West Coast Downwinder – the Mid-packer’s Viewpoint

Tuesday, 19 November 2019 01:59 | Written by 
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It’s always fascinating to paddle somewhere new – and I’d only done this stretch of coast once before, five years ago… “Stay well out,” I was told. “Don’t let the waves take you too close inshore, because you’ll find yourself coming back out cross-wind at the finish.”

We were at the start of the West Coast Downwinder, the first race of the Shaw and Partners WA Race Week in Perth, Australia. The race had been postponed from Saturday after the weather forecast predicted a combination of no wind and 38C temperatures. It was still hot, but there was a 10-15kt SW breeze kicking up some small runs and we’d seen white horses on the water as we drove down the coast from Sorrento.

Quick Start

Lining up behind the elite paddlers, I avoided the crush as the start flag dropped, and immediately headed left out to sea.

As expected, the lead boats vanished within minutes, and the number of skis in my field of vision reduced to a dozen or so: a couple ahead of me, more to the right, inshore.


West Coast Downwind - 23km from Port Beach to Sorrento


Both wind and waves were onshore, running diagonally towards the coast, and it necessary to work left continuously. Periodically a bigger wave would come through, and you could veer right to catch it – but to avoid being taken inshore, you’d immediately steer left and try to work some smaller bumps that seemed to be running out to sea.

“You’ll think that you’re heading out to sea, but when you look at your GPS track, you’ll find that you’ve taken a straight line if you’ve done it properly.”


My goals in these races are fairly simple: have fun, don’t paddle badly, overtake a few other people…

And it was fun – the conditions were “technical” in that you couldn’t just let loose on the runs, because you’d head to the beach. By angling across them, you could keep your speed up and link half a dozen bumps…

Towards the beginning of the race I had a couple of other paddlers on either side of me; the left hand one caught one of the bigger waves and veered across my line, causing me to drop off a wave. I worked my way around to her outside and after a few moments made a sequence or too and dropped her. One down!

The next paddler took a while to hunt down – I catch a run, surge forward, then she’d catch one and overtake me again… but eventually, I put together a sequence that she didn’t and she disappeared behind me too. Two down!

The group just ahead of me, however, kept pulling away, and 2/3 of the way into the race, a youngster shot past me on the outside, and I realized that I’d lost focus… Concentrating again, I drew level and we had a great dice for the next couple of km until he crossed behind me and vanished inshore. Three down!

By then the tall white tower at Hillary’s Harbor was well in view and I focused on heading towards it, while keeping an eye on my GPS. The race distance was advertised as being 24km and at 21.5km, I figured I still had some way to go – but then to my horror, I spotted the flags on the beach at my 1 o’clock, and simultaneously spotted a stream of surfskis well on my inside.

Turning sharply towards the finish, I was perfectly lined up with the wind and waves, and enjoyed my fastest km to the beach.

The run up the beach was enlivened by a sneaky Aussie who nearly sprinted past me, but I spotted his shadow and put in an extra burst of speed to hold him off and was gratified by the muttered curse and laugh as we crossed the line.

I ended up 29/64 in the over-50s and have a new target for the Doctor: Simon Thorpe (NZ) who beat me by just over 2sec, I’m coming for ya…

Up Front

Meanwhile up at the pointy end of the race, Hayley Nixon and Cory Hill didn’t have a lot of trouble defending their titles.

“It’s a great start to the week,” Hill commented. “I’m not sure how the series is going to work out, but you can’t go wrong with a win to start off!”

Hayley Nixon was equally pleased with her win in the women’s race. “It’s nice to see more of the top women in this race, and I think we have the Shaw and Partners bonus for the series to thank for that,” she said.


What a great race! 

The locals were muttering that the wind wasn’t strong enough and that it was mild for this time of year, etc, etc, but actually there was more than enough movement in the water to make it fun.

The organization was excellent and the vibe at the Sorrento Surf Lifesaving Club after the race was awesome. 

Great start to the week.

This afternoon the non-serious paddlers are heading south of Fremantle to do something called the Snapper Run…  one of the features of this downwind route is that it ends conveniently near to the Little Creatures Brewery in Fremantle.  See ya later!

Men's Podium

Men's Podium (L-R) Michael Booth (5th), Austin Kieffer (4th), Nicholas Notten (3rd), Jackson Collins (2nd), Cory Hill (1st)

Women's Race

Women's Podium (L-R): Hayley Nixon (1st), Bonnie Hancock (2nd), Teneale Hatton (3rd), Rachel Clarke (4th), Aya Okano (5th)

Summary Results

(Click here for the full results)


PosNameTimeTime Behind CatNationPointsPace
1 Cory HILL 24:58.8   AUS 1000 3:32 min/km
2 Jackson COLLINS 25:40.8 00:42.0 AUS 980 3:34 min/km
3 Nicholas NOTTEN 26:20.2 01:21.4 ZAF 963 3:35 min/km
4 Austin KIEFFER 26:32.4 01:33.6 USA 949 3:36 min/km
5 Michael BOOTH 26:33.2 01:34.4 AUS 938 3:36 min/km


PosNameTimeCat PosTime Behind CatNationPointsPace
43 Hayley-Jo NIXON 38:26.8 1   ZAF 1000 4:06 min/km
53 Bonnie HANCOCK 40:18.0 2 01:51.2 AUS 980 4:10 min/km
57 Teneale HATTON 41:46.3 3 03:19.5 NZL 963 4:14 min/km
66 Rachel CLARKE 43:23.9 4 04:57.1 NZL 949 4:18 min/km
90 Aya OKANO 47:38.5 5 09:11.7 AUS 938 4:29 min/km

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