World Champs--Crests and Troughs

Cory Hill     Photo credit:  Graham Daniel & 369Communications

Cory Hill     Photo credit:  Graham Daniel & 369Communications

If the ICF World Surfski Championship showed us anything, it’s that Surfski racing is enjoying a massive surge in popularity. This past weekend, paddlers and fans alike around the world were treated to top-notch racing watched via live Youtube stream.  Now that the dust has settled, we can all breathe our collective exhale and take stock of winners and losers from the event as we reload for 2019.

Crests:

Admirable Effort--HCKU 

Well organized and presented.

Well organized and presented.

  •  Hong Kong Canoe Union-- Even from afar it was clear that a great deal of effort and attention to detail was put forth toward coordinating this event. HKCU proved themselves highly capable of handling the big day with aplomb and should remain on the short list for future top-level endeavors.
  • Women-- The ladies have been stealing the spotlight lately.  Day one featured pancake-        flat conditions and demanded 100% redline racing and the dos X chromosomed ones delivered. The Women punched out a brilliant and highly stylistic performance more akin to marathon racing but entertaining nonetheless. Bonus for forty-five hard-chargers towing the line at the start.

Hayley Nixon

Hayley Nixon

  • ICF--Great coverage and support guys.  Hope you’ve been paying attention, because Surfski will be your future.

  • Live Feed--Riveting. Entertaining. The commentary was spot on.  Drone coverage, Chase boat, leaderboard, and tracking feature all made for the most enjoyable live Surfski coverage to date.   

Instructional videos aside, Lawler can commentate with the best of them. 

Instructional videos aside, Lawler can commentate with the best of them. 

  • Ivan Lawler-- Who knew?  The man has a talent for commentating. Hope to see Lawler return behind the microphone for future events.

  • Men--Consider someone unacquainted with the sport encountering the men’s race.  They would have been treated to an absolute showcase in every way. The blokes powered through the big conditions like a hot knife through butter.  With zero hesitation in their game, they crushed the headwinds and then turned and surfed runs back like some kind of heavenly dream.  Good show!

  • Cory Hill--No doubt about it, Cory Hill knows how to get the “W” when it counts.  Hill didn’t just win, he marked the fire hydrant. After dropping the field shortly after the start and holding off a late charge by the indomitable Hank Mcgregor, the Aussie looked unstoppable.  

  • Kenny Rice--Not much to say here other than the younger Rice brother has officially broken out and looks poised to be the next big thing.  Rice looked lean and hungry out there.  I’ll be placing my bet’s on him for all future headlining events from this point forward.

  • Hayley Nixon--Winning last year’s World Surfski Series was a step into the big leagues, but her win this past weekend vaulted the Durbanite to the next level. If Nixon previously enjoyed some modicum of underdog status on the main stage, it’s all but gone now.  She will henceforth be a marked paddler, and deservedly so, she’s obviously put the work in and has earned her spot as best in the world.      

Burn made a statement

Burn made a statement

  • Michele Burn--Always a top-contender, but it’s official now.  Nice show.

  • South Africa and Australia--Still the undisputed leaders of the Surfski world.  

  • Event Photography and Video--  In a word, Wow!

South Africa and Australia remain at the top of the Surfski world.  From L-- Mackenzie Hynard, Kenny Rice and Valentine Henot (France).

South Africa and Australia remain at the top of the Surfski world.  From L-- Mackenzie Hynard, Kenny Rice and Valentine Henot (France).

Troughs:

Almost Perfect

Almost Perfect

  • Live Feed--Oh so close to the as polished as you could ask for from a non-mainstream sport.

  • Live Feed Part Deaux  (Women’s Edition)-- Right at the finish?  Really?

All said and done, not much to pick at.  The event was a step forward in almost every way and gave us all something to cheer about. 

 

Un-Sandbagging The Divisions

sandbag1.png

 

A recent exchange on social media centered on whether the Epic V8 Pro should be designated as a high performance “surfski” or as the more stable “kayak” at the upcoming Chattajack race.  Among other issues, the discussion included the fact that the V8 Pro had been previously listed at a width of 19.9, which has since been amended to reflect 20 inches.

 

At one time, racing any form of kayak or ski in the States was a lightly contested affair.  Piling everyone together in like-boats was the best way to go about arranging the categories.

Times-they-are-a-changing.  Participation is increasing and more and more races are showing up on the calendar in the same region on the same weekend. Events are actually starting to sell out.  Even the smaller races are pulling in better numbers than just a few years ago.

Late to the party, but the Americans are coming..

Late to the party, but the Americans are coming..

 

The Chattajack race is getting extremely competitive and racers are looking for any advantage they can summon--which is creating the setting for much ado.

The American system of boat classification needs a reboot. First of all, there is no universally agreed upon form of assessment:

  • The Southeast uses the Sound Rowers system.
  • The Northeast uses the same system with the addition of the SS20 class.
  • The Gulf uses the K1 designation with the most categories of all with six.
  • Others have opted to simplify with only two categories, which apparently is the most confusing of all for many.

Why not throw out the entire system of measuring boats and adopt an entirely new method?

You’ll get no argument from me that in paddlesport, hull dimensions play a large role in speed, but it’s really not that simple when you account for stability, conditions and experience.

sandbag3.png

 

So why couch divisions on the dimensions of the boat?

For a sport that is as dependent on advanced technique as surfski, perhaps another form of classification might be more appropriate.  Not only is stroke technique an advanced process, but stability, wave riding, boat management, handling adverse conditions, general experience and tactics all play a major role for a paddler.

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Have a look at running.  Everyone knows how.  Just go to any playground for your evidence.  Wanna get better at it? Do it more.  But learning how to put one foot in front of the other is probably not going to require a technique seminar from the current World Champion.  Oh sure, there may be a few secrets that will enhance your game a bit, but at the end of the day, your primary method of improving will be repetition and lots of it.

 

Not the case with paddling--not by a longshot.  Just put your average endurance or sprint athlete from another discipline on an elite K1 or Surfski, add a little bounce to the water, grab a bag of popcorn, sit back and enjoy the show.  

 

Like many other technically demanding sports and activities, experience and skill are a far better method for determining race categories than equipment.  Who cares what kind of boat you decide to run on any given day? This is a multi-faceted skillset activity and whether your craft is an inch wider or narrower really won’t change your placing much.  In fact, wasn’t it Greg Barton who won the Blackburn Challenge on a Sea Kayak?  

He'd beat most of us paddling a wash bucket.

He'd beat most of us paddling a wash bucket.

 

I don’t subscribe to the notion that everyone deserves a participation medal, but when you line yourself up on race day it may be a bit more competitive when you’re not facing a former Olympian, World Champion or national level paddler when you just graduated to your first intermediate boat.

sandbag4.jpg

 

Worse yet are the guys that are at or near the top of the game who have been there for years that decide to “drop back” to the stable boat categories to poach hardware. In some circles, this is known as “sandbagging” and is an offense punishable by upgrade.

I’m not suggesting that an array of categories be created, perhaps a sport and expert dual system.  

It’d be worth it just to put an end to the eternal struggle of measuring hulls...

Dusi: Rearview Mirror

Photo---Anthony Grote

Cape Point Challenge, ChattaJack, Texas Water Safari, Dusi, Drak, Molokai and Blackburn all share a common thread.

Fear.

Not the kind where you’re overwhelmed with fatalistic thoughts, but rather, fears about your own limits and whether you’ll measure up to others.

Anytime we line up for a race, there will always be a bit of nerves, but it’s a different ballgame altogether for the events that push the limits of our capabilities to the extreme.

Photo---Anthony Grote

For some it’s the excitement of the experience; the buzz that permeates through the air like electricity.  For others, especially the more seasoned, it’s an ultimate test.  A challenge that injects a spark of passion back into an otherwise standard fare of racing.

These events are good for the sport.  They bring out the casual observer to witness the spectacle. They create new benchmarks for athletes and create defining moments in the genre.  In some cases, the races will even transcend the sport in it’s entirety.

Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Flanders, Ghent Wevelgem and Milan-San Remo are known only to the most rabid cycling fans, but the Tour De France is known to all.

The Dusi Canoe Marathon, may be the heir apparent to the paddling throne. It is our Tour De France.

With all the attributes of a race that has the potential to be a star that outshines all others, it has history, extreme conditions, multi-day endurance, boat crushing rapids, long running portages and is deeply affected by weather, or more simply, mercurial and unpredictable

Long History

And like Le Tour, the race is not solely about who wins, it’s about watching the drama unfold.  Seeing how the elemental antagonists play against the increasingly beleaguered athletes. Marveling at how the players push forward on pure grit and reserve strength as the river throws yet another obstacle in the way of the pursuers.

Photo---Anthony Grote

The 2017 edition of the Dusi did not disappoint.  The race continues to gain status on the world stage and the organizers and athletes all deserve congratulations for a job well done.

Now we only have to wait another year...

Photo---Anthony Grote

Ryan Taj Paroz---2016 in Review

Where Have you Been?

What a year 2016 has been for myself. It’s been a long time between blogs so I will try to fill you in quickly, since my last blog I raced at the Canadian Surfski Championships (13th) and Gorge Downwind Championships (16th). Along with racing ocean ski, I also competed in the United States of America National Surf Lifesaving Championships at Hermosa Beach, where I competed in the Single Ski (2nd), Ironman (4th), Board Race (5th), Taplin Relay (5th) and Board Rescue (7th). Overall I was the 4th highest point scoring male although I only competed in 5 out of 15 events.  I would like to say thank you to Scott DiedericQuickly the Doctor approached and the excitement of traveling and racing were again flowing through my body. The last 3 weeks leading into the Doctor probably weren’t the best, my preparation were hindered by my exams and work schedule, but I tried to stay focused the best I could. This year a group from the Sunshine Coast travelled together for both the Thursday night Sunset Surfski Series race and the big event on the Saturday. For one of our group members Matt it was actually his first ever surfski race, he was lucky enough to partner up with Roscoe. The competition was going to be tight as we had another doubles combination that included Clint Robinson and the winner of the “Ride of your Life” competition (Which was sponsored my Cricks Auto Group Noosa and Nambour) Rhys Burrows.
h for the use of both his prone paddle board and surfski. At the completion of this event it marked a long 3-month journey and it was time to go back to Australia and straight back into University and work.

 

Once back in Australia I was involved in the Mentone spring training camp at Maroochydore beach hosted by Clint Robinson, over this weekend I learnt a fair bit about coaching and how to pass on the knowledge that I’ve learnt over the years to the future generation. During this time, I was also asked to be an assistant coach at the Sunshine Beach Surf Club where I coach both the nipper and senior athletes in board, ski, ironperson training sessions. Since commencing the new job I’ve been busy completing my 3rd year of University and also starting to train for the Perth Doctor.

 

The Sunset Surfski Series race that was 11.5km from Sandtracks beach to City beach was a quick race with the pace on from the start. Conditions were 10-15knots winds swing from the south west to the south east, with a 1-2-foot swell pushing from the south. I finished the race in 46:32 mins and 29thoverall, Hank McGregor won paddling the new Epic V12, Cory Hill in second and Dawid Mocke in third.


 

Friday was a great day to sleep in, relax and get everything ready for the big race on Saturday, started off by having a small float around the Sorrento beach area just doing an active recovery to help ease the soreness from the day before. After this we all went back to our room and just chilled out had some lunch and then it was time to go to the barge to load up all of our skis to get them ready for the easy part of the crossing. Loading the skis onto the barge is quite an art form in its self, your have to time it right, otherwise you’ll be standing in the sun for a few hours. A huge shout out to Deano and his team for being patient and loading up all of the 365 ski’s, boards and OC’s onto the barge.

 

The next step after this is to go back to Sorrento beach Surf Lifesaving Club (SLSC) to register and pick up your race pack, also to look at the VAIKOBI stand and see what fresh gear they have. Once doing all of this it was dinner time, watch a movie and then bed time (all sounds so simple).Saturday Morning rolled around quite quickly and it was time to start getting dressed and packed for the ferry ride over to Rottnest island. The general rule of thumb is if the ferry trip to the island is mellow potentially you’re in for a rough day in the saddle, but if its bumpy you’re in for a fantastic day in the bumps. Unfortunately, this year the ride over was silky smooth, and unless there was going to be a major change in the forecast it was going to be a long day. This year while we waited for the race start near military jetty I got to see my first ever Quokka which was amazing. After this it was time to hop into our boats and paddle across the channel, and as always the start was on fire with two main groups heading to the hotspot. I turned the hotspot marker in the mid 30’s, from there it was all about aiming for observation city and chasing the ocean swell. It was challenging out in the Indian Ocean with it coming from both slightly over the right side of the tail and also left side of the tail which meant for a lot of zig zagging. After staying fairly south early on, I drifted north with about 5km to go to the centaur marker (6km from the finish) this was due to the runners I was able to catch. Turning the marker, I could see the finish, and knew the runners stand up a little bit more and others were starting to hurt just as much as I was, so it was my time to make my move and make up places. As I came within 300m of the finish I caught a runner that developed into a wave which I rode all the way to the beach and beat a fellow competitor in the 100m run up the beach.

 

All in all, the Doctor is one of the premier downwind events in the world that attracts roughly 350 competitors each year, but unfortunately this year we lacked the wind. I finished up 35th in the single ski category, next year I’ll have my fingers crossed for amazing downwind conditions.


 

For me it’s been such a great year, I’ve learnt a lot about myself, I’ve travelled to 4 countries, raced in 5 world surfski series events and I’ve met a lot of new friends. But all this wouldn’t have happened without my family, Roscoe and my sponsors, I would like to say a huge thank you to Epic Kayaks, Vaikobi, Cricks Noosa and Nambour, Miguel’s 24-hour fitness.

 

Stay up to date with Ryan and subscribe to his YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZIcPj8_022FMjt4X-UsrFw

More from Ryan:  http://ryanparozathlete.blogspot.com.au/