Attracting Novice Paddlers to Surfski Races (Aus & SA)

Saturday, 20 February 2010 13:30 | Written by 
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Attracting Novice Paddlers to Surfski Races (Aus & SA)

While some debate as to what should constitute a surfski race – open ocean, downwind, 10km, 25km, triangle course – it occurred to some race organizers in Australia and South Africa that one group of paddlers was being neglected: the novices.

Novices are the life-blood of any sport.  To nurture and grow surfski paddling, we need a steady stream of new participants in races around the world.  But novices often find the bigger races intimidating – to satisfy the demands of the more experienced paddlers, the races are often held in challenging conditions.

So – this season two race series, one in Sydney, Australia and one in Cape Town, South Africa, have started up – aimed directly at the novice paddler.

Seadog Series: Fish Hoek, Cape Town

Dawid and Nikki Mocke have been training people to paddle surfskis since 2003.  But they noticed that nearly all their “graduates” remained social paddlers, in spite of the many and varied races on offer in Cape Town.

Dawid and Nikki Mocke

Dawid and Nikki Mocke (Pic: Meds Martin)

After doing some research, they discovered that many of the paddlers felt intimidated by the big series races.

So, along with Tom Schilperoord and Adam Bothma they started the Seadog Series in Fish Hoek Bay.  It’s been a great success – with over 210 paddlers registering and an average of 40-50 finishers on any given night with the highest figure so far being 135.  “I say ‘finishers’,” laughed Nikki, “because the races are run whatever the weather.  Our motto is ‘never cancelled’ and this means that the conditions are often quite hectic.”

Nikki attributes the success of the series to a number of factors:

  • The “never cancelled” thing works well, she said, because people know that there will always be a race.
  • The races are held in the semi-protected waters of Fish Hoek which makes them safe.
  • The prizes are given away on a lucky draw basis.  There’s also a R250 cash prize giveaway that can be won by any registered paddler – not just the racers on the night.  It’s drawn once per race and if the winner isn’t there, it rolls over the next week.  “We also give away some branded kit – shirt, towel,” said Nikki.
  • The venue is great – apart from the safety aspect, the Fish Hoek Surf Lifesaving Club is a friendly, accommodating place.  The bar is always packed after the races.

“We’ve really tried to target the surfski school type paddler,” said Nikki.  “The races are not intimidating, yet they can be challenging and they definitely give the guys a goal to work towards.”

Sydney Harbour Series

[Editor: the first race of the Sydney Harbour Series attracted close to 100 paddlers.]

The Bing Lee/LG/Epic Kayaks Harbour Series has been designed for paddlers who may never be in the elite class but want to enjoy competitive paddling on a ski, sea kayak or outrigger canoe on the beautiful waterways around Sydney.

Sydney Harbour Series

Awesome Scenery! Sydney Harbour Series

It is also good for that large group of paddlers who are itching to get out on the ocean but don’t yet quite have that confidence to enter an ocean race. Just do a few of the Harbour Series races and you may well be ready to take the next step.

The first race was held at Balmoral on Sydney Harbour early Saturday 23rd Jan in a fairly stiff breeze on what turned out to be a baking hot morning. The mass start got everyone jostling for position with the usual quick starters getting out ahead and the beginners in the usual panic at the back! The course took you into the wind to Fairlight Beach and then came the downwind dash towards Bradleys head. Those less focussed on the competition could take in the beautiful views of the cliffs of the harbour foreshore and the beachside suburbs of Vaucluse and Mosman.

There were plenty going for a swim, mainly around Middle Head, but the Lifesavers from Long Reef Surf Lifesaving Club were there in their inflatable rescue boats and everyone was able to get back on and either finish or else think about how they would finish the next race, which is at Cronulla Bay on 13th Feb.

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The series is run by Harbour Racing Incorporated which is an initiative of a group of surfski paddlers operating under the umbrella of PaddleNSW. It is a ground breaker in that all the paddlers entering the events are insured under the AC insurance scheme. Before this, the organisers of surfski events have been insured but not the paddlers.

These events are good for a wide range of paddlers, beginners young and old, women and men. Just grab a ski, outrigger canoe or sea kayak and see how you go! Find all the details at www.harbourracing.org.au


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