My First Race

By Jim on Monday, May 3, 2010


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I started paddling surf ‘spec’ ski’s about 5-6 years ago with a mate from the surf club as it is something that has always interested me, but due to one thing or another I hadn’t got around to trying. I have always swam and had started doing the ocean swims around Sydney. Throw in a couple of Maui and Waikiki swims as well.

I decided after about a year of paddling in the harbour once or twice a week that I would get into it more seriously and learn how to paddle properly and stop swimming training. I enquired with a mate who had paddled for years where I could get a kayak and he put me onto Stewart O’Regan from Quantum kayaks. Stew was paddling at the cooks river out of the St George Kayak Club and said I could join him and the guys down there if I liked. After many swims I started to enjoy the kayak and the flat water paddling. I have got into these long distance ocean races and really enjoy them. I have been finishing around 40th this year. I had a good race on Saturday in the Manly race and finished mid 30’s.

I was very fortunate not long after buying my kayak that Jim Walker landed a job as NSWIS kayak coach and was going to base his squad out of the kayak club. I am a member of Bondi surf Club and Jim, North Bondi, so we had known each other for years. Jim invited me to join along with his squad. This enabled me to have someone who knew what they were talking about help me with my technique – exactly what I needed. Also, in the squad were top line paddlers who were trying to make the Australian Kayaking Team and hopefully Olympics, the likes of Tony Schmacher, Luke and Jake Michael, Tim Jacobs, Nick Holt etc etc…So luckily enough I was off.

I live in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, I am married with 3 kids and work full-time, so finding a balance to enable training is difficult but I do my best. You have to get up at 4.30am to train as there is no other time. I don’t get to do all the races I would like to, due to kids birthday parties and ballet practice etc etc. But family comes first and I am always trying to fit in a paddle around my family commitments on the weekends. We might for instance be heading over to my in-laws place who live in Manly. If there is a southerly running I will have my wife drop me at Bondi and I will catch the runners all the way. My wife knows I am fairly ‘extreme’ in everything I do and knows that by stopping me paddling is only going to make me frustrated. I am very lucky that she understands and does her best to help me out.

I am going to Molokai this year and am currently working my training up to get ready for for it. There is no better place and no better race in the world. The logistics are a nightmare with the relaxed way of life of the Hawaiians not really helping!! I did it back in 2008 and found my self very short on fitness for the 4hrs 40min it took me and short on catching the runners technique. The conditions were not ideal with the winner taking 4 hours. I am hoping it will be big wind and big swell this year, fingers crossed!

I have always gauged if I was improving by looking at the top guys times and working out how far behind I am every hour of a race.

I have performed quite well in the bridge to beach race over the past few years (19th last time I entered). This has shown me that I am ok over a short distance and in the flat, compared with top guys. But because I hardly paddled in the rough stuff, I have struggled big time in races out in the ocean. I was ok in South Africa at the Durban race as it is downwind along beach coastlines so no headlands to cause wave ‘bounce back’. Also Molokai is out in the ocean so again the waves come from 1 direction, no side chop etc.

This has led me to currently forgetting about technique and getting out in the ocean more often and trying to swim to get fitter. I have realized there is no substitute for understanding how the ocean can assist your speed (even going into the wind and swell) than getting out and practicing. While training I compare my self against other paddlers and use my Garmin. I track my average speed when training and compare to past training to gauge my improvement. I actually press the lap button when I turn from into the wind to with the runs so I can measure my average speed with the runs and against the runs. I have always been lucky in that I have known guys who are better paddlers than me and they have been happy enough for me to tag along and train with them. I will try and sit on their wash for as long as I can. Then next time out I will see if I can sit on the wash for say, 30 seconds longer.

I enjoy the ocean a lot more than the flat water. The feeling of going down a massive runner is like nothing on earth. Durban 2006 is still the biggest I have ever experienced. I actually cracked the hull of my ski slapping down a big run. I started off very tentative as it was so windy. In fact I spun 180 degrees 3 times in the first half an hour. But I soon got the hang of the runs and started to charge them. I actually found myself screaming with excitement as I was hurtling down the faces of the runs. It was a terrific trip staying with Tim Jacobs and Tommy Woodriff who showed me the ropes. A big thank you to Tommy for getting me on the scotch and cokes straight after the race and not letting me eat for the entire night and to Tim for picking the 2 of us up and driving us home, we were a screaming mess!!!!! Tim doesn’t drink and probably explains why he is one of the best in the world.

I don’t worry too much how I go in races as long as I enjoy myself and do my best the result will take care of itself (I only try and beat the ‘PRO’). I enjoy a really cold beer or too afterwards too…….

If I was to have my time over again would I have done anything differently?

1. I would employ a coach to give me correct technique lessons and monitor me regularily.

2. I would work more on fitness through swimming and running.

3. I would train a few times a week out in the swell and runners.

4. Balance is everything, and even after 5-6 years I still struggle, but by only paddling in the flat you will never improve your balance.

Catch you on the water.

Will