Riders of the Storm - 50kt Aussie Downwind

Friday, 03 October 2008 07:55 | Written by  Dean Beament
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To quote the distinguished and celebrated sage Jerry Seinfeld:  "The sea, that day was angry my friends, like an old man returning soup."

Storm Riders
What happens when you lose your ski on the beach!

So it was that on Sunday, 27th September 2008, a tiny group of heroes set off for Fremantle to traverse the dreaded Hurricane Alley down to Sorrento...  The experience was to bind them together in a unity known only to those that have faced certain death with the courage to spit and stare it down.

Storm riders weather forecast
Weather forecast...

Wrong direction

"It's a Nor West wind, the completely wrong direction this in is going to be bad."

Darryl Griffith, who came down for some moral support and to see some carnage, was laughing and said that he would see us at Sorrento in about three hours.

But, when we finally arrived at Fremantle the occupants fell silent as the rain buffeted the car: the 30 knot Nor'wester had turned to a raging bull of wind straight out of the south.

The Essence of Leadership

The atmosphere was electric - excitement blended with anticipation, tinged with fear...  Were we going, or were we going to turn back with our tails between our legs? We needed a leader, someone whom other men would look to in a time of crisis. 

To quote Sean Connery in Highlander, "There can be only one".

And from the darkness he came, marching forth into the driving rain, unrelenting in his quest to show the way.  Ash Nesbit was out of the car and taking his ski off the roof, with the wind whipping around him.

If Ash was going to do this, we'd have to follow...

Slowly the skis came off the roofs and down to the start.

What are we doing?

Cold water, 30 to 40 knot winds throwing the craft from side to side, what are we doing? Is this madness or some desire to conquer our own private inner demons?

As we paddled out in the relative safety of the groyne, nervous looks and laughter could be heard.

Instant Mayhem

I have been paddling in the sea breeze for twenty five years and today was one of those occasions that almost brought me to tears.

Almost instantly there were bombs going off all around me, my ski felt like a drag racer with the brakes let right out.  The wind and ocean had become one, in a total assault on the senses.

The first of the big skates began to appear at Cottesloe, where the ocean bed quickly deepens and the predicted eight metre swell had time to get its sights trained on any unsuspecting fool who was stupid enough to be in its cross hairs. I have had experience paddling in some fairly strong summer puffs but this - forty to fifty knot winds - was bordering on being completely out of control.

Our summer sea breeze is sometimes referred to as "The Fremantle Doctor" - well this was Dr Frankenstein and his monster was beginning to stretch and flex its muscles.

Storm Riders
The sea that day was angry...

Massive Drops

Greg Mickle, 8 times Western Australian Iron Man Champion, was first to take one of the largest drops on an ocean ski I have ever witnessed. To this day there may be still a concaved compression on the rear deck created as he attempted to keep his Fenn from nose diving to a place where the Royal Australian Navy might have had to send a deep sea probe just to recover the rudder and stickers.

To my amazement he stood it on its nose and hung on. Some may say his bum may have been his saving grace, but I think some moments of sheer terror in a man's life, like finding out you're about to be a father, your body and soul are truly capable of extraordinary feats. This was one of those moments. Physiologically he may now be able to hang upside down from his rectum just by creating a vacuum in his head - anything was possible this day. 

Total and Utter Concentration

At this point the group was at around City Beach and total and utter concentration was required to keep the ski moving forward and not spun left or right.

Problem:  the drops were now so steep that it wasn't possible to take them straight on and trying to head right towards land was difficult as this would spin the tail hard to the left and into the water you go. Only one way to go - northwest, out to sea.

"Don't look back"

That's what I said over and over, "just keep the ski up and moving forward". The wind gusts were now becoming so strong, so cold and frequent that all you could do was huddle up in a hunched position and hope like hell that this wasn't the end of the world, because from where I was looking that was about to happen.

Later on we heard some of the stats from the bureau of meteorology.  The temperature fell from 16C when we left down to 8C one hour later with winds up to fifty knots and gusts recorded of sixty five.  Compare this with last year's World Cup Rotto race when it peaked at 30 knots

Trigg Point

We all survived to Trigg point, we were all still close together, and we were all f....ing idiots to be out there. I looked across to Greg Mickle, he was cold and hurting. Ash was firmly fixated on the nose of his ski; Andrew Stevens from Cottesloe was screaming down a giant of a skate, he claimed later that his venturis nearly sucked him through the scuppers, toes first.

Eventually I could see Sorrento in the distance and I knew that the sea bed would change soon and that the skates would lose some of their power.  A slight glimmer of hope that I would indeed see my wife and children again.

Ash Nesbit - Storm Riders
Ash Nesbit makes it...

All over

Those whose noses hit the beach that day all became banded as brothers - to have survived was a feat of spirit and endurance with a massive dollop of pure luck.

My respect for Mother Ocean has risen yet again: don't get over-familiar because she'll give you a kiss that you will never forget.

Even living legend, Nick Taylor was said to say, "Oh my god I thought I was dead, this f.....ing monster came at me like a freight train with my name written all over it. Did any of you guys see that thing? It made me f...ing s...t myself."

I looked back to see Shawn Rice, one of our elder statesmen, the face that I saw was of a man of twenty who had just met the girl of his dreams.  "How good was that?" he asked.  "Some of those waves must have been fifteen foot - the skates were massive."

Tony Bowman from down South couldn't believe that his ski was in one piece but was sure that the hull must look like the space shuttle after re entry, "Skis are not designed to go that fast".

It was over, we had survived and no one had been lost. Four of the original starters, Adam Bloomfield, Michael Baker, Matt Bowbridge and Todd Brewer had "pulled the pin" at Trigg Point and had managed to get onto the shore at Perth's biggest metropolitan surf beach, though from what I heard later the carnage that resulted would have been worth witnessing.  Michael Cook, a forty year veteran of the beach and head lifeguard saw the boys make their way in at Trigg and was heard to say, "you guys are mad being out there, you should be shot."

Rescue Helicopter

Unbeknownst to us, somewhere down the coast a member of the public witnessed a paddler fall from his craft and then lost sight of him. A phone call to the local plod unleashed a chain of events culminating in a rescue helicopter being dispatched in terrible flight conditions.  That evening, on the news:  "A group of paddlers where seen at Cottesloe Beach but then disappeared into the waves," a witness said to the serious young reporter.

Meanwhile, the survivors exchanged war stories and told of the huge monster skates...  giggling adult men are rare in groups but maybe it's the norm after life altering events such as we had just embraced.

Who's Who of WA's Downwind Paddlers

Storm Riders
Riders of the Storm!

The group of Storm Riders that finished at Sorrento reads like a Who's Who of Western Australia's best downwind paddlers:

  • Greg (vacuum ass) Mickle
  • Ash (face like a split watermelon) Nesbit
  • Shawn (actually grew younger) Rice
  • Tony (needs a new ski) Bowman
  • Dean (needs to upgrade his will) Beament
  • Andrew (eyes like dinner plates) Stevens
  • Nick (Oh my God, I'm F...ed) Taylor.


The water police finally caught up with us a few days post the run just to try and find out what the hell we were thinking attempting such a paddle.

Riders of the Storm: some want it tattooed on their chest, others a statue erected to commemorate the day. Me I'm just happy to be able to sit here and document the moment I thought I was going to die. It's always difficult to put down on paper just how events unfold - just let me say that ninety five percent of the time I was screaming!!!!!