US Surfski Tour: NY, San Francisco and Chicago

Tuesday, 10 August 2010 17:24 | Written by 
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New York Mayor's Cup 2009 New York Mayor's Cup 2009 Credits: Jeff Chen

The US Surfski Tour kicks off this weekend in New York City on August 14 with a classic tussle as two of Australia’s finest ski paddlers bang boats with two of South Africa’s finest over a 45km course that frames one big-ass chunk of rock...

First a relevant bit of recent history

In Perth this January Dawid Mocke beat the best Australia had to offer in perfect downwind conditions.  Jeremy Cotter was second, beaten by all of 15 seconds.  To emphasise just how competitive the racing was, a mere 2 ½ minutes separated the first thirteen paddlers across the line.

Dawid Mocke

Dawid Mocke approaches the finish in the 2010 Perth Doctor

On May 1st, in Spain, a race Cotter had to bow out of last year with food poisoning and chose not to return to, Mocke romped home ahead of fellow South African Sean Rice.

A few weeks later, Molokai was an all-Australia affair won by Clint Robinson with Dean Gardiner second and Cotter, in his first attempt, third.  On the same day (due to calendar constraints caused by the Soccer World Cup being held in South Africa) the Dunlop World Cup in Durban was all-South Africa as Dawid Mocke beat Matt Bouman in a neck-straining run up the beach.

And just three weeks ago in the first of two races in Bryon Bay, Caine Eckstein won the 12km warm-up event, finishing ahead of Ben Allen and Zane Holmes in a stacked field.  Jeremy Cotter saved himself for the 20km main event the next day – but was beaten by inches in a dice to the finish by Ben Allen.  (Ben Allen won’t be in New York, but he is contesting the US Surfski Champs in San Francisco.)

Byron Bay Sprint Finish

Ben Allen pips Jeremy Cotter in Byron Bay three weeks ago

So, dust off your Vuvuzelas, and get set for Australia v South Africa in the USA – 3 match series!


US Tour Race One: NY Mayor’s Cup

The Mayor’s Cup is now in its fifth year and event director Ray Fusco is relieved that he’s moved the race to a far warmer time of year as well as the fact that he has a talented field vying for the $15,000 purse.  On paper only four men can win: Aussies Eckstein and Jeremy Cotter, Mocke and defending champion Sean Rice. The first three will be tackling the course for the first time, whereas last year Rice bested Bevan Manson and Jaka Jazbec in a frigid gale that had ice salesman heading for cover.

Other notables in the field are five-time finisher and former winner Greg Barton, five-time Olympian Phillipe Bocarra as well as Caribbean contender Franck Fifils.


Chaotic, freezing conditions greeted the paddlers at the 2009 NY Mayor's Cup

The tussle up front promises to be fascinating. Cotter and Eckstein train together on the Gold Coast. Cotter, a former professional Ocean Ironman who’d focused on ski paddling the last three years is tough as nails on his worst day, and Eckstein, who obliterated the competition to win his third Coolangatta Gold title last year, is gearing up for the Gold again and promises to be ridiculously hard out. Worse for those are capable of sitting on their wash is how seamlessly they work together. During the 2008 Southern Shamaal PE2EL they paddled single skis together alternating the pull every three minutes on an ocean as flat as unleavened bread.  Want to know how much pleasure they took in burning off the competition? Ask Matt Bouman and Oscar Chalupsky who suffered mightily matching their relentless pace.

Cotter, who faded a bit in his first crack at Molokai, should be better able to handle the distance around Manhattan. “I’ve been building slowly,” said Cotter, “going hard for the last three weeks.  It should be really good! It’s been a while since everyone was together, so I’m looking forward to that.”

How’s he assess his ultra fit training partner? “Caine is always the man to beat,” he said.  “He is super fit.  He’s paddling the Avon this weekend in a team and I’ve heard they’re way out in front.”

(Eckstein, paddling with Dean Gardiner in the two-man team category ended up third team across the line in the Avon Descent.  The race was dominated by South Africans who took the top four singles places – Hank McGregor 1st, Kevin White 2nd, Daryl Bartho 3rd and Brett Bartho 4th.)

Caine Eckstein’s brother Shannon has been training with the pair for the last couple of weeks.  “I reckon Caine and Jeremy will be within a minute of each other in New York,” said Shannon.  “Of course Jeremy has the advantage of having done the distance before at Molokai.”

Short of former World Marathon Champ Hank McGregor, the Springbok best able to tackle this two-headed hydra is Dawid Mocke.  “The [Mayor’s Cup] distance doesn’t worry me,” he said.  “During my base training I was doing 40km paddles, 3x a week.”

Mocke who wakes up amped even before knocking back the first of his countless cups of coffee is particularly amped to be coming to the City that Never Sleeps. “It’s such an iconic race.  You’re actually paddling around Manhattan Island.  That’s just incredible. It’s a bloody good excuse to go to New York!”

Mocke trains with his younger brother Jasper (who came third in Perth behind Jeremy Cotter) and is often joined by Sean Rice.  “Sean is going really well,” Mocke said.  “A few days ago we did a downwind and Sean came into Fish Hoek right behind me.”

NYMC09 Jeff Chen

Sean Rice powers into a 30kt headwind towards the finish of the 2009 NY Mayor's Cup (Pic: Jeff Chen)

He’ll be looking out for the Aussies.  “Those two (Cotter and Eckstein) are such tough competitors,” he said.  “And of course there’s Sean.  He’s very strong on flat water and he’s the defending champion.”

Course Changes

The race is extremely tough.  Not only is it long (28mi/45km) but the paddlers have to contend with extreme variations of conditions ranging from flat to 6ft chop rebounding off sea walls as well as commercial traffic in one of the busiest waterways in North America.

Several factors however may make this year’s event a little less extreme.  The race is running a month earlier, making it all but impossible that the paddlers will face the Arctic conditions of last year.  (Unused to the conditions, South Africans Sean Rice and Bevan Manson piled on borrowed clothes, Manson taping a pair of Ziploc bags to his hands in lieu of pogies.)  New York is in the midst of a heat wave, and the paddlers may well face temperatures of 30C (86F) and more.

Bevan Manson

Bevan Manson, 2010 NYMC - Pogies by Ziploc; Boots by Glicker

Also the start/finish area has been moved to the 79th Street Boat Basin.  “The new location is easier and safer,” said race director Fusco, “but it does mean that Battery is no longer only 3miles from the finish!  There will still be 7 miles to go.  The key point will be Pier 40 when the racers will have to read the river and pick a line to the 79th Street Boat Basin.”

Media and Live Commentary

Rambo will be in NY and San Francisco to film the events; will be there virtually with live commentary from both races.

For more information, see:


US Tour Race 2: US Surfski Champs

The USSSC in San Francisco looks to be the most competitive yet.  Cotter and Eckstein will be joined by fellow Australians Shane Eckstein (Caine’s brother and surprise winner of last year’s Dragon Run in Hong Kong), Tony Schumacher, Mark Anderson, Michael Locke and Ben Allen.


The paddlers hit the currents at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge - USSSC 09 (Pic: Lesley Brown)

For Shane Eckstein, this is the one surfski race he can fit in before the surf lifesaving and Ironman seasons kick in again.  (Eckstein is one of Australia’s premier professional Ironman athletes.)

“I’m really looking forward to the race,” said Eckstein.  “I’ve heard from the others who went last year that it’s really good.”

Eckstein said that he’s fit, but is only aiming to peak for the Lifesaving Worlds in Egypt in October.  “So I’m hoping that downwind in San Francisco will be as good as last year!

“[Younger brother] Caine is going really well,” he said.  “He’s improved a lot since last year.”

Shannon said that he will be spending more time in long distance surfski in the future, but for the next three years he’ll continue with his Ironman career.  “That’s the beauty of surfski,” he said.  “You can do it when you’re a bit older.

“You really need an off-season,” he added.  “If I were to do the surfski races this year it would mean continuous training for about 18 months.  I like to have at least 4 weeks off in the year without paddling.  I can peak for maybe two months in the year.”

Who’s in the running?

  • Jeremy Cotter who won the event last year, and Dawid Mocke who came in second 37 seconds later.
  • Caine Eckstein (who won the 1st day of the Byron Bay Ocean Paddle three weeks ago).
  • Shannon Eckstein may not be on ultimate form, but he beat Cotter and Mocke (as well as Tim Jacobs, Hank McGregor and Clint Pretorius) in Hong Kong seven months ago.
  • Ben Allen, who out-sprinted Cotter to the finish of the 20km race in Byron Bay.
  • Sean Rice, fresh from victory in the Norwegian Arctic Sea Kayak and Surfski Race. Rumor has it that Rice will be paddling an upgraded version of his current ski.


Mocke, Cotter and Eckstein power upwind - USSSC 09 (pic: Eric Nguyen)

“I’ve heard the winds have been blowing every day at 20kt plus,” said Mocke.  “I’m really looking forward to that!

“It’s a great event.  I particularly enjoy the fact that they run the doubles race separately.  It’s a fantastic weekend – demo day and coaching, the race, the doubles race and the relay race!”

Mocke and Rice are paddling the doubles race together – it’s a fair bet that Cotter and Eckstein will be in another double...

Race Conditions

The current on race day won’t be as strong as in previous years, but will be ebbing at Pt. Blunt, Angel Island at about 1kt at 3:00pm.  “Perfect!” exclaimed Mocke. “That’ll stack the waves up perfectly!”

Event Program

Friday, August 20, Berkeley, CA

  • 12-4:00pm: demos and clinics
  • 5:30-8:00pm: early race check in

Saturday, August 21, Fort Baker, Sausalito and Berkeley

  • 10:00am: race start, short course
  • 1:00-1:45pm: race start, long course
  • 3:00-3:45pm: finishers start arriving OCSC Sailing

Sunday, August 22, Berkeley

  • 9:00am: race start, double surfski
  • 10:00am: double surfski finishers start arriving
  • 12:00pm: race start, relay race

For more information see:

Live Commentary


US Tour Race 3: Chicago Shoreline Marathon

The Aussie/South Africa face-off will continue into a third weekend with Cotter and Anderson up against Mocke in Chicago.  (Sean Rice is off to Europe to take part in the Race of Champions in Portugal.)

The event takes in the spectacular Chicago skyline – and can have fabulous downwind conditions.  The race is also long – 26mi/40km – Mocke has won it every time he’s attended, but this year won’t have it all his own way.

CSM 2008 Scott Fincher

...paddling along a beautiful city skyline... (Pic: Scott Fincher)

“Chicago is another special race,” said Mocke.  “It’s a bit like New York in that respect – you’re paddling along a beautiful city skyline.  The people are super amped and super friendly.  In fact the race is a bloody good excuse to go to Chicago!”

For more information see:

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