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The richest paddling race in the world

On Saturday 7 December 2019, the richest paddling race in the world ’20 Beaches’ was held over 20 kilometres between Palm Beach and Fisherman’s Beach near Narrabeen.  It is no idle boast to suggest the largest contingent of paddlers came from WSC and the Shark Island Paddlers.  Our crew included seriously experienced and strong, hard paddlers, and some newbies who were taking on 20 Beaches for the very first time.  Notwithstanding we all knew the race was going to be challenging particularly with the bush fire smoke giving the race a little bit of a ‘Apocalypse Now’ back drop.

Justine was such a newbie, she wanted a mission and for her sins she chose 20 Beaches, and when it was over she’d never want another. Justine finished the race saying “never again”, but there is a lightness to her paddling now, and a twinkle in her eye when she talks of 20 Beaches that may contradict such a negative imperative.  Justine records conditions as “challenging for the novice paddler.  Newport reef was a tricky section of the race with waves breaking over the reef and many paddlers having to go further out to sea or risk the dreaded fallout and remount in the choppy conditions.  There was consistent cross chop from the ENE wind combined with the southerly swell and rebound from the multiple headlands we paddled past.  This race was not for the faint hearted and requires much preparation over winter accruing paddling mileage and expertise in the ocean just to be able to complete the event.”  You’ll be back next year Justine.

No such concerns were held by Grish and Mal, whose ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ style epic sea battle was spoken about oft and hard, long after the race has finished.  The Economist Newspaper may have approached Grish for comment (sic) and he was recorded saying, “the conditions were tough, technical and uninspiring but once we got going it was action stations. My objective was to go sub 2 hours which I did and to beat Al and Mal … one out of two is ok. Love a big race”.  Mal was far more diplomatic thanking Grish for the contest and noting him as a fine ocean paddler.  A spectator saw the battle play out and observed the race as “close, real close man”.  And so it was.

Tommy and Andy have declined to comment however that may be because they are swigging champagne after beating some the world’s best and earning the first prize novelty cheque in the double.  I shan’t say ‘Lucky Buggers’, as their winning race was down to pure grit and determination.  It just goes to show what hard work, fitness, technique and style can do for you.  Tommy and Andy love the smell of big waves and tricky conditions in the morning, and they are bloody good paddlers.

As a newbie myself I found the race bloody tough, indeed the light and space of 20 Beaches really put the zap on my head.  I concentrated on the ‘never get out of the boat’ adage that the upright boat is the fast boat.  At times I found it easier to head out to sea rather than go south, and sometimes I enjoyed the 2.5 metre elevator rides, and sometimes I didn’t.  It was my first 20 kilometre ocean race and I was sure for most of the race I hadn’t yet reached the halfway point.  To my shock a shouted query with a safety boat revealed the finish was only about 5 kilometres away.  I was happy with those last 5 kilometres, ‘this is the end’, I thought and managed to catch a few lucky runners.  We all love a lucky runner.

A huge thanks to the members who volunteered their time, petrol, driving skills and special talents.  Particular I should mention Noodles, Rob and the 24 members of the Coopers Brewing family who cheered every paddler coming in and eased the thirst and assisted the recovery of the entire gang.

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