Vaikobi Race Team's #1 USA Surf Ski paddler on the world tour Austin Kieffer, has just wrapped up a 5 week trip taking on some of the world's best races in Hong Kong, Western Australia and the surf ski paddling mecca of Sydney on the East Coast of Australia.
Here he reports on his last race of the tour down under:
The Palms to Pines was my final race of 2016 and the second to last World Series races on the calendar. Nestled in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, the Palms to Pines is one of the few races with a completely flexible course designed to maximize downwind. Race organizer, Dean Gardner, did a fantastic job of adapting the course and making the most of race day conditions.
Due to the conditions on the day, the race was set at 12.5km, meaning that it was shaping up to be fast and painful. Given the large swell pounding the Northern Beaches and the tendency of athletes taking off before the start, there was a very strict no on water warm up policy. Athletes stayed on the beach until a signal was given and then they only had 10 minutes to get out through the surf and line up between two jet ski's for the start.
In an attempt to add a little extra distance and sneak in a warm up, I took a wide line out through the surf. Three quarters of the way out, I realized it was a terrible idea. I timed my exit completely wrong, but I was too close to change my plan as a big set reared up. All I could do was grit my teeth and paddle and received a thorough pummelling for my troubles. It was the kind of pummelling that leaves your shorts washed back into Speedo form and gives your nasal passage a proper pressure wash. Luckily, after three hammerings, I was still on my ski and wobbled up to the start line rattled and with a cockpit full of water with only had a few seconds to gather myself before the race horn......Not the warm up I was hoping for.
The horn blew and Macca Hynard took off like a rocket, leading the pack to the first turn buoy. As we turned upwind, Jeremy Cotter surged on the inside and took the lead. A small pack, including Cory Hill, formed for the upwind grind. Try as I might, I couldn’t find my rhythm. I don’t know if I was still rattled from the waves or if I wasn’t ready for the messy conditions, or even if the pace was just too fast, but by the end of the upwind leg I was hurting. I tried to time the turn well and maximize an inside line, but I was outmaneuvered and pushed offline as we all caught our first waves of the downwind leg.
I tried to gather myself, ratcheting back my pace for a moment and rebooting for the downwind. It took a few minutes and some course correction, but I found my rhythm surfing the waves hard left. The downwind stretch was fantastic! Some moments I felt like I was alone on the water, focusing solely on the wave ahead. In other moments, people would surf in out of nowhere. We would battle, trading runs, leads, and suffering to pull away. And then with a wave choice or a final surge, I would be alone again. I was trying to stay focused on my surfing, but it was hard to tell where I was in the race standings. I might have been top five or I might have been 30th.
In the end, after my shaky start, I was able to put together a solid downwind leg and I was able to push myself to the very last wave, finishing 7th with a run up the beach just behind Michael Booth.
All in all it was a fantastic race, a real learning experience and a great way to round out the 2016 season!
Men's Top 3:
1) Cory Hill
2) Jeremy Cotter
3) Macca Hynard