Manly Paddlers welcome stray Saffa!

Thursday, 14 August 2008 12:45 | Written by  Barry Lewin
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[Editor: Barry Lewin just returned from Australia where he won the K1 section in the Avon Descent in record time. He stayed on in Sydney and paddled with the Manly Saturday morning paddlers.  Here's what he found...]

Many paddlers
Paradise - an empty sea and surfskis!

One of the great things about being a paddler is I get to travel to some wicked place all over the world to paddle new waters and compete with like-minded people from many different countries.

My latest trip took me to Australia, one of the world strongest paddling countries, to take on the Avon Descent. After the race I took a week off the training to see the sights and sounds of Sydney. The plan was to see some friends; park off on the beach; test the local beer and not do too much on the paddling front.


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Emerging LD Paddling Culture 

Sydney is an amazing city but its beauty wasn't what struck me most: what really impressed me was the emerging long distance paddling culture in a place that in the past was dominated by surf lifesaving. Good friend and training buddy from Durban, Ian Gray had talked it up as he has just moved here for a year-long work stint in Sydney. I didn't take much notice and wanted to see for myself.

I hung out with some of the local doods, Dean Gardner and the Stuart (Jamie, Murry and Robby) family being awesome hosts and after a couple beers on Friday night the boys started talking about the famous (infamous?) Manly Saturday morning paddle and who would be there the next morning. They finally turned to me and it was decided that I couldn't come to Sydney without attending their traditional paddle. I didn't have much of a choice in the matter, it was done.

Barry Lewin visits the Manly Paddlers 2008
The beach scene at Manly

Early Start 

With very little sleep the team arrived at the Manly Lifesaving Club at 7am the next morning. Dean kindly lent me an old ski out his shop for the spin. I was surprised how many people started arriving. We paddled out around the headland and grouped together to talk about where we were going to paddle and I counted 31 people. WOW! The legend Deano called the course for the day, an out and back across the gap to the North Head and back with the back markers turning when the front guys turned.

The headland had some nice rebounds and challenged the skills a bit with the faster guys venturing closer to make use of the bumps and the more wary leaving a wider berth. There was a nice vibe with the bunches chatting and a chirp or two flying my way about me pitching to paddling with an SA scarf on. The Aussie's patriotism and competitive spirit is great! The openness of the group towards all paddling levels is fantastic and helps create a community which is growing fast.

Barry Lewin visits the Manly Paddlers
That's Dean Gardiner on the right. Karl 'the Jackal' Treacher on the left

Training Hard

When I started, the South Africans dominated surfski paddling and to some extent still do. I attribute this to the level of competition we have here. There are just so many top guys training and racing in the same place. For example in my training session last night on the Umgeni River in Durban (most in K1s), we had Hank McGregor, Len Jenkins, Bevan Manson, Wayne Wilson, Jeff Smith all doing a speed work session of 15x2 min together. Of course the boys were pushing the pace especially with Hank in the session, everyone trying to race and push each other.

In my travels I have rarely found this training vibe anywhere else. The Manly paddle is the closest thing I have seen and the Aussies are learning. We can see the results of the paddling culture emerging with Stars like Tim Jacobs and Jeremy Cotter really taking it to the South Africans in recent months. If the Manly paddle is anything to go by I think we going to see even bigger things from this group in the future.

A big thanks to Dean and the Stuarts for being so welcoming!