Millers Run Fun: "Dawid and Goliath"

Sunday, 11 March 2007 07:32 | Written by  Joe Glickman
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The classic sign of a southeaster - cloud pouring over the mountain. The classic sign of a southeaster - cloud pouring over the mountain.

While it's impossible to say who's the best surf ski paddler in the world, it's fair to say that the short list would include Oscar Chalupsky and Dawid Mocke. 

(Along with countrymen Herman Chalupsky, Hank McGregor, Clint Pretorius, Daryl Bartho, Barry Lewin, Mathew Bowman, Paul Marais, and the Aussie duo of Dean Gardiner, the nine-time Molo winner, and Olympic Gold medallist Clint Robinson as well as the Tahitian standout Lewis Laughlin to name an even dozen. Nathan Baggaley belongs on the list but he's DQed until further notice)
 
Given his age (44) and impressive ability to fall spectacularly out of shape each May after Molokai -- he was a close second to 21-year-old Clint Pretorius in '06 -- the Big O surprised a lot of people with his impressive wins at the World Cup in Perth last November, second place finish in Dubai (on a flat sea and ahead of McGregor, Laughlin, Lewin, and Bartho) and second place again (behind Marais) at the four-day 244km Port Elizabeth to East London marathon. In short, Oscar may not have dominated the SA ski scene like Hank McGregor, but point him to a money race he's keen to win (say Molokai) and he's a very tough out; arguably still the best downwind ski paddler on the planet.

Dawid Mocke

Dawid Mocke supporters beg to differ.

Over the past few years, the 29-year-old from Cape Town has quietly made a case for himself as one of the Big Three in the sport. Witness: he won the New Zealand King of the Harbour race in 2004 and 2005 and the US Surf Ski Championship the last two years running. Last year he dominated the Cape Point Challenge, finishing comfortably ahead of Oscar. And last June he led for much of the World Cup in Durban before Hank McGregor ground him down. More recently in his win in Dubai, over a fast-closing Oscar, he established himself as the man to beat on a flat sea.

 

The equation seemed simple. Line 'em up on flat conditions, odds are that Mocke will prevail. Downwind, most observers would bet on Oscar. When Oscar wrote to Rob Mousley, the moderator of surfski.info, that two years ago he'd gone faster than the time that Mocke recently posted for the Garmin Miller's Run Challenge, Mousley set up a dice between the two to see who would prevail. (Mocke's course record was 39 minutes, 52 seconds.) 

On Wednesday morning, March 7, the forecast called for the swell to turn from SW to SE -- lining up to roll straight into the bay -- with massive swells and 30 knot winds. Joined by Mousley and his mate John Blacklaws, the foursome hit the water at 5 p.m. (Mousley invited Paul Marais and Peter Cole but they were unable to attend.) It's amusing to note that Mousley paddled with a full kit, including ankle and paddle leashes. Mocke donned a life jacket and carried a mobile phone. "Oscar," said Mousley, "was wearing his clothes!"

Conditions

Heading out of Millers from the ramp, the paddlers were met by steep, rolling waves that jacked up to three or four meters. Describing the conditions, Mousley said: "The run itself wasn't great. It was difficult to catch the really big fast waves and, besides, the sea was so confused with big swells going in all directions that it was almost impossible for me to put sequences of runs together."

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Oscar contemplating the run

Blacklaws and Mousley started with the world class duo but within moments Dawid and Oscar surged ahead.  A minute or so later Mousley caught a brief glimpse of Oscar's red top before he disappeared. The battle up front had begun. Roughly half way into the run, just before the lighthouse, Mousley caught a "monster swell - the view from the top was breathtaking and the spray blinding as I swooped down the face," he said.  "Bluebottles were everywhere, adding their own brand of tension to the run." (Bluebottle jellyfish inflict an extremely painful sting and are best avoided, something difficult to do when waves are breaking right across the ski.) Mousley was finally able to link some runs together but, he adds, "even then rogue seas kept trying to knock me off."
 
Mousley called it "one of the most difficult, hectic efforts I've done on the run".  Though he routinely cracks 50 minutes for the course, his time was just under 52 minutes. "To give some idea of the conditions and the effort I was putting in to stay in the ski and on the waves, my average heart rate was 91%.  When racing a similar length course my HR usually averages around 86%."

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Oscar heads out

For a bigger version of this image, click here.  

And what of the two paddling pros? Mocke called the conditions, "adequate"...at least for a record attempt. "The conditions were pretty big," he told Mousley over a Coke, "classic for a Millers Run -- big, confused and you had to be focused the whole time." Mocke, who'd been logging plenty of Miller's runs recently, said he was keenly aware of what it takes to clock a fast time. No, he said, he wasn't particularly focused on beating Oscar as much as he was nailing the run.

 

Catch up

Oscar played catch up from the start - Dawid immediately got in front and never saw his opponent again. Oscar said: "I let him go at the start; in fact I couldn't even stay with him. There is a light house about three-quarters of the way into the run, where I caught Dawid. I did see him but he got so far ahead. Because the runs were confused and more technical that's why I caught him. From the lighthouse to the end the runs where easy to read and all you needed was a big engine to catch them.  I didn't have the speed and the strength to catch them."

While Mocke is known as a fast starter - a "fly and willing to die guy" -- and terrific grinder, especially into the wind, he's not known as a downwind specialist. Isn't that so, asked Mousley. "That's correct," Mocke replied, "and I'd prefer everyone to keep thinking that! Give me glassy seas anytime."  

When an exhausted Mousley arrived at Fish Hoek, Mocke greeted him on the beach to help him carry his ski in the gusting wind.  "So what happened?" Mousley eagerly asked.  "Well," Mocke said, grinning, "I beat my own record… and I still have the fastest time!" Mocke's time of 39:31 - 21 seconds faster than his previous best -- set this season's course record. Oscar's time was 41:14. His maximum sped was 27.2 km/h; his average speed over the run 17.6 km/h. 

Record

The fastest time ever for the 11.86 km run is generally acknowledged to be the big O's (38:40), set in December 2005.  Paul Marais' best of 38:50 was set "years ago," he said, "on a spec ski with a spade nose long before the Fenns and other long skis were around." Pete Cole's best, also on a hammerhead, was 39:05. Commenting on Mocke's sterling time, Marais was impressed. "Achieving a record requires luck," he said. "You never know when conditions are going to be just right." Says Mousley: "That makes Dawid's run on Wednesday that much more remarkable since conditions were anything but right."

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Google Earth image showing Oscar's and Dawid's GPS tracks

So how was a flat water ace like Mocke able to prevail against arguably the best downwind ski paddler of all time, and, more interestingly, how did Oscar take the defeat? Says Mousley: "Oscar was unfazed."

Oscar explained it this way: "I had five days of solid three training sessions a day. I did a big session in the morning before the paddle. I normally am still fast enough to catch the runs. The wind was nice and the runs weren't bad. I would say they were like an average Molokai. My heart rate the whole race was just below 160 and on the Molokai it stays around 130 and going as low as 110. My time wasn't very good and way off my best, with a lighter and better ski." Mocke's response? "We've all been training hard!"

How good is he?

So, I asked Oscar via e-mail, how good is this young guy from Cape town. "I think he's good but I can't tell how good he is as I thought if I wasn't feeling bad I should have done around 36 minutes. When I did my fastest I was on a heavy ski and didn't even have opposition. With somebody pushing me I should have been faster." In Oscar parlance that means, Mocke's very good but not as good as me.

Later this month, on March 24, Oscar and Dawid will line up at the King of the Harbour New Zealand. It's a race Oscar's never done and one he'd sorely like to win; Mocke is confident that he'll retake the title but he's too modest to say so.


Stay tuned.

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