By Austin Kieffer (USA) - Vaikobi Race Team
Photo Credit: Sam Murray
The Doctor is one of the few surfski races in the world that offers a true ocean crossing and there is something uniquely adventurous about an ocean crossing. Perhaps it stems from the knowledge that, at half way, you are further from shore than any sane person should be. Or perhaps it’s the wild quality of the ocean so far from shore.
Regardless, the Doctor is one of the few races of its kind and as a result draws a tremendous field of talent and depth. The 27km crossing starts at Rottnest Island, blasts out a kilometer to a hotspot, turns left towards the Australian coast for 20km, and finally hooks another left around a central channel marker for a furious 6km finish to Sorento Beach. Named after the winds that blow consistently in Perth, Australia at that time of year, the Doctor is a must do for anyone with their eye on global surfski.
As you go through the pre-race preparation for the Doctor, it becomes quite obvious why crossings are traditionally logistical nightmares. For this race, competitors must load their boats with hundreds of others on privately chartered barges the day before the race. These barges leave early Saturday morning, while racers themselves take the public ferry to the destination island.
Once there, the barges are unloaded and everyone finds their ski (in a sea of white surfskis [predominantly consisting of only two brands] it’s not as easy as it sounds). And finally, racers settle in and try to avoid the sun as race organizers wait for the afternoon wind to build.
This year, however, we were waiting for a Doctor that refused to work on weekends. With a high of 100 degrees, race day saw the lightest wind of the surrounding three weeks. The 2016 Doctor was a hot and brutal grind, pure and simple. Conditions were so brutal that many athletes received medical attention following the race (including the reigning world champ, who still managed a fantastic second place finish).
The Race Begins
The pace off the line was as hot as the weather. Hank and Olympian Kenny Wallace were off like rockets, pushing the pace to the hot spot (turning the marker first and second respectively). Further back, I rounded the hotspot to see the 20+ km of hot, lumpy ocean stretching out before me. I was already burning up. I knew I had to conserve in this first half if I had any hope of lasting the entire course. I backed off my pace and mournfully watched the leaders crawl away into the shimmering heat.
I put all my focus on paddling as efficiently and smoothly as possible. Mercifully, the Fenn S made it easy and I was able to milk every minute bump and ripple that came my way. Finally, after an hour of what felt like an eternity (and the loss of most of my body weight in liquid), I miraculously started feeling better. Maybe my body adjusted somehow, maybe it found some semblance of homeostasis in the brutal heat, but whatever it was, I could feel that I had a little more gas to give. It was time to see if my strategy of conserving would actually work.
Around that same time, a small breeze began to build (nothing substantial mind you, but the 5-10 knots were just enough to kick up small waves). Just ahead of me, Big Wave Macca seemed to be experiencing the same phenomena as he picked up the pace. Determined to try and catch him, we put our heads down and started gain ground. I never managed to pass him, but we seemed to keep the exact same separation as we hunted racers down. It wasn’t any less brutal or hot, but there is something magical about passing people in the later stages of a race and it seemed to be giving us both a little extra charge. In the end, we were able to claw our way back from the mid-teens to an amazing 6th and 7th finish, just 7 seconds apart! That being said, I did have to lie down in the shade for about 15 minutes after the race to gather myself.
My hat goes off to everyone who competed in the brutal conditions and the resilience of the top finishers who went out hard from the first stroke, inspires the heck out of me (well it does every time I am fortunate enough to race with them, but especially today).
1) Hank McGregor
2) Cory Hill
3) Mark Anderson
4) Dawid Mocke
5) Jasper Mocke
6) Macca Hynard
7) Austin Kieffer
8) Kenny Rice
9) Kenny Wallace
10) Brendan Rice
1) Hayley Nixon
2) Teneal Hatton
3) Niccole Russell
4) Tegan Fraser
5) Wendy Reyntjes
6) Rachel Clarke
7) Jamie Roberts