2015 ICF World Surfski Champion Cory Hill has hovered near the front at the big races for the past few years, but hasn’t quite been able to deliver the knockout punch needed to take the top step.
That all changed last year, as Hill notched an impressive 2015 with wins at Molokai, the Doctor and ICF Worlds in Tahiti. A feat made more impressive after being sidelined drop dead center of the summer with appendicitis.
We caught up with Hill to find out more about his surge to the top last year, and his plans for the future.
SN: You’ve enjoyed some impressive breakout wins in 2015 and have already gotten 2016 off to a strong start at the Auckland King of the Harbour---can you attribute any change in your approach or training to your recent success?
Cory Hill: I don’t think I can say that there has been any dramatic change in my training schedule or sessions, but I do definitely approach each session differently now. When I used to train, I would get so stressed and expect immediate results. For instance, if I had a bad training session I would get a bit cut up inside and think that it was a representation of how I was going to race. I wasn’t looking at the bigger picture of what was causing the bad session---or accepting that sometimes you just have a bad day. I like being a little more unemotional about training and I think that has reflected positively in my racing
SN: After last year’s Molokai, you were sidelined shortly afterwards with appendicitis but bounced back shortly after to win the Worlds and the Doctor; how long were you off the water and did it otherwise affect your plans for 2015?
Hill: Yes, I had appendicitis in July last year. I was in Hawaii to do the Prone Molokai Paddle and woke up with a huge pain in my gut a couple of days before the race. Such a blessing in disguise, as it turns out as I was in need of a break and this forced me to take some time off and out of the water. The wind was nonexistent for that race so I think my body knows me really well and pulled the pin on purpose. Hopefully it does something like this again next time there is no wind. After the time off I was itching to get back on the water.
In total I had about a month out of the water and when I came back it was a bit touchy but managed to do a couple of light paddles with the girls. From then it was back to business and when you have that goal close in mind it is amazing what your body can achieve. I was forced to train hard at each session to catch back up what I had lost in the month off. To a degree this may have helped me focus as sometimes it feels like you are continually training with no short term goals. We were really lucky to get good wind in both Worlds and the Doctor…… That was lucky.
SN: You were initially involved with surf lifesaving and Ironman events, at what point did you decide to go with the Ocean Ski full on?
Hill: I had another unfortunate incident like the appendicitis in December of 2012. I woke up one morning and had a really bad pain in my right foot, which like the appendicitis put me on the sideline for the best part of 2 months. It was quite painful to get back on a board and run and was sick of waking up in the morning to swim; so what better to do than switch to what I love? I love waking up and going to the beach rather than the black line of the pool. Since then there was still a lot of learning with how to train properly for one discipline. Initially, I thought I would just substitute the four swim sessions to ski sessions. I was quick to learn that that was going to make me more insane than putting the goggles on so I have now incorporated some running and core sessions to substitute.
SN: Can you tell us a bit about your business venture with Michael Booth---Elva Sports?
Hill: We have both gone to university and studied business to a degree. I have studied commerce and am currently in my final module before becoming a Chartered Accountant. We both like certain things about our paddlewear and thought why not produce a product that we love and see if others like it as much as we do. Watch this space, as soon enough we will have our paddlewear ready to go. I will be paddling in Elva Paddle Shorts in Molokai this year.
SN: You’ve made the switch from Epic to Fenn boats during the past year. How have you found the transition?
Hill: I was always happy on Epic and really owe the guys there a lot for their confidence in me and support they gave me over the start of my career. Dean Gardiner one day told me that he had a boat that he thought was going to be perfect for somebody built like me. To this day I don’t know if he was just trying to get me across to Fenn for my good looks and banter or if he genuinely thought the boat was going to be good for me. Either way he was right and my first international race on the S was Molokai last year. I spend a lot of time on my Interceptor Spec ski so I don’t find the transition too difficult most of the time. The S really does surf well and I love how comfy it is, so that made life much easier.
SN: What Is a typical training week like for you?
Hill: I do a lot of surf lifesaving training during the summer which is more of your sprint type training and intervals. I have incorporated two run sessions into my schedule this year and make myself do a little bit of core. I really don’t like planning sessions in with pen and sticking to it as that isn’t very often what happens in the ocean. If I rock up to training and it is windy, I will generally do a much larger session than if it is flat. I am never going to do a 20x2min session if it is windy. Likewise, I am never going to do a paddle back in the flat. I think that is the key to longevity in sport---Enjoyment.
SN: Paddle brand and offset?
Hill: I paddle with a Bennett, Braca Eleven s min, 40% Carbon Pink Shaft with approximately 63-65 degree offset. Quite a mouthful.
SN: What are your goals for 2016? .
Hill: I would love to stay at the top in 2016 and win the races I did in 2015. Regaining some of those titles would be amazing. Mauritius is definitely one to tick off also.
To be honest I really want to race competitively, continue to surprise myself and learn new skills in the ocean and be able to have a beer with my mates afterwards. That is the reason I got into sport and I never want to become a person that is driven by results. The day I am angry about a result is the day I need to have some time out.
SN: Surf lifesaving club and paddling partners?
Hill: I am a part of Northcliffe Surf Life Saving Club. Lucky enough to train with Michael Booth, Mackenzie Hynard, Shannon Eckstein, Caine Eckstein and Nick Gale among all the other boys at the club. We have some serious competitors there and making teams is quite hard but it is amazing to train among the best in the business.
SN: Best moment on the ski to date (race or otherwise)
Hill: I would have to say Molokai was the greatest feeling. I have read about and idolized the Dean Gardiners of the sport for years. To have my name on the list of winners is very humbling. And it was my first international win. To then go on to win the Doctor and Worlds in Tahiti was so unexpected. I had the belief all of a sudden that I could win a race but for everything to fall into place in a six-month period was very cool.
I also have many other moments on the ski other than races. There is no place I would rather be than in the middle of the ocean. Sometimes myself and Boothy will do a paddle back and not see each other for an hour and come in on the same wave. Crazy.
SN: Any close calls or harrowing moments?
Hill: I have been relatively lucky in my paddling career. I haven’t really had a snapped rudder out deep or been cleaned up too bad. Perhaps just a couple of bad wipe outs but that is all fun and games. I have started to paddle with my phone recently just in case something bad does happen.
SN: With Molokai right around the corner, who do you see as your biggest threat
Hill: It looks like it is going to be a big year over there again. I don’t like to look too much into who I have to beat rather than what I need to do to be the best and most prepared I can be. I think Sean Rice, Hank McGregor, The Mockes, Dean Gardiner are all going to be there. Love racing with all of them.