who’s who of outrigging. They were all at least 10–15 years younger than us, there was an Olympian kayaker in the crew, and most had done numerous Molokai crossings. They even looked the part – all tall, trim and, well, Californian. They would become our main rivals.
The race started at noon, with 187 paddlers running 500 metres from the line to their respective canoes. We got away without a hitch, but around 20 craft were ahead of us, including the Californians. Bodo’s strategy was clear – get in front and stay in front – and 15 minutes later we were leading. After 2 hours 15 minutes, we passed Policeman’s Point, the last checkpoint before Lake Laberge. We were 4 minutes ahead of Such a Blast and 7 minutes ahead of the race record.
At breakfast on race morning, Ralph finally stopped tinkering with his heart rate monitor. It just didn’t work. The canoe was packed with gear, and there was time for a final coffee and toilet stop. (We’d cut most fibre from our diet over the last few days, hoping we would all be mildly constipated for the race – stopping the canoe for constant toilet breaks wasn’t an option.)
"IT’S HARD TO EXPLAIN HOW COLD WE WERE. It was the kind of cold that only wearing wet clothes in 1°C temperatures with a wind can produce. It gets right into your bones – in fact it finds bones you didn’t even know you had. It’s painful." The lake is 80km long and very wide, with zero current. We slowed to about 11.5 km/hour, but felt strong. Bodo would call us out for 1-minute break every hour, starting at Seat 1 and working through the canoe. In this minute you could change clothing, take a piss, eat some food, stretch or just have a drink. We were paddling at a stroke rate of 60 per minute, which Ralph maintained perfectly all race. Our hucks were controlled by a gym timer, which beeped every 50 seconds to signal a change. Gradually we pulled away from the field. Exiting Lake Laberge we were 12 minutes ahead of the race record and leading the Californians by 9 minutes. We’d been paddling for 6 hours, 44 minutes and our speed varied from 14 to 22km/hr, depending on current. However night loomed and when the sun set at 11pm the temperature plummeted. We all added layers of clothing, except Keith, who just pulled a longsleeve shirt over his singlet. We were going strong, the sun was behind the hills, it was dull, but the twilight was still bright enough to see. Most of us had been peeing in our drinking cups during our 1-minute break (we just rinsed them out afterwards). It becomes harder to pee after 8 hours paddling, but, as your body shuts down and doesn’t process food and liquids very well. Ralph and Keith, who had difficulties with cups, had opted to use a catheter type of system, but were struggling with this too. Bodo demanded they pee in their cups; they tried, but no joy. Cursing, he brought the canoe into land. Finally we found a place to stop and everyone used this opportunity to add clothes. We were back in and paddling again fairly quickly. By 2am it was 1°C, (with a breeze) and the water was 3°C. It was cold, but we were well covered and paddling hard. We rounded a bend close to the riverbank and abruptly encountered a boil and whirlpool. From the back I saw nothing, nor did Bodo, we just heard “Oh Shit!” from the front of the canoe as we dropped into a whirlpool about a metre deep. Our canoe flipped in seconds, and we found ourselves upside down, heading downstream in the dusk. To right a voyageur, you have to get to the bank. It was a fast section of water, and I guess we were drifting at 10km/ hr. Everyone surfaced OK and Caleb grabbed the stern rope, swimming towards the bank to try and secure the canoe so
it would swing in. We all swam with it, trying to push it to the bank. It seemed an eternity before we got the canoe into an eddy area, and we were in the water for about 15 minutes. Just after we’d managed to lift, drain and refloat the canoe, the Californian team paddled past. They called to check we were OK before charging off. There was nothing for it except to get back in and paddle hard to warm up. And then we started to count the cost of the flip. Bodo had lost his maps, our GPS died, the beep machine stopped beeping, and we’d lost drinking cups and loose food. But we were all safe, and off chasing the Californians. IT’S HARD TO EXPLAIN HOW COLD WE WERE. It was the kind of cold that only wearing wet clothes in 1°C temperatures with a wind can produce. It gets right into your bones – in fact it finds bones you didn’t even know you had. It’s painful. We’d been paddling for about 30 minutes when Keith missed a change and suddenly slumped in his seat. He was in a bad way and we needed to stop immediately. The river wouldn’t help, and it was another 10 minutes before we could get into an eddy on the bank. Keith had the least amount of clothing on when we flipped and he was now hypothermic. Grant and Ralph got him into dry clothing, rain pants, jacket and beanie, then we wrapped him in a space blanket. Caleb had a thermos of warm soup and Keith managed a few mouthfuls. We lifted him into seat one and gave him a paddle to slump forward onto. The rest of us pulled on our rain gear, which prevented the wind cutting through us, got back into the canoe and began paddling. Five minutes downstream we heard shouting from the bank as we passed Little Salmon checkpoint. We could have pulled in and warmed Keith properly, but without our maps we were flying blind and the chance was gone. The Californians were now 29 minutes ahead of us and we were 48 minutes adrift of the race record. Keith slowly came around and even started to paddle again in an attempt to warm up, and also because the man just never gives up. Three hours after Little Salmon we reached Carmacks, the 7-hour mandatory stop. It was 7.17am on Thursday morning and we’d been paddling for 19 hours and 17 minutes. We were cold and our spirits were down.
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The fantastc support crew of Helen and Stephanie Seed, Kiki Paull, Sue Vis and Susan Markwell cheer the Dogs to victory
At Carmacks everyone is clocked in and not allowed to leave until 7 hours later. We arrived a further 7 minutes down on the race record, but amazingly only 18 minutes behind the Californians, having closed the gap by 11 minutes even with a paddler down. It was a real struggle just to get out of the canoe. Our legs were like jelly, and we were freezing. Our support crew helped us to our RV and fed us beautiful bowls of warm soup. The Californians had gone to a hotel, so we were first into the hot showers where $3 bought us three minutes of luxurious hot water. Bliss. I had a bad case of sea legs. The room wouldn’t stay still and my legs didn’t want to hold my body up. Our support crew helped us into our warm clothes, got us fed and into bed. I had to share with Ralph, but even though he farted and snored, nothing would stop me sleeping solidly for 4 hours. While we slept the ladies washed and dried all our gear, went begging and borrowing cups and lost gear, cleaned out our canoe, and had everything ready by the time they woke us. Ralph took Keith to the medical aid station to get their OK for him to continue. As he left, I heard Keith mutter, “If the doctor says I can’t go on, I’ll have to get a second opinion!” With hypothermia, after you’ve completely warmed up, you’re normally good to go again, and so it was with Keith. The Californian crew had been cleared to leave, but to our delight they stuffed around, losing another 9 minutes before getting away. The chase was back on.
THE INFAMOUS FIVE FINGER RAPIDS LIE IN WAIT ABOUT 2 1 2 HOURS FROM CARMACKS. Going wrong here can be lethal, but we’d been told to take the right-hand channel, which has a clear V down the centre, with shoulder waves coming out from the island and the right bank. The plan was to enter the channel, then leave the V by crossing to the left, where there are gentler rounded shoulder waves. Unfortunately things did not go to plan. We followed the V to the end, into some sharp, high-standing waves. The canoe leapt out of the water, nosedived and then rolled upside down, putting the Dogs in the drink again. The daytime temperature was in double figures and thanks to a support boat we were able to get to shore and have the canoe drained, upright and ready to go in about 30 minutes. Bodo was swearing though. We were just about through the rapids, what went wrong? And his maps were lost again, torn away by the force of the flip, along with most of the replacement drinking mugs. No time for analysis, though, the Californians were pulling away. The boys had used the river time for a good piss, it was warm, and in no time we dried out and felt great. The support crew cheered like crazy as we passed them just downstream from the rapids. They’d watched us flip and a race co-ordinator had told them that they’d probably have to pull us out of the race. To see us powering past was fantastic for them.
Without maps, Bodo had to make a lot of judgement calls. The river splits often, snaking past many small islands. Taking the wrong option could put extra kilometres onto the route. Our speed varied according to the flow. Ralph or Grant would call the canoe speed from their GPSs to Bodo, and suggest a faster course. It was always a tough choice: cut the corner and take a shorter route at a slower speed, or stay out in the faster current and go an extra 500 metres.
Image by Justin Kennedy www.jtkphotography.ca
Caleb had lost his drinking cup in the flip and asked to borrow Grant’s. “You’re not pissing in it are you?” Grant replied loudly. “No,” said Caleb. “Just drinking.” He borrowed the cup, dipped it in the river and it slipped out of his hand. Moments passed, then Caleb said, “Ummm Grant, I hope you weren’t too attached to your cup…” Grant stopped paddling and turned around. Keith heard the steam coming out of Grant, so quickly gave him his cup, saying; “Its OK mate, I haven’t pissed in it. Have mine, I’ll share with Ralph.” And so we dodged a certain fatality. Seven hours after leaving Carmacks we finally sighted the Californians. We would have loved to paddle past them, but they’d pulled into the bank for a manual piss break, after having issues with their condom catheters. Under a fantastic sunset at the Fort Selkirk checkpoint, we were 4 minutes ahead of Such a Blast. Everyone was paddling strongly, but we were sore and tired…time for some drugs. We each had a little bag of pills, in small packets marked ‘Pain’, ‘Bad Pain’, ‘Upset Stomach’, ‘Drowsy’ and ‘Anti-inflammatory’. I was taking an anti-inflammatory tablet every 6 hours, as a precaution, but needed a ‘Bad Pain’ pill when my hands started cramping. Only near the end of each leg, after 12 hours, did I use a No Doze tablet to stay alert. A second, 3-hour layover was mandatory at Kirkman Creek, a small settlement with a bakery only accessible by river. The biggest problem, without maps, was finding it – but we arrived at 4.22am on Friday, the first canoe in. We’d paddled for 14 hours and 8 minutes from Carmacks and were 30 minutes ahead of the Californians. In the hothouse, by the potbelly stove, we warmed up with soup, sandwiches and cake. Most of our clothes and sleeping bags were wet from the last flip, but we could have slept anywhere. Our lifejackets with our race numbers went at the foot of our sleeping bags, so we could be woken up in time to get moving. BREAKFAST WAS A SCRATCH AND CUP OF COFFEE, but I managed to fill my dive boots with hot water before leaving. True to form, all the Dogs were packed and in the canoe, paddles at the ready when we were given the flag to go at 7.22am. All that remained was a 150km sprint home…just another 8 1 2 -hour paddle. Thought for the day: ‘stay dry!’
"Without maps, Bodo had to make a lot of judgement calls. The river splits often, snaking past many small islands. Taking the wrong option could put extra kilometres onto the route"
We reached 60 Mile River, the last checkpoint before Dawson, just before noon, with bodies wracked with aches and pains.
Image by Justin Kennedy www.jtkphotography.ca An hour later, while paddling past a small hunting shack on an island, we heard shouting and screaming. This was real Banjo territory so we kept going, but suddenly two charter boats arrived packed with our support crew, providing a great lift to our spirits. We crossed the finish line in Dawson City on Friday at 3:51pm, having paddled for 1 day, 17 hours and 51 minutes. There was no race record, but of the 68 teams that entered, comprising 187 paddlers from 13 countries around the world, we finished first – 54 minutes ahead of Such a Blast. It had been a long road. I’d started training seriously in January 2012, when I weighed 92kg and thought I was pretty fit. I stopped drinking alcohol, toughened up my diet, stepped up
my running and started gym sessions. I had a body scan done in February – weight 87.7kg, muscle mass 37.8kg, body fat 24.1% – and another in May: weight 82.1kg, muscle mass 42.5kg, body fat 11.0 %. I weighed myself 10 days after finishing the race and came in at 78.2 kg. Cups, maps and tempers weren’t the only things we lost on that race – but a winner’s medal wasn’t the only thing we took away from it either. The race was one of the hardest things I have ever put my body through. The cold was extreme, the pain terrible, and working without sleep was difficult, but we all found the inner strength to push our bodies well past the point where we should have given up. To finish, and to finish in first place, was a magnificent feeling. Would I do it again? The jury is still out.
The team, from left to right: Keith Vis, seat 2; Ralph, seat 1; Caleb Wiles, seat 4; Bodo Lenitschek, seat 6 (steerer); Grant Davis; seat 3; Geoff Wright, seat 5
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Michael going down first drop of two.
Fifteen years of dreaming and planning doesn't make an attempted first descent of Gara Gorge in NSWâ€™s Oxley Wild Rivers National Park any smoother for a veteran paddler and his handpicked team of steep creekers Words and Images: Michael Taylor
Seventeen years ago I sat by a waterfall in Gara Gorge eating my lunch. Perhaps this is how many great kayaking adventures start, I don’t know. I just remember that, as I munched, I looked up and marvelled at the beautiful waterfall and steep-sided gorge that we had just hiked, climbed, jumped and swum down. Maybe, I thought, one day someone will paddle over this waterfall. With the little I’d seen of steep-creeking in videos and with my own whitewater paddling experience still bright green, I thought this looked like a drop that could possibly be done without necessarily surrendering your life. Gara Gorge is on the eastern fall of the New England tablelands in Northern NSW, within the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park. It is one of my favourite areas, with its wild, granite gulfs, towering boulders, bold cliffs and deep, permanent water holes.
It’s also totally unlike most of the other gorges of the eastern New England region, due to its ‘gradual’ descent. By gradual I mean only 100+ metres per kilometre. Most of the other gorges start with precipitous waterfalls, as evidenced by the signs leading from the Waterfall Way tourist route: Tia Falls, Apsley Falls, Dangars Falls, Mihi Falls, Bakers Creek Falls, Ebor Falls, Chandler Falls, Wollomombi Falls and Dangar Falls near Dorrigo (this last one tempting many big talkers but no takers as yet).
PRECIPITOUS PLANS FIFTEEN YEARS PASSED UNTIL ONE DAY I REALISED THAT STILL NO ONE HAD PADDLED DOWN INTO GARA GORGE TO THAT BEAUTIFUL WATERFALL. ALWAYS ON THE LOOK OUT FOR AN ADVENTURE, IT SEEMED TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE THAT ONE EXISTED PRACTICALLY IN MY BACKYARD. With significantly more paddling experience now under my belt, I started investigating the gorge in much greater detail than I’d done previously, as a happy-go-lucky hiker and climber. Perhaps, I owe some of my curiosity to Brian Cork, author of the guidebook Steep Creeks of the Dorrigo Plateau, and a local paddler who inspired many people with his enthusiasm, wise words and friendly nature. When I was part of the University of New England Mountaineering Club back in 1995, Brian and a couple of game followers ventured to the brink of Gara Gorge and paddled two drops right at the start of the descent. Since then, though, it seemed no one had considered going further. There’s a few reasons for this, including the difficult access to the exit point, but the water levels that kayakers typically see when they’re looking at the river also lead most to think that it would be suicide to try and run it. The water goes nuts amongst the rocks and a couple of the more serious boulder sieves make
your stomach churn at the mere thought of getting caught in their jaws. However, having hiked down into the gorge for about 15km, I knew there were some sweet lines to be had if the water levels were right and we could just figure out access. At the top end, access to the gorge is via walking tracks from the national park a little way upstream. Once you descend into the gorge, there’s more than 90km of paddling before the next road access, and much of it is skirted by private property. Fortunately, Gara Gorge is a rock-climbing haven and the local climbers have a good relationship with some of the landholders. Having done some climbing myself, it wasn’t long before I had some reasonable exit routes planned, giving us some options that could be explored depending on how our trip went. Building a team of good paddlers was the other key ingredient I had to organise before we could even attempt the run. I now had 25 years of paddling experience
under my belt and to join me I lined up Tony Preen – a local and very talented, smooth kayaker, making a serious comeback as a creek boater since his younger days as a slalom paddler – and Ben Hankinson of Horizonline Canoes (Penrith). Tony and I were pushing our limits but Ben, a national boater-cross finalist and accomplished slalom paddler, was right at home when it came to sussing out 7-metre waterfalls and rock sieves with house-sized boulders. That’s why I’d hired him specifically for this trip – he was our dipstick. We were joined on this first descent by photographer and legendary mountaineer Paul Bayne. One of Australia’s first qualified International Mountain Guides, Paul was a team member on the Everest Bicentenary Expedition and he lives locally. Many years of extreme mountaineering have taken their toll on Paul’s body, so he is redirecting his passion into photographing wild areas and was excited to document a kayaking descent of the same gorge he’d set many a climbing route in.
Ben scouting on boulders around massive sieve.
â€œStanding beside it, surrounded by the roar of crashing water in air thick with spin-drift, we realise how serious any mistakes will be in the 100-metre-long grade-4 lead-in. There are two drops to negotiate before reaching the lip of the 7-metre waterfall, and no easy way to portage.â€?
Tony drops into swim hole.
RUNNING THE GUN The basics of the trip were well planned, but the need to catch the best water level meant some last-minute logistical arrangements were inevitable. On the morning of the paddle, Ben had a 6-hour drive from Sydney and Tony a 4-hour drive from Port Macquarie. We were hoping to get stuck straight into the first 4km of the gorge, where we could hike back out along a ridge to our shuttle vehicle, but travel and car-shuttle times meant we couldn’t get started on the river until nearly midday. The river level had been perfect the day before and hadn’t dropped much overnight, and we were happy to have a little less volume on our first descent, but Ben and Tony were relying on me completely for knowledge of the gorge, so my stress levels were flowing fast. Jumping in the river at the footbridge opposite the car park, we floated cautiously down to the start of the great descent. Bodies primed and camera gear tested we skirted the first of a few mandatory portages and made our way to the put-in proper.
Just beyond the drops Brian Cork paddled is an area known to climbers as the Private Sector. When it’s dry there’s some great beginner climbing here, but wet weather transforms it into a heinous rock sieve. Climbing down the boulders, we begin our run at the foot of this area, but just 15 metres of paddling later we’re out of the boats again inspecting another portage. Finally the next drop reveals a sweet chute, with the water boiling and bouncing us through to one of the most visited locations in the gorge, a 2-metre waterfall into a well-known swim hole. Hundreds of people clamber down here each year to swim, sun bake and jump from the high rocks surrounding the pool. The drop looks straightforward enough, with the safest line being to stay hard right, away from the recirc at the bottom, but moments later I find myself beached on the lip, stalled, and it’s looking ugly. With a few desperate strokes I pull away; it wasn’t the most photogenic descent, but I’m now buzzing with firstdescent fever. Tony and Ben improve significantly on my effort and we’re on our way.
Image Paul Bayne
The next boulder garden we mostly boat scout, until we run out of safe options. It's then I endure a nasty bruise to my pride. While standing on a slippery rock and peeking over the next lip I lose first my balance and then my paddle in the fall. I’m unscathed but the paddle is swallowed in the boulder garden. No worries, that’s what spare paddles are for, right? Did I say that morning that one spare would be enough for us all? The descent continues with varying levels of excitement in between scouting and running rapids. One more portage around a frustrating 5-metre drop into a huge waterhole finds us lowering boats down a cliff and getting a display of Ben’s down-climbing prowess. A few rapids later, we’re confronted by the largest boulders yet. An inspection reveals an impassable section of gorge, with the water disappearing and re-appearing a couple of times amongst the boulders. Tony and I close our eyes while Ben prances around on smooth, sloping, house-sized rocks, scouting a possible route.
Image Paul Bayne
Thankfully our dipstick doesn’t disappear down a hole between the boulders and, better still, he returns with news that the second part of this rapid is actually runnable, via a 5-metre auto-boof into a 200-metre long pool surrounded by cliffs. This is a relief because, having just lowered the boats down a 6-metre cliff to bypass the boulders, we would have faced another 15-metre down climb beside the auto-boof drop. The long pool we’re dropping into is the lead up to the waterfall I’ve been hoping to reach. Photos of this section taken during lower water make it look easy by some standards, but standing beside it, surrounded by the roar of crashing water in air thick with spin-drift, we realise how serious any mistakes will be in the 100-metre-long grade-4 lead-in. There are two drops to negotiate before reaching the lip of the 7-metre waterfall, and no easy way to portage. Ben has a look, gives it the thumbs up, hands me his camera and heads for his boat. I really need a pee about now, but Brian Cork’s words of wisdom ring in my ears: “The longer you look at it the longer you’ll be in it.”
“Ben, a national boater-cross finalist and accomplished slalom paddler, was right at home when it came to sussing out 7-metre waterfalls and rock sieves with house-sized boulders. That’s why I’d hired him specifically for this trip – he was our dipstick.”
Tony and I wait to see how Ben goes before committing ourselves. So far so good and… YES, his run is immaculate. Tony follows suit and shows that, like myself, he hasn't paddled any drops this high before, like myself. His line is right, but a boof stroke taken from the mounded water at the lip digs nothing but air. Body and boat rotate and the landing is not pretty. Paddle regained, he eventually rolls up. My head is spinning but adrenaline kicks in and I’m psyched as I push off. The first two drops go just as planned but my arms and confidence don’t quite pull me all the way to where I need to be and I miss the (oh-so narrow) line for the main fall. I drop into a nasty vee slot and am engulfed by the fall.
Landing, I feel the back of my boat smashing onto a rock. Unfortunately the shock sends me into self-rescue mode and I bail way too soon. Surfacing with my boat in the pool below, I’ve totally blown my pride and ride today. Worse still, the spare paddle has slipped from my hand and disappears under a mountain of foam, never to be seen again. Tony and Ben paddle the next chute, a sweet grade 3 or 4, as I watch on jealously, but without another spare paddle, our trip ends early. By luck, the climb out coincides with an escape route that I had sussed out before and although it is long (especially with a boat on your shoulder), steep and slippery, and populated by cutty rushes and stinging nettles, it’s do-able and we eventually make it back to our shuttle vehicle.
It’s taken us more than three-and-ahalf hours to paddle less than 1.5 km, but these meagre stats don’t tell the full story. We’ve been privileged to be deeply immersed in some exceptionally wild and majestic country, and we’ve pushed new personal boundaries – well, Tony and I have anyway – all with no injuries, bruised pride aside. Our sense of achievement at the end of the day is great. But our determination to finish the gorge is equally great, and we look forward to telling the rest of this story when the summer rains come again. To be continued…
WATCH THE BOYS IN action
Photo by Jules Domine
WATCH ADRIAN TAKE ON THE STIKINE
THE RUM DIARY
Bel Ombre Beach at sunset. Opposite page: Team Fat Paddler get into some first night rums.
Two total rookies attempting a leg of the Ocean Paddler World Series and surviving to tell the tale? Fat chance… Taking gonzo adventure journalism to a whole new level, Nat Bradford and Sean Smith, aka Team Fat Paddler, have a crack at the Island Shamaal Mauritius Ocean Classic Words & Images: Nat Bradford unless credited otherwise
The Island Shamaal Mauritius Ocean Classic is a classic ocean race with a reputation that attracts some of the planet’s best surf-ski paddlers. And us. Team Fat Paddler. Set on the periphery of paradise, the Island Shamaal sees skis gliding across translucent tropical water, with paddlers linking runs and taking advantage of world-class downwind conditions as they skim around some super-challenging reef passes. Well most of them anyway. Although it pulls in an elite crowd, there’s something for all levels of paddler at this race. And that’s a good thing, because I’m a complete amateur with limited abilities and my colleague, Sean Smith (aka The Fat Paddler, founder of Team Fat Paddler), first paddled a ski about six months prior to us washing up on the idyllic beaches of Mauritius.
What had started as a bit of a bet in the comfort of Sydney had, just seven months later, resulted in us taking lessons in managing reef passes from world champions, with a view to racing them the following day. It was all a little bit surreal. The Shamaal itself is broken into a week of activity that involves instruction and group paddling with some of the best in the game, including Dawid Mocke, Barry Lewin, Hank McGregor, Matt Bouman, Dean Gardiner and Jeremy Cotter. Arriving midweek we missed some crucial paddle time, but despite these concerns we immediately set about reinforcing South African and Australian diplomatic relations by getting ‘acquainted’ with some fellow competitors with the assistance of local rum in the resort bar. This was an ideal recovery strategy after our 22-hour commute and the perfect pre-race preparation plan. Surely.
DOING OUR DASH At our first (and last) lesson and coursefamilarisation session the next morning, we were a little seedy to say the least. Varsity Surf School’s Barry Lewin, after watching us for a bit, noticed our stability in the chop wasn’t great and our confidence was somewhat lacking. He was shocked to learn that the group paddle we were currently undertaking was our first reef pass crossing ever, and that we’d be backing it up with our virgin attempt at open-ocean downwind paddling. After getting through the pass we immediately faced our first real downwind conditions, with a small swell of about two to three metres and a slight tailwind. It was exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure. Taking a run a little too long would see you perilously close to the reef, where the waves were breaking in about two feet of water above jagged coral. The following day, with one full hour of experience under our belts, we set off to take on our first race, Sporty’s Downwind Dash. With safety and survival being our primary goals, Sean and I determined to set our own pace. There was some starting line banter with World Champion Dawid Mocke, who claimed that, when it comes to surf-ski race starts, Australians are the best – due to our apparent tendency to start whenever the hell we feel like it, as evidenced at races such as The Doctor and the Bridge to Beach – and then we were away. For the Dash, we needn't have worried quite so much. The support boats were plentiful and provided a clear guideline to the Le Morne pass finish. From the ocean it looks like a complete line of breakers crashing into the reef, but there is a relatively easy way through, paddling diagonally to the swell. Easy if you know where to look that is. If the boats hadn’t been there, we’d probably still be circling the island looking for a way back to shore. Along the way we actually managed to link some runs and have a blast doing it. Given our pace, we were also able to enjoy the stunning coastal scenery from the comfort of our skis, paddling about a kilometre offshore. The end result was no spills, lots of thrills and finish-line bragging rights of second last and dead last. We were stoked to have finished some 55 minutes behind the winner, South African machine Hank McGregor, and even won a dolphin dive for our effort.
The beach at Tamassa Resort – it just makes you want to paddle.
Team Fat Paddler get off to a flying start, in last place, for the Island Shamaal. Photo- Josh Bucholtz
“At the base of the rising wave, four full paddle strokes at the maximum effort I could muster got me over the largest wall of water I’ve ever encountered on a ski.”
Nat gives World Champ Dawid Mocke some tips before Sporty's Downwind Dash
THE FULL SHAMAAL Two days later we faced the real deal. Due to the light ocean conditions it was decided to run the Shamaal from Sancho, to the east of our resort, to Le Morne. Having been seeded for a Le Mans–style start, we were right at the pointy end of the field…oh no, that’s right, we were dead last. Australian surf ski legend Dean Gardiner – who was racing in a double – came up for a pre-race chat and told us what to expect and, most importantly, when to start. As a result we didn’t hear the whistle and the race started behind us as our backs were turned while we were talking to him. Last off the beach again. For me, the scariest moment of the race came in picking and following the racing line out of Sancho (what was I thinking?). From our vantage point at the back of the pack, the line seemed obvious because everyone in front had taken it and the swell looked manageable. But the ocean, being what it is, decided to have the last laugh and pushed a big set right through the line up. I saw it coming and, screaming expletives through clenched teeth, made frantic dash for the horizon, away from the reefhugging course I had previously been taking. At the base of the rising wave, four full paddle strokes at the maximum effort I could muster got me over the largest wall of water I’ve ever encountered on a ski. When my heart rate recovered, I looked
Exhausted but ecstatic, Sean and Nat finally finish the Shamaal at Le Morne. Photo Rob Mousley
WATCH TEAM FAt PADDLER IN action 048
around to see Sean on a similar line to Madagascar. Though we laughed about it at the time, it made us both look at what we were doing bit more seriously and we took nothing further for granted on our run to Le Morne.
“It was exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure… taking a run a little too long would see you perilously close to the reef, where the waves were breaking in about two feet of water above jagged coral.” But beginner’s luck and enforced cautions can only take you so far and, despite the race conditions being calmer overall, the swell through the pass at Le Morne was much bigger than we’d encountered on our previous attempt. After completely missing the line into the pass for the second time, we took the advice of race director Anton Erasmus, who yelled across the water from the course boat, to “head towards the red marker”.
Sounds simple, but from our perspective, sat in the cockpit of a ski in a rolling sea, we couldn’t see a red marker – let alone the reef line – for more than two seconds at a time. Following Anton’s arm gestures, I took a punt and set off down the deepest part of the pass I could find. Everything seemed to be going okay until a wave selected me, rather than the other way round. What followed looked far better on video than it felt on the ski. I cut across the wave in an effort to avoid burying my nose into the footwell or flipping forward and breaking Mr Fenn’s nice Swordfish into two or more pieces – leaving me with a set of embedded reef souvenirs I’d rather not have. Needless to say, I didn’t quite make it. A short swim and rescue later I was on my way. Happily though, after laughing heartily at my error from a safe distance, Sean ate reef as well. Unbeknown to us at the time, the race was being commentated back to the crowd assembled at the Le Morne resort finish line. Our eventful pass attempts were met with much laughter, followed by cheers when we resumed our race. By this stage all that remained was the short run to the finish inside the reef, but even then we managed two further acts of silliness. First I fell out of the ski from laughing so hard while recounting how much fun I’d had being smashed in the waves, and then Sean stopped abruptly before tipping sideways on
the spot, finding himself suspended on a piece of reef the size of a dinner table. Crossing the line after being out on ocean for just over two hours and 20 minutes was a great feeling. We were both stuffed, but stoked we had accomplished the task. Besides, cold beer, great rum and fantastic curries were waiting and they don’t call us Team Fat Paddler for nothing… True, we finished last on the water, but later that evening in Tamassa we managed to soundly thrash the South Africans’ media team in bar boat racing, restoring Australian pride and taking the overall score to one all. We’re sure the Saffas are keen to play a decider next year. We’ll be there for sure. Follow Nat at: www.sydneysurfski.com Follow Sean at: www.fatpaddler.com More on the Island Shamaal Mauritius Ocean Classic www.mauritiusoceanclassic.com For travel to the Mauritius Shamaal, contact Nick Savage at Above & Beyond Travel on 1300 362 166 or www.aboveandbeyondholidays.com.au
AT THE OTHER END OF THE FIELD… In a thrilling finish at the pointy end of the pack, reigning World Champion Dawid Mocke from South Africa won the race with a time of 01:21:42, just seconds ahead of Australian Jeremy Cotter. South African Hank McGregor finished third. The top 20 finishers list was comprised of 11 Australians (including Dean Gardner and Dean Beament who won the doubles race) and eight South Africans, who were joined by one German paddler and one racer from Guadeloupe. For the full results, go here.
THE WORLD SERIES â€“ EXPLAINED The Island Shamaal Mauritius Ocean Classic is one of the 17 races that comprise the (newlook for 2012) Oceanpaddler Surfski World Series. The winners and place getters in each event are awarded points according to their finishing position and the grade of the race, which runs in a scale from A to D. For example, the Doctor in Western Australia is a Grade A event, which means the prize pool is $20,000 or more, and the winner gets an additional 20-point loading, taking their total points to 520 (second place-getter is awarded 517 points and the third-place earns 514). At the end of the last race, each competitorâ€™s five best results will count towards their World Series Ranking. Based on the races run and won so far, reigning World Champ Dawid Mocke is currently sitting in the lead with 2556 points, but Australian paddler Jeremy Cotter is hot on his heels with 2530 points.
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Words & Images: Nathan Fa’avae
Some people think that outdoor life becomes a whole lot less adventurous after the arrival of kids – Nathan Fa’avae, newly crowned Adventure Racing World Champion, an elite paddler and all round outdoorsman, is not among them. Childhood should be a voyage of discovery according to Nathan, and as rites of passage go, how does a first descent down a mysterious section of the Pelorus River sound?
The Pelorus flows through a corner of Marlborough at the northern end of New Zealand’s South Island. It's clear and cold like an endless pouring of sauvignon blanc, the varietal the region famously serves the wine-loving world. The river runs approximately 90km from the Richmond Range into Pelorus Sound, an immense sea-kayaking destination. But we weren’t looking to sea kayak – we’d come to explore a secret section of the snaking river that had, until now, eluded the eyes of anyone I’d ever met. Renowned for its magnificent river swimming, remote trout fishing, numerous gorgeous gorges and translucent water, the Pelorus is measured as one of the cleanest and purest sources of water in the country – drink a cupful and you’ll surely agree. The valley has its dark side too. It was the site of a massacre of the Ngati Kuia and Ngati Apa tribes by the Maori chief Te Rauparaha, who raged down from the North Island coast, west of Wellington. The first Europeans to arrive in 1843 found a few remaining Maori people, producing flax for Te Rauparaha. Now it’s mainly known for Pelorus Bridge, halfway between Nelson and Blenheim, which has a campground, a cafe and a
Between Middy and Roebuck Huts there is 6km of river, but the hiking track for this section climbs up and away from the water, running around 100–150 vertical metres above the banks. I’d fished some of the river above Middy Hut but there was about 5km that remained mysterious. For the track to be so far from the river, it begged the question, ‘what was down there?’ Something must be. My kayaker’s curiosity was piqued. With our kids now all school age – Tide 5, Zephyr 7 and Jessie 9 – my wife Jodie and I lined up a school holiday with plenty of activity. The first week we completed a 7-day hiking trip in the Leatham Conservation area. After a night in town we then did a 5-day circumnavigation of Durville Island by sea kayak. Once cleaned up from that trip, we decided a river run was needed to wash the salt out of our hair. A few phone calls, several emails and a whole lot of internet searching for information about kayaking on the upper Pelorus River resulted in nothing. Zip. We couldn’t find anyone who had paddled the upper gorge, or had even been in there. (Although after the trip we heard of a pair who apparently tubed it with their mountain bikes.)
“ For the track to be so far from the river, it begged the question, ‘what was down there?’ Something must be. My kayaker’s curiosity was piqued.”
bridge to jump off on a hot day. The upper 40km flows through Mount Richmond Forest Park and running alongside the river are hiking trails that are popular with trampers. My history with the river dates back over 20 years, when I started hiking into the far reaches of the valley, trout fishing and exploring the backcountry. With three DOC huts spread evenly along the riverbank, multi-day adventures are easy to plan. The river, by its nature, tends to squeeze itself into a canyon at any opportunity, creating frequent deep, slow-moving pools followed by short drop rapids. One particular section has always intrigued me, though.
Google Earth came to the rescue. The ability to zoom in on an aerial photograph of the river meant we could scout it from our home office. We could tell there was plenty of whitewater but, even more pleasing, all the rapids appeared to have portage options. The river level was reading 20-cumecs at Pelorus Bridge, which I interpreted as low-water conditions, ideal for our family on unfamiliar currents. A quick call to Helicopters NZ and we had a chopper booked for 10am the following day. Our boats of choice were Gumotex Twist inflatable doubles. They have a sensible amount of room to load gear and retain predictable performance for manoeuvring through rapids. They are also lightweight, easy to repair and pack down small.
The flight from Nelson airport had us on the banks of the river in just 12 minutes, pumping, packing and preparing to launch. After a snack and a safety talk, we eddied out and began the river journey with the adventure element peaking nicely.
We opted to hike the kids around a few rapids. One, a grade-3 choked-up boulder sieve, we lined the boats through. My guess is that in high flood it could be paddled, and Iâ€™ll be back in my creek boat in the spring, on an adults-only trip.
Almost immediately the drop-pool style of boating began. From one absolutely pristine little lake to the next, interspersed with grade 1 and 2 rapids. I had my two girls on board for the first day and my youngest, Tide, decided to blow her whistle whenever we approached a rapid. Pretty soon she was blowing more frequently than a French referee.
Not sure exactly what to expect on the trip, we were rewarded like Lotto winners. We felt like weâ€™d uncovered a treasure. With highlights a plenty and loads of time to relax, we obviously had to be highly diligent with safety, given the presence of the children on the expedition.
Every rapid was easy to scout and had a portage option, and the river is perpetually punctuated with swimming holes, picnic spots and fun challenges. Once we were deep into Conical Gorge, the trip had taken on a real wilderness feel, with no tracks and no people.
This caution paid off during the running of one rapid in particular, when Jodie got pushed off line after hitting a submerged feature and subsequently wrapped the boat midstream. I was covering from the bank and was able to swiftly rescue my son and then promptly retrieve the kayak. Although our kids are confident swimmers and somewhat used to this level of recreation by now, it was a good reminder that there were real risks present.
The river l reading 20Pelorus Brid interpreted a conditions our family o currents. A q Helicopters had a chopper 10am the fol
the river is perpetually punctuated with swimming holes, picnic spots and fun challenges. Once we were deep into Conical Gorge, the trip had taken on a real wilderness feel, with no tracks and no people… we felt like we’d uncovered a treasure.
level was -cumecs at dge, which I as low-water s, ideal for on unfamiliar quick call to s NZ and we r booked for llowing day.
To heighten the privacy and wilderness aspect of the trip, we ended day one about 1km upstream from Middy Hut and the track. With blue sky and no rain forecast we opted to camp on the river flats. It provided absolutely superb camping and the kids spent the remaining daylight hours paddling themselves around the big pond on the doorstep of the place we had made home. A great sleep, a good breakfast and some sensational fire-brewed coffee later, we rigged up and drifted off in hope of another day like the first. I guess you had to be there – and I couldn’t believe that no one else had – but the trip just got better and better. The pools got deeper, the clearest water I’ve seen got even clearer and the paddling kept upping the excitement levels. Rest stops were spent with masks and snorkels – drifting across water so clear it felt like we were gliding through the air, spotting trout and eels below us – followed by finding hot rocks in the sun to warm up on.
Day two could have ended easily at Captains Creek Hut, but we paddled on to another secluded beach camp. Out of site of our camp, the track was close enough by to provide a scenic trail run after a day with a paddle in my hands. The third day edged us closer to civilisation as we left the forest park, but the river hides itself well and it wasn’t until the fourth day, when we arrived at Pelorus Bridge on the State Highway, that we really felt like we’d returned…to chaos. We’d paddled about 35km, spent three nights camping on the river and, collectively, had notched up around 150 river swims. After the final day of paddling the gauge was reading 7 cumecs, so we’d been on a dropping river all week. I suspect a solid flow of around 20–25 would be perfect for a slightly more challenging run.
The feeling of having run a totally unexplored section of a beautiful river, with my family of paddling pioneers with me, was fantastic. The trip is a real discovery. While there is a hike-in option, it would potentially ruin the experience by being such an epic undertaking. The helicopter ride literally heightened the atmosphere and there’s probably not even that much difference in the price, given the time efficiency and convenience. We took all our camping gear, but it would be feasible to do the trip staying only in the huts. For paddlers seeking action, I’d be happy to try running the river at 50 cumecs. It might be touching grade 4 in parts, but otherwise a flood run would most likely present a memorable grade-3 daytrip. For us it was an amazing family kayaking mission that we’ll remember for many good reasons. We’ll do it again, but not before further exploration of the untold rivers that have equal potential. For this year, though, I think the kids will have enough to keep their teachers and friends enthralled when they’re asked what they did in the school holidays. Editor’s note: While this article describes a fantastic paddling experience, it’s important to note that both Nathan and Jodie are NZOIA-Certified Kayak Instructors. Wilderness trips such as this require a level of experience, knowledge and skills to match the group – particularly if there are children present. For our tips on introducing kids to kayaking, see paddlemag.com
NIRVANA Canned food will never taste the same again, reports a wandering Australian paddler after a season spent going LARGE in the creeks, slides and falls of Norway. Story Adrian Kiernan Images Adrian Kiernan, Mikel Serrasola, Phill Gibbins & Cory Flear
Adrian Running Etna Falls Photo Cory Flear
Adrian Kiernan runs the Usteani River. Photo by Mikel Serrasola.
Norway is one of the most notoriously expensive countries in Europe – actually, make that the entire know pulls in an average monthly income of $6909, and the standard of living is excellent if you’re earning that a beer costing around $14 at the bar and petrol nearly $2.40 a litre, some sacrifices need to be made for t survive in such a harsh environment. Before departing France to begin our northern migration – following the flow to the cold, open landscape of Scandinavia – we stocked up big at the supermarché in Grenoble, hunting and gathering all kinds of culinary delights. Almost everything was in cans and it was always long-life stuff, with the occasional jar of pâté and some Nutella spread thrown in as luxury items. But I can tell you right now that I’m sure as hell not in Norway for the food, or to learn creative cooking on a budget. I’m here to peruse the paddling landscape and to explore terrain that’s widely considered to serve up the biggest and best whitewater kayaking in Europe. Thousands of years ago, Norway’s face was crudely sculpted by glaciers and even now the country is characterised by immense bedrock slabs they left behind. These slabs create many large and runnable waterfalls, and some intensely fast slides. This is what we came here for. After paddling in many whitewater meccas around the world, Norway has a natural attraction that's even more beautiful and seductive than its women – and could well be considered just as dangerous. It’s not for
nothing that the style of whitewater on the menu in Norway is world famous. The excitement has been building since I arrived, when I immediately found myself itching to get out of Oppdal, a sleepy little farming town located on the banks of the Driva River, where I’d scored some work as a rafting guide. Every day, as I bumped, yelled and flipped my way down the river with a new boatload of excited rafting guests, I dreamt of going after my real goal. A quote by Brad Ludden in one of the first kayaking movies I ever saw, reverberates in my head as I look at the cascading water in Norway: “It’s too big to be that run-able…” This is a land to test yourself, your skills, judgment, courage and confidence. Here you can find out exactly how big a waterfall you can drop, you can keep going until it really hurts your body, and then you can learn how best to protect yourself. More importantly, challenging conditions like this help train your brain to keep you confident, calm and focused when you know you are capable.
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These few weeks will best in my life. With m into the synapses of intense kayaking I’ve
Reilly Edwards on Teigdal Double Drop, Voss. Photo Adrian Kiernan
“Remaining calm when your knees are trembling and you’re staring at the horizonline of a beast – that is what keeps you alive, in more ways than one.”
wn world. The population kind of coin. But with the nomadic kayaker to
en your knees are trembling and horizonline of a beast – that's e, in more ways than one. I’m here he mental and physical challenge lent of climbing Everest or K2: I’m the Grand Canyon of the Stikine.
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l stick in my mind as some of the memories permanently seared my brain by some of the most ever put myself through.
Usteani River Falls. Paddler Adrian Kiernan; Photo by Phill Gibbins.
Scouting the portage on the ausbygdalen california section. Photo by Adrian Kiernan
Colin Furmston charging super-high water on the Upper Jori. Photo by Adrian Kiernan
I’m sure as hell not in Norway for the food, or to learn creative cooking on a budget. I’m here to peruse the paddling landscape and to explore terrain that’s widely considered to serve up the biggest and best whitewater kayaking in Europe. Exploring a new country with a crew of likeminded buddies – some that you’ve known forever, others that you’ve only just met – is an experience that’s hard to beat.
After three months of ticking White Boxes with the pointy end of my new Fluid Bazooka, there’s still a bucketload of runs I’m leaving without getting the chance to do.
The rolling crew comprised of Phil Gibbins, Reilly Edwards, Antoine Dupuis, Will Hartman, Mikel Sarasola, Marthias Fossum, Aniol Serrasolses and Josh Firth, with a guest appearance from the America-based Bomb Flow TV crew Evan Garcia and Fred Norquist.
But the Stikine is in my Bazooka’s sights. And at least I can consider myself an iron chef now – of the canned-food variety anyway. And here’s a bit of advice for any paddlers out there who are heading towards Scandinavian shores: simply combine two cans of ratatouille, one packet of instant mashed potato and some of the cheapest minced meat possible and BINGO… you have the finest shepherds pie you’ll ever find in Norway. Well, the cheapest anyway.
Our tick-list for the summer was tantamount to a Vikinglike raid in reverse, with boaters from the south invading the great northern land and having our wicked way with some of Norway’s best beauties, in shape of the country’s rivers and falls. These included a tunnel run at Rjuande, the double drop on the Teigdal, an explosive fall with a shallow landing at Etna, and Norway’s crown Jewel: the always epic Lower Rauma. The climax – and our biggest achievement of the trip – was the running of the magnificent Usteani, where our crew nailed a likely first descent of a 15-metre waterfall in the Telemark region.
watch Adrian and the lads in action POSTSCRIPT: Wondering how Adrian got on running the Stikine? Check this out the link on the Immersion Research ad on page 43.
REEF RANGER Words: Ben Southall
A couple of years ago, an über enthusiastic English fella beat 34,000 other applicants to score himself a gig that was justifiably described as the best job in the world: caretaker of the islands of the Great Barrier Reef. Nice work if you can get it – but what the hell do you do when the best job in the world comes to an end? Jump in a kayak and explore that world properly – at paddling pace – that’s what.
Lesson number one: If you’re toying with doing something that’s dancing precariously on the far outer limits of your comfort zone, there’s no better way to seize the day and silence your inner naysayer than by making a rash commitment live on national radio. The presenter on the ABC had just asked me the very question I’d been agonising over myself: “What do you do after you’ve had the best job in the world?” Having thought about the idea for all of a few weeks I just spouted out “…ahh kayak the length of the GBR.” Now my notional expedition was a reality, and I had to go through with it. In November 2009 I was living a dream, but I could feel the sand slipping through my fingers. I had one month remaining of my stint in the Best Job in the World and it was time to decide what to do next. I’d just spent five months living on the Great Barrier Reef, diving and snorkelling its length. During this time I’d repeatedly heard stories in the international press claiming that the reef l acked colour, that global warming had bleached it almost out
of existence and that the crown-of-thorns starfish had eaten what was left. My experience had been very different and I desperately wanted to share with people the fact that the reef was still a vibrant, living treasure. With these thoughts rattling around in my head, it only took a reckless few seconds in front of a live microphone for me to pressgang myself into a voyage of discovery, far removed from anything I’d previously taken on, that would take me along the length of this immaculate World Heritage Site in a way that I’d barely ever explored before – in the cockpit of a kayak. I called it, of course, the Best Expedition in the World.
“We, as a responsible company, need to be sure we’re not just helping some mad Pom join the long list of recipients for the Darwin Awards.” Mal Gray – Sunstate Hobie
WATCH BEN'S ADVENTURE 067
You’re never closer to nature than when you’re powering through it under your own steam, whether it’s climbing to the top of a mountain, hiking through a rainforest or paddling across the ocean. There are certain adventures I want to take on in my lifetime and this felt like a natural progression. But I’d never spent more than a couple of hours kayaking on the ocean before – usually on smooth water, around a river mouth or through a marina – and definitely never 90kms from the shore in 3-metre swells, weaving my way through one of the most challenging reef systems in the world. “Sounds like a great idea,” said Anthony Hayes, CEO of Tourism Queensland when briefed about my plans. “Give him a few cans of food, push him off at 1770 and we’ll see him again in Cooktown. Brilliant.” As it turned out, of course, executing a four-month kayak expedition with the backing of the state government required a little more than a “few cans of food” to be successful. Every box needed to be ticked, everyone had to agree it was a sensible idea and safety became a major factor – so much so that the sense of adventure was almost overshadowed by bureaucracy and insurance.
And, having persuaded everyone that it would be a unique way to showcase the Great Barrier Reef to a worldwide audience, the expedition simply couldn’t fail. I’d need a kayak that would get me to the end, even if I dislocated my shoulder trying. It needed to be capable of becoming a floating film studio, to have a mount for cameras, a place to conduct radio interviews and be big enough to take a journalist along for stints of the ride too. Enter the Hobie Tandem Adventure Island – not exactly a kayak for the paddling purist, as it has two outriggers and can be paddled, pedalled or sailed – but something that I could power easily, mount a chart plotter and multiple GoPros to and, when the conditions allowed, unfurl the sail and scream down the waves with the wind behind my ears.
“Captain Cook made landfall to repair a gaping hole in the side of the HMB Endeavour, inflicted by an encounter with the reef…but I was hoping for a little less drama as I tracked the crocodile-infested coastline north.” 069
21 May 21, 2011 – Day one of the expedition This was always going to be the hardest leg of the trip, involving a 90km paddle from the Town of 1770, due east across open ocean to Lady Elliot Island, the southernmost point on the Great Barrier Reef. My girlfriend Sophee said she’d join me for the first leg and together we set off at 2.30am out of Round Hill Creek at Agnes Water near Gladstone. With our 12-metre support boat trailing behind, we glided across the sand bar and out into open ocean. The odyssey had begun. I should make something clear here – the plan was to have a support vessel close-by for the entire trip. Safety was one reason for this, but I was also diving, filming and broadcasting my experiences to the world throughout the journey, and the yacht Sunshine, a Lagoon 410 Catamaran, made the perfect office, kitchen and bedroom. For some people this might detract from the pureness of the adventure, but I’m not Freya
Hoffmeister and I’d called this the ‘Best’ expedition in the world, not the ‘Toughest’. Having a comfy bed to collapse into at the end of each day on the water made a huge difference during a four-month paddling trip. As the sun rose from its watery bed at dawn on the morning we launched, it instantly confirmed why I wanted to take on this challenge. Being out on the open ocean with nothing but waves for your horizon is a special experience. Add to that a pod of dolphins jumping off the bow and the name Best Expedition in the World fitted rather well. Still, that first day also underlined how much serious grunt lay ahead. We paddled for eight hours straight, pedalled with the help of the sail for another six hours, and finally pulled up onto the beach at Lady Elliot Island as the sun dropped back into the ocean on the other side of the sky. The longest leg of the expedition was knocked off on
the very first day, but it hu to go, my fitness would ha the prevailing south-easter helping to propel me to my
Early morning starts soon the day. Those first few ho up calm, almost eerie, cond water, perfect for paddling sunlight flooded across the would appear with almost signalling a change in prop two outriggers to the kaya and securing the pedals tra efficient sailing-cum-pedal unfurled and both sets of p a racing bike we were hold and that’s pretty fast when at water level and you’re ra following swell.
“I was paddling with the Daintree Rainforest on one side of me and the Great Barrier Reef on the other – traversing the only place on the planet where two natural World Heritage Sites collide.”
urt. With four months still ave to improve. Thankfully rly wind was on my back, y destination, Cooktown.
became the order of ours around dawn served ditions out on the g. As the first glimmer of e horizon, a puff of wind metronomic accuracy, pulsion. Attaching the ak, dropping the mast ansformed it into a highly lling boat. With the sail pedals being pumped like ding speeds of 20km/h – n the seat of your pants is acing down the face of a
Winding our way through the reefs and islands at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef was jaw dropping. They’re all fairly low-lying lumps of land, circled by extensive and vividly colourful coral flats that stretch out into the blue for hundreds of metres. Turtles would regularly bob up next to us, tuna leapt at shoals of baitfish, often almost hitting the bow, and the occasional bird would fly alongside wondering what on earth we were up to. When the weather’s mood turned foul, though, conditions flipped immediately. With my kayak getting lashed by wild wind and rain, white horses would rear from the tops of the waves and form into long rolling surf swells, creating fast and challenging conditions. My only steering was a short tiller on the side of the kayak and at speed the response was twitchy to say the least. Turning broadside by mistake would have meant an immediate capsize, and recovering a
fully-rigged Hobie would have been a nightmare. The support boat was less than a kilometre away throughout the entire expedition, but when you’re concentrating intensely on the ten metres of ocean in front of you, it may as well have been back in Brisbane. Over the next four months I wound my way around hundreds of islands and reefs, some of which are so remote and isolated that it’s entirely possible that they may never have been visited by man previously. Far from the tourist operators of Cairns and the Whitsundays, and out of reach of the average fisherman, these remote locations made perfect stop-offs. We’d carefully thread Sunshine into an anchorage then dive, film and photograph to our hearts’ content. I felt like one of the region’s early explorers.
WATCH THIS DIVE Flynn Reef – GBR
The media hustle & bustle kicks off as soon as ben hits cooktown.
By the time the Whitsundays loomed into view in mid July, I was feeling fitter, more confident about handling the kayak and had a great online audience following the expedition through my website.
Endeavour, inflicted by an encounter with the reef that now bears the name of the ship it so grievously wounded, but I was hoping for a little less drama as I tracked the crocodile-infested coastline north.
A real-time tracking system allowed people to track my progress on Google Maps. Every time I wrote a blog, took a photo or uploaded a video it would be displayed on the map exactly where it was created, giving an overview of the expedition and providing people with snapshots of what we were finding on the reef.
The waters of the northern Great Barrier Reef are a lot more strenuous to negotiate, especially during the winter months. The morning winds are usually fresh and in your face – making progress difficult if not impossible. We had to hide from the elements a number of times, tucking ourselves in behind little islands or sheltering alongside the prawn trawlers, sometimes for days on end.
I had always wanted my voyage and discoveries to be shared by people from around the world, and I hoped some of them might be inspired to take on their own challenge, to perhaps to get in a kayak or dive for the first time. Leaving Cairns at the end of August felt like the final leg of my journey. I’d followed the route taken in 1770 by the ultimate English adventurer, Captain Cook, and would finish where he came ashore – now known as Cooktown. The good captain made landfall to repair a gaping hole in the side of the HMB
gear on for one last time, to slide into my bum-shaped seat and to paddle out into rolling 2-metre swells. I only got a handkerchief-sized sail out, but found myself tearing across the surface, spray covering me from every angle. Turning into the Cooktown River, my emotions were in a state of mutiny and chaos. Of course feelings of relief and elation flooded through my system – I’d completed an epic 1600km expedition as planned with no major mishaps and I was bloody proud of that – but there was a big dose of disappointment lodged somewhere in my brain too.
But when the wind did die down the beauty of the coastline was evident. I was paddling with the Daintree Rainforest on one side of me and the Great Barrier Reef on the other – traversing the only place on the planet where two natural World Heritage Sites collide.
I’d reached the end of two years of hard work, and the realisation of dreams as vivid as this one can leave you with a vicious adventure hangover. My mind had already been wandering though, during all those hours out on the water. What next? Where next? Perhaps the real best is yet to come.
My final morning on the water was a rough one. I awoke with 25 knots of wind howling past our anchorage and, to be honest, I’d rather have stayed in bed. But I motivated myself to get my
MORE OF BEN’S ADVENTURES: www.bestjobben.com
Kayaks, Canoes and Sit-on-Tops
kg 2501lb 55
The ideal transport solution for kayaks, canoes or siton-tops. Constructed using light weight anodised alloy and pneumatic wheels for a smooth ride, these collapsible carts are great on rough or uneven ground. All carts come with tie downs with easy feed webbing. Style:
Height with wheels
15cm to 43.5cm
Great on rough or uneven ground
All carts come with tie downs
Sit on Top Cart
25mm OD Solution 6063-T6 alloy tubing
FLOW KAYAKS SUPERSTAR SKI Founded in New Zealand in 2011, Flow Kayaks is a company built on the skills and knowhow of its two creators: Richard Ussher, arguably the most formidable multisport athlete of his generation, and Andrew Martin, a veteran paddler who has competed at an elite level in everything from wildwater to marathon and flatwater, and who has been designing and building kayaks and paddles for many years. Their new range of kayaks and skis is about to hit Australian shores and here we get a sneak preview of their Superstar Ski, thanks to Sam Robinson, who brought the very first model into Australia and has been paddling it for several weeks. OK, so Sam is a Kiwi, but he has no other connection to the brand and any excess frothing is the result of genuine excitement... Review by: Sam Robinson
The craftsmanship on the Superstar Ski is impressive; I expected it to be on par with the big brands, but not better than them, and I’ve been surprised.
would find it very hard to go back as they allow you to be firmly planted in the seat and facilitate excellent leg drive, giving you as much leverage as possible.
It’s sleek and fast through the water, without being as narrow as some of the more elite boats. The secondary stability is fantastic – it’s on par with, perhaps even better than, the Epic V10 Sport or the Fenn Swordfish, so I am looking forward to spending more time in challenging and rough conditions. The primary stability, however, is slightly less than I have experienced in the V10 Sport. I’ve yet to comprehensively GPS-test the boat’s speed, but is yet to be but feels slicker than the V10 Sport / Swordfish.
The seat has a sculpted design, which feels fairly similar to the Fenn Swordfish. However, I am still getting used to the ridge down the middle, which isn’t friendly to a hairy bum like mine when you really get the leg drive going – after a big session it can feel like I have done a 200km bike ride.
The Superstar also turns on a dime – there have been many occasions during training sprints and runs when I have made a solid boat length against someone in a comparable boat purely through the super-responsive steering. Not having tried individual foot straps before I was initially sceptical, but I
Additional notes The carbon/kevlar construction of the Superstar (standard build) provides the boat with some give, and is intended to make it more durable in rough and rocky conditions than skis with have a honeycomb centre. The Superstar is a versatile craft, coming in a variety of colours and with a few custom design options available to suit terrain and personal preference. Depending on the conditions you
typically paddle in, you can easily swap between an under-stern rudder and an over-stern trailing rudder, perfect for paddling in rocky or shallow conditions – which takes only a few minutes. When ordering, there’s also the option of a single venturie (standard) or an Andersen super-mini boat bailer if you’re intending using it on the river or mainly on flat water (which adds NZ$150 to the price).
AT A GLANCE Length: 5.95m Width: .49m Weight: 13.5 kg Construction: Carbon / Kevlar RRP: NZ$3999 (circa AU$3190 at current conversion rates – contact Flow for exact shipping costs) www.flowkayaks.com
Boats, Blades + Boards • With Pat Kinsella
Mission Squirt Sit-on-top kayak The smallest boat in the Mission range, the Squirt has proved itself a proper little pocket rocket across the Tasman, with Kiwi kids lapping it up in such numbers that it’s outsold all their other designs. Light, easily transported to the beach and highly stable and manoeuvrable once on the water, it’s an ideal sit-on-top to start junior and beginner paddlers off on for their first solo missions. The moulded seat is reasonably comfortable, but the addition of an extra backrest (easily fitted onto the brass inserts tat come as standard) make longer paddles a lot more enjoyable. The inserts mean you can also fit a paddle leash. Additional features include integrated footrests and self-draining seats and foot wells. Obviously it’s important to know this craft’s limits - the max load is 90kg for example, so tandem rides are out for all but the skinniest of parents and the smallest kids – but this is a good introduction tool and whole lot of fun to mess around on as well.
AT A GLANCE Length: 270cm
∆ Width: 76cm ∆ Weight: 17kg ∆ Max Load: 90kgs ∆ RRP: $449 ∆ www.missionkayaking.com
Adventure Technology Columbia paddle A lightweight touring paddle with an impressive array of extra smarts, the Adventure Technology Columbia is available in both carbon (C Series) and glass (G Series) versions. Features include a high-angle durable blade and a shaft with a ‘full-control grip’ – essentially a section that is shaped to your hand and ergonomically designed to correctly align the bones of your forearms and wrists. Where things get really clever with this two-piece paddle though, is with the Synapse Ferrule, equipped with SmartSet Technology. This enables you to
set the blades to your designed feather angle by pulling the shaft partially apart and twisting it through 15 degree increments until you have the set up you’re comfortable with. Once set, you can disassemble and reassemble the blade as per normal, without On test the Columbia proved to be a versatile blade, well suited for reasonably fit paddlers in a range of conditions, providing a good level of performance and stability that really became noticeable in more challenging waters. It’s comfortable in the hand over extended periods of paddling, and is excellent when called into action for bracing or rolling.
AT A GLANCE Length: 205cm, 210cm, 215cm, 220cm Weight: 964g (carbon) 1049g (glass) Blade: 653 sq cm RRP: $399 (carbon) $299 (glass) paddlepro.com.au atpaddle.com
DAGGER AXIS 12 With a new distributor promising to inject some serious energy into this classic and storied kayak brand, Dagger boats are set to become more of a feature on Australian waters over coming months, and this all-water dynamo could be a popular choice. While it still offers an impressive level of performance the Axis 12 is about a versatile a craft as you’re likely to find anywhere. The design is inspired by the whitewater boats Dagger are internationally famous for – and it is capable of taking on some reasonably challenging water – but the Axis is equally at home on light surf and still water as it is on fast flowing rivers. With plenty of storage space in the sealed back hatch, there’s also plenty of scope for overnight adventure and touring. With an integrated beam the hull is both stiff and
AT A GLANCE Length: 3.65 m ∆ Construction: Polyethylene RRP: $1449
stable, so this boat performs well without pushing less experienced paddlers too far out of their comfort zone. It’s length – 12 feet, or 3.65 metres in the new money – makes the boat much nippier across the flat than a standard creeker, and a dropdown (height-adjustable) skeg keeps the tracking honest. The materials are hardwearing, so you can really push this boat around a bit, and the well-defined chines add to the manoeuvrability of the kayak. An extra roomy cockpit design – complete with heightadjustable backrest, leg lifters, thigh pads, sliding foot pegs and a soft foam seat – mean set-up is easy (for multiple users) and comfort levels are high. You’re not going to be running the Stikine in it, but there’s a whole lot of fun to be had in this boat, and it can turn its bow to virtually anything.
Width: 71cm ∆ Weight: 22kg ∆ Max Load: 90kgs ∆ paddlepro.com.au ∆ dagger.com
AT A GLANCE Length: 3.25 m Width: 74.9 cm Weight: 23.2 kg Max load: 124.7 kg RRP: $999
Ocean Kayaks Tetra 10 Summer is (almost) here, and the time is right for dancing on the waves. This is the time of year when plastic sit-on-tops come into their own, both for casual weekend kayakers and paddlers who are less concerned about speed and more interested in catching a feed. The Tetra 10 combines decent enough handling capabilities to get you out to where you want to be, with the sort of stability level that then allows you to relax and cast a
line if that’s what you’re into, or to have a little nose around the coastline or drop in to explore beneath with a mask and flippers. The generous storage space (with a sizeable and sealable hatch up the front, and a webbed trough at the back) is ample for stashing fishing or snorkelling gear, plus some warm clothes and a few supplies if you’re intending on going out for the day. The cockpit design is particularly snazzy
on this model, with the comfortable, padded seat and back rest that come as standard capable of folding down for ease and less wind resistance during transportation. The Tetra is also available with a rudder and an additional Mod Pod storage hatch as optional extras, and can be specced out as a full angler’s yak.
Good time to buy
Teva • Fuse-Ion shoes
We’ve been putting these shoes through their paces on and off the water for over a year now, and they’re showing no signs of deteriorat Teva have put as much thought into the appearance of the Fuse-Ions as they have the performance levels, durability certainly doesn’t ap compromised. Paddlers aren’t often accused of being fashion hounds, but we all like to bust out a bit of style sometimes and these shoe they have the smarts? Actually, yes, they do. The Fuse-Ions come complete with Ion-Mask technology to repel water and keep your feet allow. The technology used here – a molecular-level treatment – means that the shoes do not absorb any water whatsoever so, although the river may seep in the top, water will drain straight out again and you won’t be walking around in heavy saturated shoes. Brains and b
The ‘Jstep’ and ‘Spider’ rubber outsole provides excellent grip on slippery surfaces and the ripstop and mesh upper makes them comfort A collapsible heel means you can slip in and out of these shoes easily, even when they’re laced. Available in men’s and women’s styles. Watch the vid
Price: $169.95 www.teva.com
Indepth • iPhone Case & Floating Lanyard Conceived, designed and tested in the extreme outdoor conditions around Cairns, this iPhone protection solution is as hardcore as you’re going to find and it fits all models of iPhone. It may not be super small, but this case is waterproof, sandproof and shockproof. With iPhones providing handy access to ever-more information – as well as operating as an emergency communication device if needed – they’re becoming an invaluable part of a paddler’s kit. But they won’t take much of a beating, at least not when they’re nude. Wrap them up in this armour and you can take them anywhere. The case has a see-though and sound-porous front screen, so you can talk and touch-operate the phone while it is encased. The floating lanyard attachment is like a PFD for your phone – clip it on and you don’t have to worry about your iPhone sinking to the depths if you drop it. Price: Case $89.95 / floating lanyard $29.95 www.indepthcases.com.au
tion, so although ppear to have been es do look smart. But do as dry as the design will h the ankle cut is low and beauty – a rare find.
table and light to wear.
Solution Gear • Access Deck bag A cinch to attach (and detach) from your sea kayak, the Access bag enables you to stash all manner of essentials (camera, sunnies, beanie, cap, mobile phone, food etc) within easy reach, so you can grab what you need without having to pull in and get out of the cockpit. The curved watertight zip combines with a 70D detachable dry bag to keep the elements out, and the outer is made from durable super-strong abrasion-resistant 420 D PU coated ripstop nylon. You can fit it to your boat in two ways: via the Velcro strips on the base or with the release buckles on the sides. It maintains it’s integrity thanks to an integrated stiffener, and mesh side compartments allow for increased storage Match it to you boat, with blue and yellow options available. This is a great tool for daylong sea kayaking trips and overnight expeditions. Price: $79.95 seatosummit.com.au
Good time to buy
Immersion Research Paddling Pants Designed to keep you warm even after a surprise swim, these thick-skin thermal pants are excellent for ski paddlers and touring kayakers alike. The materials they’re made from (50% recycled polyester, 43% recycled polyester/bamboo blend and 7% spandex) mean the pants retain their warmth-giving properties even when wet, and are environmentally friendly to boot. The snug fit prevents any snagging issues and they also boast 4-way stretch, an anti-microbial finish and a UPF 40+ rating. Flat-seam construction helps to avoid any chaffing problems and the gusseted crotch repels cold water from your important parts. A low-profile waistband and soft inner skin make them extremely comfortable, and they feature a hidden drawstring around the waist. These are also available (in Australia only, as far as we can tell) in a short-cut version, for those summer days on the water we’re all looking forward to. Although perfect for paddling, these pants (especially the short version) also perform well in multisport events.
THINK PDF Primarily designed with surf-ski paddlers in mind, this is a highperformance racing PFD with benefits. The neon orange design makes the wearer highly visible no matter how chopped up and confused the seascape is or how dim the light. On test fellow paddlers constantly remarked, ‘Well, we won’t lose you anyway!’ while shielding their eyes. If you do end up using a PFD for the purpose it was designed for – to save your life – then this is a huge tick; it’s one thing staying alive, it’s another thing to be found and rescued. Ski paddlers are notoriously resistant to wearing PFDs, because they can inhibit movement while racing, but the big cut-ways around the arms and neck on this design make it very comfortable and we haven’t experienced any chafing or rubbing during testing. The
Price: $110 (long) $99 (short) www.kayak4play.com.au shoulder straps are even lined with soft neoprene for extra comfort. This PFD doesn’t have a large integrated bladder pocket (presumably because carrying lots of liquid high up can effect your stability on a ski) but it does feature a neoprene front pocket that will hold (and insulate) a 500ml drink, and guide holes positioned just above it can be used to direct straws to your mouth. Holes at the bottom of the pocket allow water to drain. There are several other mesh pockets for storage (safety flares, money, mobile phone etc). Overall we though this was a cleverly designed and durable PFD, which meets legal requirements everywhere. Price: $159 www.thinkkayak.com.au
Sev incl for que goin
Aquapac 35L Noatak Wet & Dry bagS While we all love getting on the water and getting wet, some of our favourite gear – including a few tools that may just save our lives if everything suddenly goes south – are not so fond of H2O. There’s a dizzying array of waterproofing bags available these days, but Aquapac’s Noatak bags are a versatile solution to the problem of keeping your electronics and spare clothes dry when you’re on, or around, water. Made with Ripstop Nylon, a super lightweight woven waterproof fabric with an extra thread
added to the weave to prevent tearing – the bags are TPU-coated for extra water resistance. The roll-down seal will keep out rain or spray when you’re in a kayak, and the integral lashtab enables you to attach it to your deck. Shoulderstraps allow you to use the bag as a backpack or shoulderbag, or you can simply treat it like grab-bag. We used the Noatak on the Lea River in Tassie – a tough testing ground – and it passed with flying colours Price: $79.95 www.everestsports.com.au
X2 Seat pads & Dry Bags
veral marathon paddling events are looming on the horizon – luding the Hawkesbury Classic and the Murray Marathon – and anyone having a crack at these or any other endure event, one estion is always at the forefront of their mind: how’s my bum ng to handle to the distance? You could do as the Down Under Dogs did in the Yukon (see earlier story) and sew some padding into your paddling pants, or you could try a custommade fix, like these newly designed seat pads from JPX2. Made from an expanding rubber called ethylene vinyl acetate, these pads have excellent shock absorbing properties, they float
like corks (just in case you take a swim) and are waterproof, so they won’t get soggy. Adding cushioning to your seat takes pressure off your bum and helps ward off numbness in your legs and butt cheeks. A comfortable paddler is a happy paddler, and endurance events don’t have to be suffer feasts. The pads have non-slip bottoms and don’t need to be secured in canoes, but if you’re fitting on into a sea kayak there are integrated straps to secure them in the best position. Pads and dry bags are available in blue and pink. JPX2 also have a good range of hard-wearing, ultra waterproof dry bags in 10L and 20L sizes, which are available in black and pink. Price: Seat pads $27 / 10L Dry bag $19 / 20L Dry bag $24 www.jpx2.com.au
BOOK REVIEW • Pat Kinsella
The Fat Paddler • Sean Smith
A lot is talked and written about how paddling improves physical wellbeing, but kayaking can also do wonders example. If you spend any time at all on paddling-related social media sites, you will almost certainly have com under his self-depreciating moniker, the Fat Paddler. A few years ago Sean was in a right state. Two serious ca and his mind was badly bruised by what he’d witnessed firsthand in Bali on that terrible night in 2002, when e people, including a number of rugby players he’d been playing in a competition with just a few hours earlier. H and heading for an early heart attack. And then he took up a new pursuit – paddling – and set himself a challe account of his road back to health and happiness is an entertaining and inspiring amble through the changing that we can all associate with). This is a very accessible book – you sometimes feel like you’re sat in a bar, shar written with a rugby player’s sense of humour, but Sean’s philosophical observations expose a more complex c and he’s a nothing if not a tenacious bugger, having gone on to explore many types of paddling (check out the the Hawkesbury Classic this year, keep an eye out for a slightly less fat paddler answering to the name of Sean Price: $29.99 www.fatpaddler.com
The Paddler’s Guide to Que Scott Rawstone / Global P
A former kayak g been methodica since 2008, whe New South Wale 40 pubs in the p published a guid contained detail with details of th of the waterway success, and Sco and his publishin extensive flat-wa in over five years state, complete with GPS coordinates, co maps and colour photos. Scott’s trips are book contains reliable information about Queensland and you own a paddle, you s 65 reasons you should be thinking about Price: $34.95 www.globalpaddler.com.au
s for people’s mental fitness. Take Sean Smith for me across Sean before, but he will have been writing ar accidents had left his rugby player’s body battered, explosions ripped through the heart of Kuta, killing 202 He was stacking on weight, spiralling into depression enge: the Hawkesbury Classic. This biographical g life of an ordinary bloke with a newfound passion (one ring a beer with him and listening to his life story. It’s character with greater depth than you might first think, e Rum Diary story earlier in the mag). If you’re doing n.
guide, Scott Rawstone – aka the Global Paddler – has ally chartering the navigable waterways of Australia en he undertook an expedition with a mate in rural es where they did 40 paddles in 40 days and visited process. Soon after the completion of that project, he debook called Paddling Around New South Wales, which ls of 78 different paddles around the state – complete he put in, the pull out, the characteristics and attractions y and the location of the nearest pub. It was a huge ott decided to keep on going, both with his paddling ng. This is his first Queensland guide – in fact it’s the first ater paddling guidebook about Queensland to come out s – and it features 65 paddling trips covering the entire omprehensive practical information about each adventure, e all suitable for kayaks, canoes and SUPs, and the each type of craft as an intro for novices. If you live in should check this book out, and for everyone else, here’s visiting.
Fearless • Joe Glickman When Freya Hoffmeister paddled through the heads into Port Phillip Bay after completing her recordbreaking solo circumnavigation of Australia, I was there to meet her. I then spent a couple of days interviewing Freya and experiencing her umber Teutonic traits firsthand. Her achievement was colossal and her undertaking immense. She’d spent 332 days braving shark and croc attacks, traversing sections of deadly coastline with no options to exit, and dealing with the twin horrors of solitude and scale – but getting a true sense of the drama of the trip from her was like pulling teeth. Freya is a first-class paddler and she has more balls than a school roof, but a raconteur she isn’t. I knew there’d be a book about her extraordinary expedition one day, but I only really started looking forward to it when I heard award-winning writer and paddling nutcase Joe Glickman was writing it. I got even more excited when Joe explained how the arrangement had been made: “I made the following deal with her,” he told me. “Your trip, my book. She had zero editorial control. As long as I got the facts right, she agreed to live with the rest. As you can imagine, it didn’t go that smoothly but i was wed to writing what I wanted to write and she had to live with the result.” The result was Fearless, which arrived on my doorstep a couple of months ago and was consumed in a day. I’ve read a lot of adventure books, both for pleasure and to review, and so many of them manage to be truly awful, even when their subject matter is amazing. Fearless is not one of these. It’s a ripsnorter of a read from the outset. Joe traces Freya’s trip from start to finish, but this is anything but a dry diary-style story. He punctuates the narrative with spectacularly colourful (and comprehensively researched) background material about a character who was polarising the paddling world Downunder like no one else had before. With her sometimes salacious blog posts about nudity, claims to be the sexiest woman in sea kayaking and often-arrogant proclamations, the Australian kayaking community couldn’t quite decide whether they loved or loathed her. This book might confuse their emotions about that even more, but they’ll lap up every word. And rightly so. Read it or weep. Price: US$16.95 www.falcon.com
COME HELL OR HIGH WATE
The story behind Congo: The Grand Inga Project
Story Patrick Kinsella Principle Photography Greg von Doersten â€“ gregvondoersten
In 2011, Steve Fisher led four of the planet’s finest whitewater paddlers into the gnashing jaws of the world’s biggest and angriest rapids. Nobody could tell them what arguing with 1.6 million cubic feet of water per second would be like, since everyone who’d tried it before had died in the attempt, but it was time for a new chapter to be written in the history of the Inga Rapids. “It’s funny this kayaking thing – you either seem to be fine, or you die.” That doesn’t sound much like the kind of paddling I do, but then I’m not Steve Fisher, a bloke who has been putting his life on the horizonline for several decades now. But even for Fisher, the risk factor on his latest endeavour – the subject of possibly the most anticipated kayaking film of all time, Congo: The Grand Inga Project, which has just been internationally released – was several thousand notches higher than on anything he’d done in the past. Since they stalled Henry Stanley’s progress down the Congo in 1874 – when the death of his right-hand man during an attempted run prompted the explorer to comment, “It would be insanity in a successor” – the Inga Rapids had become the Eiger of the water world. “There’s nothing shameful in portaging,” conceded Colonel John Blashford-Snell, a British Army officer and highly regarded explorer, who skirted the rapids during his otherwise complete Congo descent a century later. Frenchman Philippe De Dieuleveult heeded neither mans’ words in 1985, and along with his rafting team disappeared forever into the furious mess of waves and whirlpools. After that, no one went near them. That is until Fisher turned up with three mates – Tyler Bradt, Rush Sturges and Benny Marr – four tiny plastic boats, a helicopter, one big audacious plan and some massive balls. What the hell was he thinking? “I’ve done a lot of things in my kayaking career,” says Fisher. “I’ve won lots of races and done hundreds of events. Probably 10
of the moves on the freestyle scoresheet I invented, and on a weekly basis I see a posting on Facebook about some guy running some waterfall that I first did. But guess what – no one remembers any of it. Nothing. And that’s fine. But it would be quite nice to have one flagship item to be remembered by, one significant mark in the history of kayaking. “If one day someone says, ‘Stanley tried to run those rapids in 1874, and Blashford-Snell tried in 1974, Philippe de Dieuleveult tried in 1985, and then Steve Fisher and his team did it in 2011.’ That would be pretty cool.” However, his evident sense of achievement is tempered by more than a pinch of hardearned humility. “Just make sure you don’t write that we conquered the Congo,” he warns me. “Because we didn’t. At best we survived it. And we achieved our goal, which was to navigate those rapids from top to bottom… It was absolutely terrifying. It’s the only time in my life that I’ve ever thought that I was actually going to die.” Fisher was a videographer before he became a professional kayaker, and filmmaking has always been a passion. As important as capturing top-quality vision was for him, however, this project was never about simply producing a piece of paddling pornography. “We were trying to make a historic record of human navigation of the world’s biggest rapids,” he explains. “This section of river has a lot of history behind it. We needed to respect and do justice to those who came before us. A lot of life was lost here. Legendary explorers took meticulous notes, drew maps and created a record of what they did. I had a responsibility to add to what they did rather than try and replace
Image: Mark Anders www.markanders.com
it. Since I’m not a big journal writer, my way of telling our story was by doing the film.” Tellingly, there’s no action section in the film, no segment dedicated to glory shots and highlights. It’s a genuine narrative that follows the team coming together and training, and then tracks their route along the river, from the put-in to the take out. “I explain the lines we took, what we did run, what we didn’t run. We ran the whole river, but we skirted around certain obstacles or we took certain lines that were easier than others, and I put all of it in. Now, if someone wants to go and run this section of river in one day, or run it on a Tuesday wearing a yellow T-shirt, then they can go to our film and build on what we did. People ask me, ‘Do you think someone else is eyeing up these rapids?’ And I say, ‘I sure hope so, and I wish them luck.’ Because that’s the evolution of sports.” Being both film director and expedition leader was a heavy workload to shoulder during an already insanely dangerous venture, and Fisher knows exactly what can happen. “It’s stung me before – when I’ve hopped in my boat and I’m drifting to the lip of a drop and I realise that I didn’t scout it properly because I’ve been setting up a camera.” Conscious of the consequences of such distractions on the Congo, he recruited a crew who were extremely experienced both behind the lens and on big rivers. The co-expedition leader was Peter Meredith, a veteran of the source-to-sea Nile expedition among many other epics. Meredith’s role included safety support on the water and logistics on land, such as sorting out a helicopter and dealing with the authorities in a country where negotiating permits is an acquired skill. “When somebody said, ‘Hey, we need a $2000 bribe right now,’ Pete made the decision,” laughs Fisher. “And that happened plenty. We had about $20,000
of unreceipted, miscellaneous expenses – we called it our facilitation budget.” His two main cameramen – Jared Meehan from New Zealand and Australian Dan Campbell-Lloyd – are both wellaccomplished kayakers themselves, although Campbell broke his back in 2000, ending his paddling career. Extreme risk was to be an ever-present companion while on the water, and Fisher
“’This is the real deal. We’re either going to come sailing out the bottom of this and it’ll be the greatest accomplishment of our lives, or we’re going to die. So we need to make sure that doesn’t happen.” Tyler Bradt selected his kayaking team accordingly. “They needed proper kayaking skills and ballsiness – two very different things. And they needed experience – some of what I call ‘Africa knowhow’ – being able to function in the third world and not freakout when things go wrong. “Tyler, Rush and Benny have travelled a lot, are legitimately very good paddlers and they do some crazy shit. But the one thing that very few kayakers have ever done is paddled into a rapid knowing that they might die; knowing that they’re not quite sure or confident in the line they’re about to run and that the consequence of not getting that line, is death. “I present each guy strongly because it was important for me to build their credibility. I knew we were going to be scared on this trip and I needed people know that these guys aren’t easily scared.”
the real deal,’ he says. ‘We’re either going to come sailing out the bottom of this and it’ll be the greatest accomplishment of our lives, or we’re going to die. So we need to make sure that doesn’t happen.’” Fisher started kayaking when he was six years old. When he was about 10, South African paddler Tim Briggs did the source-to-sea on the Amazon. “He was a mentor and a hero of mine as a kid,” explains Fisher. “That’s when I became aware of expeditions.” “I feel like I’ve always known about these rapids, but it was probably in my early teens that I heard of the Philippe de Dieuleveult expedition, where the seven guys drowned in 1985.” He had been involved in competitive kayaking for his whole life – sprint, slalom, downriver, marathon, freestyle, extreme races – and had won most of what he’d set out to win, but he glimpsed something more when he was chosen to join Scott Lindgren’s team on the Tsangpo River in 2002. “I got a taste of doing a major expedition with major permitting issues and obstacles,” he recalls. “And I thought it was pretty cool.” There had been previous attempts to run the Tsangpo, both of which had resulted in drownings, and his involvement in Lindgren’s successful mission made Fisher think back to those ‘unrunnable rapids’ he’d heard about in the Congo. “I started researching, and in 2007 I raised some money and went to check them out with Pete Meredith. We decided they were runnable.” From there, it took four years to raise the funds and put the plan in place to actually make it happen. “I had the opportunity to do this sooner, but it would have been with other production crews and other people telling my story. I felt like, in the scheme of my kayaking career, this is the story I needed to tell myself.”
“Tyler puts it quite well in the film. ‘This is
Meeting in Africa, the team first paddled together on the Nile for several weeks, running the biggest rapids and testing their gear, which included emergency breathing devices and the chastity belts which Tyler Bradt used on his world-record-breaking 57-metre waterfall drop in 2009. Here they lost the fifth team member, Evan Garcia, who was forced to pull out by a foot injury that refused to heal. Garcia wasn’t the only paddler missing from Fisher’s handpicked crew when they finally faced the rapids. South African kayaker Hendri Coetzee was supposed to be on the Inga trip too, but he was killed by a crocodile in December 2010, while on a kayaking expedition from the source of the White Nile into the Congo.
Neither hippos nor crocodiles posed the greater threat to the kayakers on the Inga project, where the most deadly and unpredictable factor was the water itself. Once in the Congo, the team used the Kinsuka Rapids as a training ground. Although extremely technical, this is a single rapid, not stacked like Inga, but it’s where Fisher came the closest he’d ever been to death. On their fourth run of the rapid, a momentary lapse in concentration saw Fisher sucked straight into the mouth of a huge whirlpool which yawned open behind him. “I honestly thought I was gone,” he relates. “That feeling of... not despair, but all the confidence sucked out of you. I thought, ‘Well this is it, I’m done, what a fuck up...’”
“One thing that very few kayakers have ever done is paddled into a rapid knowing that they might die; knowing that they’re not quite sure or confident in the line they’re about to run and that the consequence of not getting that line, is death.” “We talked about it [the Inga project] a couple of nights before they left on that trip,” recalls Fisher, who had paddled with Coetzee many times before. “I’ve fended off crocodiles on seven separate occasions, with Hendri at my side. It’s funny, but we were always more scared of the hippos – and the hippos are no less scary after his death – but the crocs certainly are a bit more scary now. I always thought that they were kind of curious – the vision of one actually taking action hadn’t really come to me.” “Pete Meredith, my co-expedition leader, was Hendri’s best friend. We gave him a tribute in the film, and mention that he was a part of the original crew.”
“I breathed off my rapid air twice. I took a swim where we’d discussed swimming being the worst option – but in that moment I thought well, if I get out of my kayak now I can stay conscious, and the boys might get me to shore.” It took the team over half an hour to get him to safety. “It gave us a healthy respect for how quickly it can go south,” says Fisher. “The boys were all fighting the mental battle I was fighting, and were obviously scared by it. They knew they had to get back on water, to get some hair of the dog.
“They ran the entire rapid again. I was mentally shaken to the point where it would have been unsafe for me to paddle. At that moment I knew that I may be the expedition leader, but these dudes had come this far, they were running these rapids. I knew I had to buck up, or I’d be watching my dream being lived. “The next day, although it was the last thing I wanted to do, I went back to that very same put-in by the very same rapid. I had to jump in my kayak and peel out into the midst of this 1.5km- to 2km-wide river. I said to the boys, ‘I need to go first, and I need to go alone.’ Before that we’d always been running in pairs or as a group. The goal was just to have a little chat with myself, to remind myself that I’d done a lot of paddling, and to convince myself to keep having fun. “It was the moment of incitement – the part where Rocky gets beaten down on the canvass and the coach is there screaming ‘You can do it!’ Then he looks up and sees his sweetheart in the crowd, and he gets up and makes one final valiant effort. Once I’d done that I was like ‘OK boys, let’s go and do this thing.’ You can see my face changing. And so begins act three.” Nothing could really have prepared the team for what they would face in the full fury of the Inga proper, though, and the fear they must have felt is palpable in the film. From the helicopter footage above the rapids, it’s possible (kind of) to see a way through the churning walls of water. However, from river level the kayakers were virtually running blind through an angry aquatic maze with murder on its mind.
“So that was the first thing, how easy it was to get lost,” explains Fisher. The other thing was the lack of power that we had – we quickly realised that kayaks are too small for a river that vast. We would scout from the shore, pick a line and then you’d hop in the water and realise that you’d just picked a 2km move, and you’re like, ‘well fuck, this is not even possible’. “We had to recalibrate how we read the rapids. Once you get down there you see these slow rising boils ahead of you that just make for an uphill paddle and you think, ‘wow – I can’t go there even if I want to.’ Some of the bigger whirlpools we didn’t even expose ourselves to because they were just…well, indescribable. I don’t think there’s any way to truly capture what it feels like to be looking over at those whirlpools, or what it sounds like. “You can be a very accomplished professional kayaker, or professional athlete of any extreme sport, and never truly risk your life – or at least knowingly risk your life – and that’s where this expedition was completely different to most other things that I have ever done.” “Maybe a handful of other times I have paddled into rapids knowing that if I fuck up, I could die – but only a handful. On this trip we felt that way on numerous occasions every day, which really took a toll on our mental state. You can see that in our faces as we go down the river. “When I made it to the end I had tears in my eyes, and I thought that was because it was the end of an era in my life – it’s something I’d worked on for so long, planned so hard. But then I saw there were tears in the other guys’ eyes too.”
Those who knew Fisher in his younger days recall a wild character, who partied as hard off the water as he hucked on it. Although he is still prepared to take on incredible risks in the pursuit of a project, it seems his approach is now less that of a paddling punk, and more one of a professional adventurer. “I just got married,” he tells me. “When I met Lauren my wife, she immediately became the most important thing in my life, and kayaking just became a thing I do. That was another reason I had to get this thing done because I couldn’t have this hanging over my head.” “Our families know that what we do is dangerous. They rely on me to make good, smart decisions, and they trust that I’ll be safe. The trouble with going to the Congo was that I knew that running those rapids was actually not a good decision. On a day-to-day basis, we all knew that the decision to run this rapid was totally unjustifiable. “Maybe the family around me were OK with it because they didn’t fully know what we were getting into. When I took my swim, I didn’t tell Lauren. I needed to fight that mental battle on my own and I didn’t need another fear factor brought into it. The first time she knew I took that swim was when she watched the film.” The level of responsibility that comes with leading an expedition, rather than just joining one, has naturally led to an evolution in mentality. “When we were leaving Uganda, I had to go to one of my best friends and say, ‘OK dude, here’s the keys to the safe. I’ve got a hundred and something thousand dollars in my bank account… If the shit goes down, here’s the cheques, here’s who they go to, and here’s the wire transfer details to get stuff to Lauren. Take care of all this before you tell anyone I’ve died.’ “That’s when you really start fighting the mental battle about taking real risks. That’s the difference from living out the trunk of a car and hucking waterfalls and going to some place and pulling off a big expedition. "Then you call your parents, and you know in your mind that this could be goodbye. In that video of Tyler running the worldrecord waterfall, he phones his mum and leaves a voicemail. Most people have a laugh at that. But anyone that's been in that position knows that there's nothing funny about that phone call at all. "We all called loved ones before we got on the Congo. I called Lauren and she was like 'OK, 'bye, don't forget to put sunscreen on.' That was a little joke among the boys; that was the last thing she said before we set off. And of course, when she saw the footage, she was like 'why didn't you tell me it was so burley?'"
If he'd been born 100 years ago, I'm curious to know whether Steve would have been the guy who went off waterfall in a barrel, or the bloke who walked across Africa. "In this era you get to be a combination of the two," he says. "Obviously the buzz is something I'm after, but as I've grown older I've taken much more of an interest in the politics of the regions I go to, and to the geography and the history and to the concept of doing something that makes an impact, something that sticks." "You realise that all the stunts you did in your younger days that seemed like the biggest deal at the time, they just fade away to nothing. Which is fine, it doesn't mean you're filled with regret, it just means you start looking for a bit more. That's why you seek out a bit more of a meaning for the expedition and to tell a story and to put it into context, which is why this film is not just punk rock music with action." The completion of such epic ambitions can leave an emptiness in some people, or create a desire to take on something even bigger, but Fisher says he feels neither emotion. "I don't have this sudden vacuum in my life – I have this film, and that's the focus of my time at the moment." "In terms of kayaking – I don't expect to find a bigger river to run, because it doesn't exist. I'm not going to go looking for a world
record waterfall, because Tyler holds the world record and it's 186 feet, and I have no intention of running something that tall. That said, I have a decent little bucketlist of less audacious kayaking missions that I haven't been able to focus on at all over the last few years. "I edited the film for over six months. By the end of it, the joys of this accomplishment were long gone. Putting it in front of audiences and getting the responses we're getting brings the fun back into it. Getting a proper emotional response from people has got me fired up to learn more and develop my filmmaking skills." "I see expeditions and projects for the future that aren't about kayaking – that could be equally as difficult, but in a totally different way. I want to push my cinematography. I'm not done with kayaking, but my kayaking is combining itself with my filmmaking more than ever before. I have got more stories I want to tell." To read our full interview with Steve Fisher, visit paddlemag.com Buy the film through ingaproject.com and you'll be directly funding Steve's next story, whatever the hell it might be, or a least giving him some beer money in return for such a great film.
“I’ve fended off crocodiles on seven separate occasions, with Hendri at my side. It’s funny, but we were always more scared of the hippos – and the hippos are no less scary after his death – but the crocs certainly are a bit more scary now.”
SKILLS CLINIC • DOCTOR’S ORDERS
The Doctor, a 27.5km downwind race held annually between Rottnest Island and Sorrento Beach in W names in ocean ski racing. It’s high on the wish list for all aspirant paddlers, but have you got what it ta Dawid Mocke, dispenses some advice on what it takes to do the Doctor… Manage your expectations and maximise your experience The Doctor is a full-on downwind race. It crosses over openocean and conditions can get very wild in the channel. I would recommend that anyone signing up for the Doctor should have done at least one 25km downwind paddle in winds in excess of 20 knots. If you know you are inexperienced, then do the race with a buddy who paddles at a similar speed, so both of you can keep an eye out for each other.
Preparation Ideally, in the months leading up to the race, you need to do at least one downwind paddle per week over a distance of at 15km or more. Then you can get away with paddling 5–6 hours a week, if you are doing other fitness training too. Ideal training conditions As the saying goes, “train like you race and race like you train”. Try to simulate the race conditions by making sure you are hot and ensuring you do enough paddling in choppy water. Having said that, it’s harder to train hard in choppy conditions so you need at least two flat-water paddles a week.
By: Dawid Mocke Images: Kate Brockhurst
Western Australia, is one of Australia’s premier paddling events, which always attracts the biggest akes to go the distance? Here, current Surf Ski World Champion and a former winner of the race,
Focus areas The number one priority in getting prepared for a race like the Doctor is to build up your stamina levels. After that, concentrate on improving your downwind skills.
Refining your skills for the open ocean Learning to surf a wave that breaks on the beach is a very important skill set to have before moving onto downwind paddling. It’s what walking is to running – you can’t do one before doing the other. The ability to paddle for a swell and then ride that swell at heightened speeds is exactly the capability you need out in the open ocean when going downwind.
The biggest difference is that, when you’re paddling downwind you never look for the next run behind you – you always look ahead and in front of you. Also, you are constantly trying to maintain a high speed by catching one swell after the next, and not just one wave like you would on a beach. When going downwind, one of the biggest mistakes people make is riding a swell until they stop and then they begin paddling again. Always try to maintain the high boat speed by catching another swell. In a race like the Doctor the wind will more than likely be coming over your right shoulder, which means you need to focus catching runs on the right side, towards the coast, to avoid being blown off course. So there’s lots of zigging and then zagging.
SKILLS CLINIC • DOCTOR’S ORDERS
Local conditions The wind in Perth typically blows at a consistent speed, so it’s not very gusty. Also, the ocean floor between the island and the mainland is pretty shallow. This sets up fantastically steep and fastmoving but smallish swells that are easy to catch. Because you can get up to such great speeds you are able to use the surf ski’s forward momentum to great effect in linking one swell with the next.
Highlights and hot tips The Doctor is a channel crossing, and channel crossings are always exciting because, very soon after leaving, you’ll find yourself very far from land. And that’s quite an adventure. A very important thing to do during channel crossings, however, is to establish a landmark on the other side. I can’t stress enough just how crucial that is – you need to be aiming for something that you can easily see.
Nutrition and Hydration The Doctor is a relatively short athletic endeavour, so I wouldn’t say you need too much fluid; at most you probably need 1.5 litres. The problem is not dehydration but a drop in blood sugar levels, which can lead to ‘blowing’ or hitting the wall. To maintain glucose levels in your blood, your body needs carbohydrates. The carbohydrate is converted to glycogen, which then fuels your body as it pumps oxygenated blood to all the working muscles. Carbohydrate drinks work well, but make sure you mix them properly and that they’re not too watered down. If this is too sweet for you, take water to drink and use energy gels for your carbohydrate levels instead. A rule of thumb is 1 gel per hour taken with water. Your body needs water to transport nutrients, but if you have too much your cells can get bloated. Generally you’ll
loose 200ml to 500ml of fluids per hour (I would err on the lesser amount). An easy (but not scientific) way to figure how much fluid you loose is to weigh yourself before and then after a one-hour training session; any grams you have lost were probably made up of mostly fluids. That’s your guideline to what you need to replace.
FIVE POINTERS FOR DOWNWIND VIRGINS 1) When you’re new to downwind paddling, you need to focus on controlling your ski while moving forward at a higher speed than you are familiar with. This means mastering rudder control and taking strokes at a higher cadence. This you can practise on flatwater by doing some sets of highcadence paddling somewhere near the end of a training session. 2) In surf conditions, practise catching waves as they roll into the beach, keeping your speed up as you ride the wave.
and clear illustrations and images, which clearly demonstrate the skills being discussed. Dawid and Nikki – who have been operating their Surfskischool in Cape Town for 10 years, introducing over 3000 people to the sport in the process – have also produced an excellent instructive DVD, the Surfski Beginner’s Guide, which is an invaluable learning tool for paddlers embracing surf and ocean skiing. More details on both can be found here www.surfskischool.com
DOCTOR WHO’S WHO After a decade of racing, the roll of honour looks like this 2002
Jono Chalmers (AUS)
Dean Gardiner (AUS)
Nathan Baggaley (AUS)
Oscar Chalupsky (ZA)
Oscar Chalupsky (ZA)
Herman Chalupsky (ZA)
Clint Pretorius (ZA)
Clint Robinson (AUS)
Dawid Mocke (ZA)
5) Lastly, practising how to remount your ski quickly and easily after a capsize is a very good idea.
Tim Jacobs (AUS)
Tim Jacobs (AUS)
Get more expert advice from Dawid (and Nikki) Mocke with the book Surfski with the Pros by Kevin Brunette, featuring essential information for amateur paddlers, from the very basics of getting started in ski paddling right through to racing in testing downwind conditions. Each chapter is accompanied by a series of very useful
The Doctor next takes place on Saturday 19 January 2013, as the marquee event in the week-long Doctor Festival of Paddle Sports, which also features the Mandurah Duel (14km) and the Finn Kayaks Coastal Challenge (24km). To enter or get more information click here.
3) The other important skill is maintaining stability in choppy conditions. Here you need to be particularly focused on the balance basics – keep your eyes facing forwards, push down with your heels while keeping your hips quite still, and try to avoid tensing your body. 4) It’s also extremely important to practise using a leash while you’re paddling.
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KNOWLEDGE â€˘ 2 MILES OUT
2 MILES OUT Getting geared up for paddling offshore By: Rohan Klopfer (with Pat Kinsella)
Thereâ€™s nothing quite like pointing your sea kayak at a perpendicular angle to terra firma and paddling out into the big blue ocean. For many, crossing a passage of open water to explore offshore islands, knock off a long training run, or reach a distant point is what sea kayaking is all about. However there are serious considerations to be factored in whenever you leave the relative safety of the coastline.
This may come as a rude shock to some people, but – in Victorian waters at least – if you are paddling more than 2 nautical miles offshore, you are required by marine law to carry with you certain stipulated pieces of safety equipment. We don’t want to come across like your mum, but there’s a solid reason for this. Can you name this required gear? Has it even crossed your mind to check how far you’re venturing out to sea? Have you got a contingency plan if everything suddenly goes south? As all experienced paddlers know, on open water your situation can change dramatically with a simple change in the wind, drop in temperature or an elementary mistake by you or someone you’re with. Laws differ widely according to where you are, but no matter what state of Australia you live in, or where you do your paddling, you need to be equipped to deal with any eventuality. In this practical and educational short video, Paddlemag has teamed up with Rohan Knopfler from East Coast Kayaking to talk you through what you should be carrying on your person and what else needs to be stowed in your kayak every time you venture more than 2 nautical miles out into the ocean. take it as you will, but following this advice could one day save your life, or the life of a loved one.
WATCH Essential Off-Shore Sea Kayaking Safety
Equipment required when off-shore paddling in Victorian waters, as stipulated by maritime law »» Personal flotation device (pfd) »» Waterproof, buoyant torch »» Electronic bilge pump system (which operates hands-free, allowing you to continue to paddle), or a manual bilge system »» 2 X hand-held red distress flares »» 2 X hand-held orange smoke signals »» Compass »» Spare paddle »» 406 Mhz emergency position indicating radio beacon (epirb) »» 360-Degree white light (if you’re paddling after dark) »» Highly recommended additional safety equipment »» Mobile phone and appropriate waterproof case »» Watch »» Pea-less marine whistle (for communication in low visibility) »» Vhf (very high frequency) radio »» 15-Metre floating towline »» Short-line tow rope »» Safety knife »» Baseplate compass »» Paddle float »» Paddle leash »» Parachute rocket »» V-sheet »» Sea dye »» Float plan »» Food and water (in appropriate quantities for the journey you’re undertaking) »» Triage first-aid kit »» Spare clothing – fleece, merino or polypropylene (not cotton) »» Basic repair kit
HEALTH • SEA SORE
Even the most experienced paddlers are sometimes let down own bodies reacting in an way they never expected, and there more frustrating than being in good physical shape for a race o only for it to become a nightmare due to an eruption of blood Prevention is a million times better than cure for skin problems six experts relate their experiences and give you some tips on h skin deterioration on those precious paddling palms
AMANDA RANKIN has been kayaking competitively for almost 20 years. She represented Australia at the Athens Olympic Games in 2004, where she contested the K1 500-metres and the K4 500-metres. She’s now a kayaking coach, and runs paddle Perfect. Blisters and calluses on hands are one of the not-soattractive side effects of paddling (especially for a female). I have had many restless nights with throbbing blisters on my hands that have festered into weeping and puss-filled sores. Often called ‘badges of honour’, our blistered hardened hands are evidence of guts, determination and hard work. For recreational paddlers and adventure racers – if you don’t throw on some gloves at the first sign of a blister,
unfortunately there is no turning back. But even elite paddlers, who can often be out on the water eight to 10 times a week, find that their hands take a beating. And for those paddling at a competitive level, there is no stopping for the occasional blister – the only option is to put it out of your mind and paddle through the pain. Many things can cause blisters. If you are mainly a saltwater paddler and then swap to fresh water, for example, this change can trigger blisters even on the toughest of hands. I discovered this while training on the saltwater canals of the Gold Coast for sprint kayaking and then racing on fresh water at the Penrith International Regatta Centre in Sydney. Anyone who has used a kayak machine or paddling ergo at the gym knows you can’t paddle much longer than 30 mins before your hands start to get blisters. The reason for this is that your hands are dry. Over long distances, especially in flat and dry
conditions, I dip my often to ensure the of playing the piano handgrip on the pa two factors that my iconic 404km Vic S my teammates all s my hands held up p
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y hands into the water every so ey stay wet and subtle. I also think o, or ‘fairy fingers’, to keep my addle light. I believe it’s due to those y hands held up so well during the Super Murray River Marathon, where suffered terribly with blisters while perfectly.
ways go so smoothly. I made the ping my paddle for grip the day prior on Island this year. Big Mistake. I tore s during the first 16km ocean ski back it up the next day by racing a ould have known better.
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DAVE CORNTHWAITE spent 68 days of last year SUPing the entire length of the Mississippi River, paddling 2404 miles (3846km) from source to sea. Check out a video of his expedition here.
Dave’s Advice on preventing blisters: 1.
Toughen your hands up by doing a lot of paddling before a journey. Blisters happen before callouses form, so get on the water and prepare your hands.
2. Wet gloves don’t help you avoid blisters. If it’s raining, paddle bare handed. Gloves are fine until they get damp. 3. On the Mississippi River I rotated my grip to alleviate pressure on new blister hotspots, which allowed them to become callouses that stayed with my on every joint and knuckle throughout the journey.
BLISTER TRIGGERS »» Changing from saltwater paddling to freshwater and vice versa »» Changing paddles, applying grip or adding locators to paddles »» Holding the paddle too tightly during windy or unfavourable conditions »» Poor paddling technique »» Paddling in dry conditions where hands dry out »» Returning to paddling after a long break.
HEALTH • SEA SORE paddling in different locations you need to keep as many familiar elements as you can. Using a paddle that you’re used to and comfortable with will help you keep your hands in good shape, and therefore allow you to race better.
MATT O’GAREY is an elite ocean ski paddler, sponsored by Stellar. He also runs Paddle 2 Fitness on the Coffs Coast, NSW A recent trip to Hawaii to take part in the 53km Ocean Ski World Championships saw 18 months of training, development and preparation come completely undone with one simple thing that I never saw coming: blisters on my hands.
Make sure your paddle is well set up with solid grip tape so your hands remain in the correct position on the shaft at all times. It’s somewhat subjective, and some people done like to use tape at all, but for me that involves dividing the paddle into thirds, placing my middle finger on the two markers and taping 2cm in from that. So, on a 210cm paddle, your middle fingers will each be on 70cm, and you’ll end up with tape set at 72cm from each end.
Kiwi multisport and adventure racing STEVE GURNEY invented his bliste Goo’ after doing a multiday race in C – although it wasn’t his hands that w initially.
If you use a paddling block, ensure it is well secured and doesn’t move.
Best advice for toughening up hands for a paddle t As I wrote in the last edition of Paddlemag, I was paddling up to 150km a week in the build up to Molokai, and I thought my hands were tough as nails. Blisters were certainly something I never thought would have an impact on the result, but it destroyed my race. The biggest hurdle I faced in Hawaii was the difference between training in Australia through winter in a cold climate and then arriving four days before the event to race 53km in a warm climate on warm water with a slightly different salt content. With that in mind, here are some preventative measures you can adopt to ensure your hands stand up to the stresses of paddling: Always use the same paddle. Take it with you everywhere. When you’re
If you’re racing in a warmer climate than you’re used to, your hands will need time to adjust. In a warmer climate your hands will be softer and blister up quite quickly. If possible, give your hands time to adjust to the different water temperatures; usually seven to 10 days is enough. Something I picked up for next time… Vaseline! A thin coat on your hands before the race (allowing plenty of time for it to absorb) prevents blisters. Some paddlers even have a blob on the back of their neck during longer races that they can access easily if they feel their hands degrading….
ROZ SAVAGE has rowed so
earning four Guinness World or two about blisters.
For blister prevention, I’ve alw kangaroo skin. I hope vegeta prevent open blisters. The do about three weeks on averag across three oceans and 15,0
g legend er busting ‘Gurney Canada’s Yukon were in trouble
“We had 24 hours on the Yukon river in Canadian canoes, followed by five days trekking and mountain biking,” say Steve. “So you can imagine how concerned we were when we got off the paddle leg and discovered we’d chaffed our bum cracks so bad that we had to duct tape them apart in order to continue.” However, it works just as effectively on palms as it does on posteriors, according to team Down Under Dogs, who travelled from Cairns to win the Yukon River Quest this year (see page 26 for the story), and who swear by the Goo. But you’ve got to use it correctly, cautions Steve: “It’s not useful to smear it all over your hands and paddle shaft just before you go out, because your hands will slide all over the show. Apply it the night before the race, 12 hours before completely coat hands in it, especially where blisters normally start. It permeates
the skin a bit. At breakfast – so round two hours before the race – I’d put another layer on. It’s more about preventing moisture getting into your skin and making it soft, rather than it is about making anything slippery. Just like muscles, skin needs to be conditioned and trained for long paddling events. But for a 24-hour event, you can’t do much training of that duration. The main thing is blisters and callouses. Most people get blisters on the pads of their palms, where their fingers start, and on the first segment of their fingers, and on the first joint of the thumb, so those are the areas that will toughen up with training. The Goo prevents blisters, it doesn’t cure them. It not only makes paddling more fun, but you can go further and faster when it’s not painful. To finish first, first you must finish.
trip: “piss on ‘em!”
olo across the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, d records in the process and learning more than a thing
ways used gloves made by Kakadu Golf Gloves out of arians won’t hate me for this, but they really do help ownside is that one pair doesn’t last very long at sea – ge. But I wouldn’t go to sea without them. I’ve used them 000 miles of rowing, so I do feel qualified to say this!
JAMES CASTRISSION is one half of Cas and Jonesy, a two-man team of Aussie Explorers who, in 2007-08 spent some 62 days at sea, paddling from Australia to New Zealand. Best advice for toughening up hands for a paddle trip: “piss on ‘em!” Ever since we paddled down the length of the Murray 10 years ago, we’ve found the best way to toughen up our hands was to pee on them – not only does it help to toughen them up, it supercharges the development of callouses”
PROFILE • MICHAEL O'DONNELL
2012 is a milestone year for Mission Kayak NZ’s managing director Michael O’Donnell. He has now been making plastic kayaks for 30 years, but the story extends even further back for this former New Zealand national slalom champion. Here we trace his twin passions for paddling moving water and high-quality engineering, back past their confluence, to their very source.
When you’ve been kayaking as long as Michael O’Donnell, it’s almost inevitable that your time on the water would have involved an element of DIY at the beginning – and putting your life in the hands of homemade equipment is always an adrenaline sport. “When I started paddling we made our own gear,” recalls Mike. “We had to. There was no alternative. We used to make spray decks from vinyl and secure and tension them with curtain wire – because you couldn’t buy bungies back then.
– even the ones that didn’t qualify – and they worked and saved up for two years to get there. “You had to pay your own way back then,” he says. “In the end about 10 of us went over to Yugoslavia. We spent four months going all around Europe, paddling.”
“I nearly drowned in a slalom comp in 1974. I found myself in a situation where I couldn’t roll and I couldn’t get out. We were all macho about it back then, and we had no pull-cords. I finally found some slack and managed to get the skirt off, and as I came up a big hand came down and pulled my head out of the water.”
The hard graft paid off for O’Donnell, who was crowned New Zealand National Slalom Champion in 1975 – although, in typical self-depreciating style, he claims that this was only because his brother Kevin was injured at the time.
The incident came at a time when O’Donnell was training (and saving) hard. In 1973, he and a group of boating buddies made a pact that they would all go to the 1975 World Championships in Europe
Another member of the group that went to Europe was Michael Fletcher. In one of the most enduring relationships in the industry, O’Donnell has worked with Fletcher since they made paddles together at school in Palmerston North.
O’Donnell testing to ensure a tonne load. “When Kevlar was fairly new, some composite boats were folding round rocks, trapping the paddler. In the plastics we came up with the concept of a 'Lifecage' where the cockpit area was reinforced with fibreglass pieces and strong foam blocks went down to the footrest area.”
PROFILE • MICHAEL O'DONNELL “We used to make a pair of paddles a week at school and sell them in order to buy some gear for ourselves,” he says. “Back then, $10 went a long way. That’s how we got into it.” It didn’t stop at skirts and paddles either; soon entire boats were being made in backroom-style production lines. “People were bringing boats back from Europe and clubs would copy them,” O’Donnell laughs. Everyone was doing it.” “I remember being downstairs in the Palmerstone North Canoe Club making boats on a Saturday nights while there were weddings going on upstairs. They must have wondered what the hell the glue smell was. You can still see the resin droplets on the floor now.” The two Michaels are still making kayaks in Palmerstone North to this day, but O’Donnell’s other calling, engineering, took him to university in Christchurch on the South Island. “Kayaking and engineering seem to go hand in hand,” says Kiwi multisport legend Steve Gurney, a friend and sometime paddling partner of O’Donnell’s, who is also an engineer and alumni of Christchurch University. “Mike is a paddler first, but he’s an engineer as well. I started kayaking when I was at engineering school and I joined a kayak club at Canterbury University. Probably the strongest club in New Zealand was the university kayaking club, and it was full of engineers. “Paddling suits Mike’s style – he’s very well planned, very intelligent, and that’s the way he conducts himself and his sport. He likes to put connections together. Right now he’s into gliding – he’s found another passion that can combine his engineering mind with precision and his way of organising stuff.” For some years, the paddler portion of O’Donnell won out over everything else. In 1979, he started a tourist business, leading 3-4 day canoe safaris down the Wanganui River. “I was a quite the pioneer in terms of adventure and luxury camping tourism,” he grins. “But
I wanted to expand into leading whitewater trips while I was still physically able to paddle the rivers. I had great local knowledge of where to put in and pull out, when to portage and so on. Eventually I took two groups of Americans. And it was really hard…a bit of a nightmare really!” But by 1981, the engineer half of O’Donnell’s brain had realised the potential of plastic boats. “First I started bringing in Perception boats, but then in 1982, I began manufacturing my own plastic boats, under company name Current Craft.” “I designed and made three boats in that first year: the Endura, the Minnow and an open canoe. It was a big gamble. At that time about 1000 fibreglass boats a year were being made and sold by backyard outfits; we had to convince people that plastic was the way to go, and to try and sell at least 1000 boats ourselves.” The company diversified into lots of things. They made a lot of paddling accessories – such as 3D life jackets, helmets and shaped foam inserts – They also made a lot of products that had nothing to do with kayaking at all, such as plastic bins. All the time, though, the boat business was the main focus – everything else was done in the name of diversification and financial stability, but designing boats was always the passion. And it was a passion that paid off. In 1987 the company sold its first million dollars worth of kayaks. “Kayaking is about thinkers,” says Gurney. It attracts people who like to understand hydrodynamics – people who like to be able to say: ‘right, if I carve that wave and into that eddy this is how the boat is going to behave, and if I modify the boat to have this, and modify the paddle to have that...’ They’re always strategizing about what’s going to happen, what are the consequences.” Sometimes those consequences can be deadly serious. In 1997, Gurney and O’Donnell raced alongside one another in the Cameron Highlands Kayak Epic in Malaysia – an event that turned out to be so full-on that a
O’Donnell doing an ender at Fulljames in 1983. “We were testin to check the front pillar could stan the pressure. The old boats did good loops as they were so long. You could get totally airborne.
competitor died on one of the rapids. They were paddling plastic Wavehopper kayaks made by O’Donnell, and at the outset Gurney thought they were at a disadvantage because everyone else was in fibreglass boats. The Wavehoppers did them proud over a very challenging course, however, with Gurney winning and O’Donnell placing fourth. “Mike’s very much an innovator,” says Gurney. “An early adopter if you like. He’s been at forefront of kayak design. He’s, in a business sense as well as with boat designs. He comes up with an idea and he’s good at articulating it, draw a sketch and pass it on to someone else to go and complete. “He cuts through the bullshit and figures out what you actually need to do, and what are fun things to do. He knew paddling an international race was a fun thing to do, but he also wanted to build business contacts over there. He’s a strategist.” In 2000, O’Donnell came up with a new strategy, severing his relationship with Perception and rebranding everything with a new name: Mission. Under this logo he continues to make boats that open up the pursuit of paddling to almost everyone. Where his generation were building their own whitewater boats and wedging themselves into them as tight as Inuits (who used to sew themselves in), now anyone can pick up a plastic boat for an affordable price and begin paddling with zero experience.
range of skill levels and paddling preferences, from the high-performing, expedition-capable Eco Bezhig sea kayak right through to the kid-friendly Squirt. And while the Eco Bezhig might sit at the top of the triangle, the Squirt is their highest selling boat. “The market is different now,” he agrees. “The kayaking industry has matured and become mainstream. In the old days, if I saw a car with a kayak on it I would flash my lights, stop and have a chat. Now I just count the boats to see how many are mine. I can recognise one I’ve designed a mile off.” But engineer in him demands that his designs need to remain easy on the eye as well as on the water. “Boats should be good looking,” he says emphatically. “I believe in exploring the extremes of possibility. I like smooth and streamlined shapes, not chunky looking things. A kayak should look good on a car. “If a plastic boat is cheap but ugly and crap, it’ll go to waste. People will buy it, but they won’t use it. That’s bad for everyone. Bad for then environment and bad for the industry.” After three decades of production, opening up the pursuit to many thousands of paddlers, and having spent a lifetime on the water, O’Donnell remains more than anything else a kayaker. “I paddle at least once a week,” he tells me. “I still paddle my old wooden K1. And I paddle everything I make. Over the last 30 years, if I hadn’t paddled I would have gone mad.”
These days Mission make boats for a wide
O’Donnell paddling an early model kayak, a Dura, on one of the bigger drops on the Rangitikei.
Yeah, you could just take your kayak, sit-on-top
usual, and put in your standard few kays going u
just being outside, and you might even spot a d
intriguing waterways out there waiting to be pa
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paddling trail guides for all the inspiration and
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e trail guide
p or paddle-board down to the local beach as
up and down that familiar coastline. Itâ€™s great
dolphin. But you know there are some more
addled - rivers you can link together to do a
ing with birdlife that youâ€™ve never explored.
how will you know where you can put-in and
ost-paddle debrief? Check out our series of
d information you need to get out there and
TAVA WATERWAYS • GLENLYON DAM
Waterways Words + Photographs by Scott Rawstorne
GLENLYONDAM ESSENTIALS waterway: Glenlyon Dam REGION:
Glenlyon is a stunning sheet of blue silk, trailed through rolling hills of shining silver-leaved stringybark and fluffy cypress pine. It is true that this waterway was created by a dam, but it’s more Marilyn Monroe than Norma Jean, and deserves a much more glamorous name.
Pike Creek Reservoir is another slightly better name for Glenlyon Dam. It comes from the stream that was dammed here in 1976 to store water for crop irrigation. Pike Creek is part of the ‘Border Rivers’ system; a series DISTANCE: 20km of waterways on the border between Queensland and New South Wales TIME: 4 hours that run west off the Great Dividing Range, flow into the Darling River, and continue on into the Murray. It's incredible to think that there's a direct link start: Boat ramp, Glenlyon Dam Road, Glenlyon between here and the Great Australian Bight. Water that wets your blade today in Queensland’s Granite Belt could one day help to desalinate The GPS: 28 57’ 42.67” S, 151 28’ 9.23” E Coorong in South Australia. Darling Downs & Granite Belt, Queensland
Finish: Return to start PARKING: Large car park TOILETS: Near start CONDITIONS: Open, inland lake, some heavy traffic
Another connection between Glenlyon Dam and the rivers downstream is the mighty Murray cod. This carnivorous predator of the deep is the largest Australian fish to spend the whole of its life in fresh water. It regularly grows to over one metre in length, and the largest on record was an amazing 1.8 metres long and weighed a colossal 113kg. Once found extensively throughout the Murray–Darling Basin, loss of habitat and overfishing has sadly led to the Murray cod becoming a critically endangered species. Most of the remaining populations are now in stocked reservoirs, and there’s a thriving one here thanks to the efforts of the Glenlyon Dam Fish Restocking Group. This lake is as serene as it is beautiful. Kangaroos, wallabies, and deer can all be seen moving silently between the black fibrous trunks of the stringybark
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st, and the only voices are those of carolling magpies, chattering stlebirds, and chirping red-rumped parrots. I would love to say that dlers always have this heavenly haven to ourselves, but we share our ourite places with boats of all types, and this one is popular with those of fast moving water-ski variety. Luckily most of the loud stuff takes place on kends and during school holidays and is easily avoided by those seeking tle bit of peace.
-made lakes usually look their best when 100% full, but this one saves a ple of special treats for those who come at other times. The limestone ctures of the ‘The Caves’ can be found at the base of the most northerly nd, and the steep cliffs of ‘The Gorge’ are in the south west arm, but unless come with diving gear you’ll only see them when the water level is low, in the mid-1990s when a long period of drought resulted in the dam ding just 5% of its total capacity.
nlyon Dam is a one-and-half-hour drive from Stanthorpe and just one hour m Texas and Tenterfield. The best place to launch is the boat ramp in the thwest corner of the lake. This is right next door to the Tourist Park, where can stay the night. In the morning, drop into the welcoming kiosk for a paddle snack.
lake is 29km from end to end, so it is possible to take on a 60km return if you’re up for a challenge. Otherwise you might prefer to take the ificantly less taxing 20km tour. Both are stunning.
MORE INFORMATION PADDLE GEAR & ADVICE: Global Paddler 0413 756 414 globalpaddler.com.au
BED: Glenlyon Dam Tourist Pk, Glenlyon Dam Rd, Glenlyon (02) 6737 5266
FOOD: Bjays Steakhouse, 14 High St, Texas (07) 4653 1300
PUB/HOTEL: Stockman Hotel, 3 High St, Texas (07) 4653 1310
OTHER PADDLES CLOSE BY: Lake Coolmunda, Lake Leslie This paddle trail was supplied by the Global Paddler. For a map to accompany this trail, more information about surrounding paddles, and many more options, visit www.globalpaddler.com.au
TAVA WATERWAYS • SHOALHAVEN RIVER
ShoalhavenR ESSENTIALS waterway: Shoalhaven River REGION: Illawarra, NSW DISTANCE: 15km each way – Fossickers Flat and back TIME: 3 hours each way (ideal for an overnight excursion)
start: Tallowa Dam, Tallowa Dam Road, Morton National GPS: 34 46’ 10.75” S, 150 18’ 57.38” E Finish: Return to start PARKING: Plenty TOILETS: Near start CONDITIONS: Sheltered, inland river, light traffic, some shallow areas
CAMPING: Available at Fossickers Flat GETTING THERE: Directions to Brunswick Heads are available at maps.google.com.au
The hardest thing about writing a guide for this place is doing it justice. There’s something very special about Shoalhaven Gorge – a communion with nature that rejuvenates your spirit and makes your heart sing. The anticipation starts to build before you even see the water. Driving down Tallowa Dam Road from Kangaroo Valley you catch glimpses of the magnificent escarpment that lines Shoalhaven Gorge and you know you’re in for an incredible adventure. Fossickers Flat, the furthest point of the trip, is 15km upstream from the start. Due to the distance from Tallowa Dam, most people stay overnight and return the next day. There are four or five great campsites. No showers or toilets or anything like that, but plenty of room to pitch a tent and boil a billy. If that’s what you plan to do, make sure to take some extra warm gear as the sun disappears over the top of the gorge pretty early on. Not long after getting on the water, the sheer majesty of the surroundings washes over you, leaving you sitting entranced in your boat. Even speaking seems sacrilegious. The beauty of paddling through Shoalhaven Gorge is enhanced by the fact that the only other people are paddlers, and there aren’t many of them. This is a water supply managed by the Sydney Catchment Authority and to keep it pure they don’t allow motorboats. Also, the steep walls of the gorge make it impossible to get in by car and extremely hard on foot. Just after you pass the entrance to Cumburmurra Creek, you enter the ‘Boulevard of Broken Trees’. This is an area where land that existed on the river’s edge prior to the introduction of the dam is now fully submerged.
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the trunks of former great trees remain, standing tall from beneath waters surface as eerily beautiful reminders of a past era.
ut 7km into the trip, the river sweeps to the right and the landscape ibly more open on the left. This is a natural amphitheatre in which coustics are perfect for listing to birdcalls. Bellbirds seem to be ywhere. If you notice a number of different sounds coming from the place, it's more than likely you're being entertained by a lyrebird, h has the amazing ability to mimic anything it hears.
e’s a comfortable grassy area on the left bank that is the perfect to relax quietly and listen to the amazing concert. Day-trippers often e here for a while before turning around and heading back.
MORE INFORMATION PADDLE GEAR & ADVICE: Global Paddler 0413 756 414 www.globalpaddler.com.au
BED: Kangaroo Valley Tour Park, Moss Vale Rd, Kangaroo Valley 1300 559 977 FOOD: Blind Toucan Café, 165 Moss Vale Rd, Kangaroo Valley (02) 4465 1676 PUB/HOTEL:: Friendly Inn Hotel, 159 Moss Vale Rd, Kangaroo Valley (02) 4465 1355
e of the other wildlife is more easily seen than heard. A family of s often forages for food on the southern shore, their presence in this ingly inaccessible area a clear mark of their superior climbing ability.
OTHER PADDLES CLOSE BY: Currambene Creek,
ps of sparrows dart around, sometimes coming right up to your boat. seem so playful that it's hard to tell whether they’re out looking for that have strayed too far from the shore or just having fun.
This paddle trail was supplied by the Global Paddler. For a map to accompany this trail, more information about sur-
rds the end of the outward leg, campsites will appear on both the nd the right, each with its own sandy landing area. The temptation try and make it to the furthest one, but water levels will determine many can be reached and whether it' s possible to get all the way to ckers Flat without having to negotiate an oncoming rapid. Settle in id afternoon and you can enjoy watching the last rays of sunshine cut ss the peaceful valley.
rounding paddles, and many more options, visit www.globalpaddler.com.au
ONE Running Upper Cherry Creek â€“ photograph by Lachie Carracher
TWO Mark Gibbins, paddling his Think Uno Max Elite off the coast of Sydney
ew O’Regan paddling the Molokai hannel, photo by Nina Malmström
FOUR Tim Wallace paddling the Snowy River between Charlotte’s Pass and Guthega Pondage - Australia’s highest creek. Photo by Grant Schuster. The crew did four rivers in five days – Murray Gates on the Indi, Ski Tube to Trout Farm on the Thredbo, Munyang Power Station to Island Bend on the Snowy and then Charlotte’s Pass to Guthega Pondage on the Snowy – with one day of skiing thrown in.
Paddlemag is an e-zine for paddlers of all persuasions, from sea kayakers to creek runners, SUPers to canoeists, rafters to ocean ski racers