Just sitting here looking out over the lake and reflecting on last Saturday's Makai Cup. Reflecting on how some ski races can have a positive effect on you, as well as those you train with on a regular basis.
Makai Cup 2018 was absolutely one of those races. Race prep started for myself, and in turn others in our Gong Paddlers group, months before. It also signaled the start of a strict personal nutrition and strength training regime.
An amazing change starts to take place in training group dynamics when one paddler sets a line in the sand, and takes aim at a certain goal/race/session. Others start noticing, conversations are had during post training coffee. Social media chatter ramps up a bit more, texts start flying around. The friendly group banter then starts, some is subtle " My focus is on beating you at Makai " some maybe not so " I'm going to pound you from behind at Makai " a few have targets on their backs, while others do the aiming. Bolder paddlers make small wagers on personal match ups. Either way, you can feel the group dynamic change. Slowly each session, another paddler will turn up early to get some kilometers under their belt prior to the normal hit out. The Makai Effect !!
Come race day it was an easy morning hanging at Big 4 Bungalow Burrill Lake while the girls were out playing with their friends. Conditions were looking ominously flat. Later we were off to rego at the BoardWalk Cafe, and were greeted with no wind and a flat ocean. Lucky for us paddlers, the Makai Team always try to make sure that we get the best possible conditions to race. The call was made to hold off the start until 3pm.
That left us with a nice easy drive up to beautiful Sussex Inlet. There was plenty of banter to be had in the car, and at the start. Mainly about sharks, what colour skis they bite, and fellow paddlers choice of nutrition and hydration. How one passenger was going to eat his protein cookie and drink a can of Red Bull while paddling was a good source of ammo. The clear water at Sussex Inlet is something that has to be seen to be believed. Truly a beautiful spot to start a ski race.
Briefing over, it was a nice cruise down to the sand bar for the start. Garmin on auto pause, paddle length check, hydration check, down a gel and back up to remove any weed. Had a minute or two to get into a positive headspace, and go over the goals for Makai 2018. Keep the stroke rate and intensity up, take every run possible, and not let the lead group get too far away by the turn. Simple and straight to the point. With those thoughts, it was time to move in extended line and wait for the go signal. After a couple of near false starts, it was go time.
There was a little biff and barge to be had, which is to be expected as everyone finds their groove out through the chop and wash. My ski did cop a paddle to the rudder, which had a minor effect on rudder feel, but not enough to be an issue. I removed myself from that situation quickly by accelerating ahead. The 4km to the turn can gave plenty of time to get a rhythm going and to focus on the lead paddlers. It was quite unexpected to be sitting on Deans wash with Stew, and Cade out to our right. I'm not one to miss an opportunity to learn about picking up small runs and rebound off a legend like Dean Gardiner. The 4km to the turn buoy went very quick, while trying to emulate Deans uncanny ability to milk every small run to death. An earlier comment heard in the morning about it not being a day for Fenn skis made me laugh out loud. Someone forgot to tell Dean.
Once we hit the turn everyone went their own direction. I had made the call to stay in tight and not let a run go past. This strategy found me at the 10-12km mark almost parallel with Cade and Stew. The line I was on allowed the Next to run swell to swell to rebound and still hold the line to the phone tower.
I hit the 1 hour mark at around 14km, already stoked so far. It was amazing how time flies when you get to be totally locked and focused on a few small things. Runs and power. Don't miss runs and keep the rating up and put the power down.
It was around the 17km mark when fellow Next paddler Ben, finally made an appearance. It did make me wonder if it was his protein cookie or Red Bull that gave him a boost to catch up. Ben and I swapped runs and some banter when i noticed Butts out wide. He was ever so slowly catching up on his Brainwave ski. Butts had only just weeks before, cleaned up the single ski title in the George Bass marathon. Although he did this without training if you ask him ha ha. It was the first time I had even thought about our bet of all you can eat McDonalds to the winner. Last time I spotted him was at the 1km mark as I went past. I still think he must have jumped the start !!
Approaching the point outside of Ulladulla Harbour the three of us were within one run of each other. Any one of us could have crossed the line in front still. Ben on his Next, Butts on his Brainwave, myself on a Next. Seeing the other two cut inside the rocks on the point left me with no choice, other than to run the gauntlet as well. Going around would have cost too many precious seconds. As well as a lot of McDonalds. What could happen ?? It was flat as Ben and Butts went through. Well..... there is nothing that gets the adrenaline going more, than being committed only to see the water sucking away and standing up behind you. As the wave broke over the back of the ski, the only thought I had was to stay upright. No way was this ski going to be shared all over the internet in 3 pieces like an ISIS propaganda video. With a little luck on my side that day, I managed to stay upright and catch one of the following steep swells with a ski full of water. This allowed the De Brito bailer to drain the cockpit in no time, and for me to try and make up the lost 10-15 sec that was just given away. It was relieving to have good runs right into the harbour entrance. Although they also brought Cam along for the ride on his Uno Max. Nothing like a sprint finish at the end of a 23km ocean race. Thanks Cam.
Credit has to go to former Gong Paddler Macca on his Think Uno, over a 2 minute lead to second place. An awesome display of skill and endurance out there !!
Also Butts, he had a well raced win to come one place in front of myself. Having raced my backside off, you have earned the all you can eat McDonalds. Wagga McDonalds will not know what hits them.
A big thanks to the Makai Paddlers crew for organising such a great race. Year on year they consistently run one of the best races in the country. It is such a great weekend of kids playing, racing, and catching up with friends and customers. Bring on Makai 2019 !!!!
Photo Credits: Elite Paddle Gear, Makai Paddlers, Butts.