2023 Marathon Nationals Wrap Up

Nationals this year saw 44 athletes from NSW and ACT competing across a number of events from 3.6km to 30km. As we wind down from a very successful campaign where we achieved a second in the ICF pointscore and 3rd in overall we wanted to share the experience of a handful of our paddlers. We hope that you will join up next year in Encounter Lakes South Australia on the 5th – 8th May 2024.

If you wanted any inspiration or to understand what any of the races are like the experiences of our athletes in general are below and then recounts of individuals races below that.

Overall experiences:

From Chelsea Sutton Under 18s – 
This was my first Marathon Nationals so I didn’t know what to expect. I’m also in my first year of paddling so I guess I am a newbie.

From the moment I got there everyone was very supportive and I loved the team spirit. Everyone cheering our NSW competitors on.

The racing was challenging but fun and it was great to see people of all abilities and ages giving it a go. 

The race distance seemed daunting in the lead up and I was a little worried about the portages, as I hadn’t done those before. But once I got into the racing, my confidence built and I even surprised myself with how much I could achieve. 

It was a lot of fun and I met some new friends. Teaming up with some new partners for the K2 races was great.

I loved being able to visit a place I hadn’t been to before. I will definitely be back next year and am looking forward to it. I encourage anyone who enjoys paddling to come and give it a go. 

Nationals 2023 was shaping up to be one for the ages – while the course was different, the competition really stepped up a level this year. I headed down a day early to make sure my load of boats were there on time and to get a good look at the course. Set on the Barwon River, it was a super pretty place for a paddle, but had plenty of hard banks, which made for a bouncy ride when the heavyweights got going. Practice days on wednesday and thursday left us hoping there’d be more carpet on the portage docks as every entry without the carpet sounded like an expensive problem. 

By Jeff Hosnell Mens ICF 70-74 –
I would like to say firstly how much I enjoyed these Nationals. This is only my second but Victoria’s running of the event it is going to be hard to top. John Young and his team of volunteers were amazing and NSW helped a lot also. The venue was spot on even though the weather Gods tried to spoil it. Friday’s 5km sprints were great to watch I wish I had entered. Saturday was Singles I was in the 70-74 there were 7 entries in the ICF class last year only one. I knew I was under done for the race breaking my wrist 3 weeks in NZ to welcome Richard So very little training in fact I hadn’t done a 20km race since Wionora 2022 I was 3rd for most of the race but blow the last lap. Only 15 seconds between 3rd and 6th .Sunday Doubles with Scott Harris from Manly. Only 3 training paddles we did our best and finished second then Bernie Cragg and Peter Murphy came third. Sunday night James organised a team dinner at Belmont Hotel a great turn out of paddlers and family again will organised by James. Sunday was mixed doubles we had some great crews but I think there were only 2 age groups in Masters so very hard to beat the younger paddlers I teamed With Jane Liddle from WA in a ski. We had a great fourth my footplate wasn’t locked and moved and was on a 2 notch angle and too close to me so I could move my legs so just concentrated on foot pressure on the plate we were so happy we beat the couple in the same boat from Currumbin Waters Special mention to The Champion Ann Loyd Green 3 Gold Medals 🏅 and I must say doubles on Sunday she was faster in her single on Saturday she was a machine.

I must also thank Bob Turner for organising the NSW Caps and thanks to my little team of helpers. It was so good seeing all our paddlers wearing them and especially when receiving there medals because it was so cold and wet most people were just wearing warm clothes. Also a highlight was seeing all juniors and schools racing. Looking forward to South Australia 2024 and I’ll make sure I’m ready this time.

From the Karen Tipping who raced in the general categories –
This was only my second and being involved in a National Championship with over 350 competitors was very exciting.

The General classification means you are paddling either a kayak or ocean ski without any portage.  There were 3 races to compete in Singles, Doubles and Mixed Doubles.  I loved the opportunity to compete in all 3 and it is great to have so many options to get more people involved.  The distances aren’t as long as ICF but that created a different competition. It was just as intense and rewarding.

I was very happy with my results getting medals in all 3 races and was grateful to my Doubles partners – Anne Harris from Vic and Stephen Shelly from NSW.  Also the camaraderie between State teams and meeting Paddlers from the other states was brilliant. 

This is a great event that is growing in all categories – ICF, General, Canoes and SUPS.  This event also included a K4, C4 and SUP relay races for the first time.  Whilst this was a Marathon event, the distances, conditions and categories would also be appealing to most competitive paddlers.

I truly recommend for anyone to have a go. Next year is in Victor Harbour, South Australia and I can’t wait.

From Naomi Johnson Womens Open
…who also reflected on returning to Geelong for another nationals from where her paddling journey began –

Over the Easter weekend, a 44-strong team of NSW and ACT paddlers competed in the 2023 Australian and Oceania Canoe Marathon Championships in Geelong, VIC. With four days of racing from short course singles on the Friday through to a new K4 class on the Monday, there was plenty to get excited about and plenty of buzz. 

I paddled my very first Nationals in Geelong back in 2011, paddling in the Open Women’s K2 with my little sister (aged 21 and 19 respectively). There were stormy skies, chilling winds and the speed with which the women got off the start line was rather alarming! While the race was a fun challenge for us as a crew (and by fun challenge, I think we were last off the course in the afternoon session), the sense of team rather stopped at the two of us. 

Back in 2023, and the first thing one noticed in amongst the tents of the athletes’ area, and indeed out on the race course, was the bright blue of NSW/ACT shirts and singlets. For me, ensuring that every paddler representing NSW/ACT has a team singlet has been one of the state’s best initiatives with regards to marathon in recent years. Yes, most of us paddle for clubs, but there’s no guarantee every club will have a strong turnout at an interstate race. Blue singlets meant I could yell “go NSW” until my voice was hoarse, cheering on paddlers whose names I didn’t know alongside those who I train with on a regular basis. 

Some things, though, haven’t changed in 12 years. With beguilingly blue skies and little wind for the lung-busting short course races on Friday (no, not sure that will ever be my distance), Saturday brought the familiar chilling wind and lashings of rain. It was great fun to see the full breadth of the paddling community on show, with junior singles in the first session of the day and then a veritable hoard of masters taking to the water during the second session. NSW/ACT was particularly well-represented in the masters’ classes, and it was wonderfully exciting to see paddlers running at full throttle down the aptly nicknamed ‘bush portage’. My own efforts at full throttle running in the afternoon never quite measured up to what I could visualise, but hey, the crowds were out in force and the excitement around the fast-paced afternoon racing was palpable. With a catchy playlist of tunes (ok, perhaps we heard ‘Final Countdown’ one too many times) and a dedicated race compere, there was a real sense of event, and I for one pushed just a little bit harder every time I rounded the corner to see the bank of spectators. 

It was particularly exciting this year to have an expanded range of team boat classes on offer. Sunday was same-sex doubles, with NSW/ACT fielding quite the range of crews including inter-club and interstate pairings. For the first time in a few years, we had a NSW/ACT state team dinner, organised at the local pub by Team Manager James Harrington. With such a packed programme, it was great to get together and celebrate our paddling achievements, even if it did come with the early mark of tired paddlers!

A big thank you to the volunteer team from PaddleVIC who put on such a fab weekend of racing, and to James Harrington who juggled his own racing with the team manager role to ensure that we all had a fun and well-organised weekend. While our blue singlets might be packed away for another year, I for one am already looking forward to nationals 2024 in South Australia. It would be great to see an even bigger, brighter and louder NSW/ACT team there. But please, please can we have better weather?

For those looking to understand what goes into some of the championship racing and what our paddlers learnt this year look into detailed accounts of each of the races below. You may well see some of these tactics popping up in series races!

Short Course Friday 3.6 km

From James Pralija Mens Open –
In the open mens, the pace was super hot. It is an absolutely brutal event because you are running at 100% for 15-17min and is arguably harder than the long course. I positioned myself well on the line, next to eventual winner, Josh Kippin. The pace off the start was more than I could match, despite the perfect wash. I slipped in behind for a couple of very bouncy v-washes down to the first turn, and back up to the second. Plenty of close calls, boat bumps and reaching over boats to find water to paddle in, the short course is the “crash and bash” event of the weekend and the only way to stay clean is to lead. Which is fine if you’ve got the pace of Josh Kippin. The first portage was the expected carnage for all but the front three. I got out relatively cleanly, mostly because I’d run a little wide off the second turn and was hunting down the boats in front. Out of the boat, up the hill, along the flat bit, down the first little decline, you run along a grass and dirt path. And you’re thinking “ok, the re-entry is just round this corner, nearly there, just keep pushing”. Then you turn the corner and it goes slightly back up hill. Then around another bend. Then down hill. Then flat. Then around another bend…you see where this is going… Finally you get to a clearing where the sin bin is, and there’s a slippery slope down into the water. By this point, I can’t breath fast enough to keep pace with my legs.

I’m trying to hunt down the kiwis in front of me – inching closer, then dropping back as they turn the cans faster than me. Inching closer again at portage two. I get out of the boat cleanly to begin with. Then I caught my foot on the handle, end up on one knee and made a right hash of it. The kiwis are off up and over the hill and I’m looking at the grassy knoll with absolute disdain. I manage to drag myself through the portage again, round the cans and to finish, no closer to my targets and looking like i’m about three seconds short of a heart attack. Short course done. Not successful, nor a disaster.

Long course

From James Harrington Mens Open
After not getting the start I wanted the day before in short course I was apprehensive of where to place myself on the line and to make sure I got to full tilt as soon as possible. I opted to start out the left side to try get space with Josh Kippin (National Champion) on my left. When the “go” was called I was happy to get away with the pack. Josh led hard on the left side but saw the right hand side pushing forward so started coming across. Seeing a crunch I moved to the left meaning I would be sitting out on a third wash but figured it was better to be out there holding Josh than stuck In the middle. Sure enough Josh kick as we came to the bridge which saw me staring at a concrete pillar but going around it and closing the gap to Josh’s wash saw me on a first wash with the rest of the race on the right side. Only at this point did I think I was in a good spot. After a quick rest I decided it was time to enter the race kicking myself to take a lead hoping to cause the right side to churn around whilst they fought for a wash. Never saw the results but it did cement me into the top four which I was very happy with. As we worked around the lap paddler after paddler dropped caught out by a kick till there was six left. With six boats there was near constant fighting for a wash, you never held a spot for more than 500m unless you led so I spent some time leading. We continued this for another lap till we worked down to five heading into first portage. As we came into portage Adam from Victoria dropped making me excited that I could hold this position for longer as packs quieten down when everyone has a good wash. I exited the boar cleanly but realised the three laps meant there was more water in my boat that I realised so I emptied. Josh and Casey bolted creating a 20m gap as I chased along the long winding portage. I held the gap but couldn’t close it. Glenn has a problem exiting the portage and was behind me but had the legs to close the gap. 

Re-entering I still had 20m gap of clear water, trying as I might I couldn’t close it and realised I was in no mans land. Over a lap and a half Adam re-joined me and we went around together. Unfortunately he had spent what he had and told me coming into the third portage he was dropping. I then faced more laps on my own. The chase pack of Isaac and Mick (Victoria) slowly inched close and caught me just after the second last portage. I was relieved for help before I realised they were planning on resting on my wash. I led to the final portage and realised it was then I had to push, I opted for a safer portage and faster run which turned out to be the best option as the other two made small mistakes allowing me to create a small gap I held to the line to finish fourth. I was really happy being able to mix it up in the front for the first three laps and still be able to defend for fourth but lots to learn for next year!

Long Course K2

From James Pralija in Mens Open –
Well, well well. What a cracker. What a course. We got off to a decent start on the left side of the pack. The entire field stayed as a pack for virtually all of the first three laps and that made for some very tricky racing. No one wants to be on the outside or take a wash they’re going to be pushed off from. So the pack rolled. And rolled. And rolled some more. Never settling for any more than a minute or two. Which is entirely fine, except when it involves K2s. Because at that pace, it’s like truck racing. They go – fast. But they don’t stop, and they definitely don’t turn. So when someone in front stops, it causes a pile up. When someone turns, there’s a pile up. Someone goes, but someone else can’t keep up, the nose lifts and turns. Causes a pile up. It is a race of extremes, and I absolutely love it for it. Therein lies the beginning of the end for us. two thirds of the way through lap one, Josh Kippin and Casey Haynes come forward on our left and take a lead and squeeze us back. We slide back, and James Harrington steers us around their tail off to the right to take up a second wash on their right. Unfortunately, the boat behind us didn’t react quickly enough and spun our bus hard right to a 90 degree turn straight towards the bushes. We’re off the back in no man’s land. But, thankfully the pace of the pack was so up and down with the constant lead changes, it gave us the time to pull ourselves back onto the back shortly before the first turn on lap two. We’re back on again, on a second wash. We’re chopping and changing, up and down. Shovelling water like mad one moment, paddles down the next. It is a hive of movement and activity. The wash is bouncing off both sides of the bank and making it a nightmare for everyone else. Also a little bit of an issue at the back of the pack because the bus sits across two waves, with the rear cockpit broaching the back wave, which means any time spent there pours water in and I can’t pump it back out fast enough. If anyone has seen the photos of Brett and Dymitro’s K2 race, you’ll see what I mean. We were on and off the pack a further three times and eventually, you’ve only got so many bickies to burn climbing washes to get back on. We had a smooth, clean last couple of laps, knowing we did everything possible to keep ourselves in the hunt. It wasn’t what we’d hoped for but we left it all out there. 

Mixed K2 and K4.

From the Opens race James Pralija –
Naomi and I had a great start, but unfortunately got pulled across a wave behind the two lead boats, and that made the opening part of our race difficult. We paddled and portaged well together and had a nice clean race, but we didn’t place in the order as we’d hoped. The portage had become comically slippery by this stage so the fact that I didn’t face-plant on either of them felt like a win in itself. I was intended to also partake in the K4 race as well but my crew all seemed to dissolve in the inclement weather and to be perfectly honest, I was standing there watching the K4s get on the water with a hot coffee in my hands, and not at all feeling like I was missing out. 

From the Opens race Naomi Johnson:
Monday rounded out the competition with two further team boat classes: mixed K2s and a K4 interstate challenge. Still being in the Open age class, it was quite the novelty to jump in a mixed boat at nationals, with competition no less fierce than in the selection classes of previous days. As demonstrated in mixed doubles at NSW/ACT state titles, being in different age classes is no reason for backing off on a good race; after 12kms and two portages the time difference between the crew of Brett Greenwood/Daniela Torre (X V50-64) and Craig Elliott/Laura Lee (X V35-49) was just .7 of a second! 

The event’s grand finale was the mixed K4 interstate challenge, with two NSW crews shaking out tired shoulders and donning blue singlets to put in one final 12km effort.  50min goes by quickly when you’re giving everything in a boat with friends, and wind, a bit more rain and some tight (for a K4) turning circles later, and The NSW Equalizer and team Lee2LayTek took out silver and bronze respectively to round out the weekend.

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