Ocean ski racing returns to the Barrington Coast this week (April 21-23) for Shaw and Partners Forster Race Week with two open-water paddling races, the Nine Mile and the Forster Ocean Classic and a first-class field boosted by the inclusion of Olympic kayaker Riley Fitzsimmons and ironwoman Georgia Miller, who’s just claimed her third Australian Ironwoman crown.
In its second year, Forster’s three-day paddle fest from this Thursday to Saturday is round three of the national Shaw and Partners Australian Ocean Racing Series.
Racing begins Friday (April 22) with the field contesting the 1pm Nine Mile between Black Head and Forster Beach*. They’ll back up Saturday (April 23) at 1pm to prove their stamina and skill facing the big one – the Forster Ocean Classic, a 20km enduro between Elizabeth and Forster Beach*.
An expected field of 200 will converge on Forster – men and women aged as young as 15 through to 70+ with one thing in common, a love of paddling. They’ll compete on ocean skis, paddleboards, canoes and SUPS to tackle the open seas off Forster, all vying for their slice of the massive $25 000 prize pool across the two races.
Entries close Wednesday at midnight at oceanpaddler.com. The start-list is littered with the legends of the ocean: past and present Olympians, current kayakers, canoeists and surf lifesavers, board paddlers, ironmen and ironwomen, all keen to take the silverware. But most of the field are everyday training buddies, teens having a red-hot go, mums keeping fit and old sea dogs who just love paddling.
2021 Forster Race Week start at Forster Beach.
2021 Forster Ocean Classic start at Elizabeth Beach.
FIELD – FITZSIMMONS AND MILLER SHAKE UP THE FIELD
A first-class field heads to Forster with some formidable new names to shake up the established front-runners. Two-time Olympic kayaker, Riley Fitzsimmons, who raced the K4 500 in Tokyo 2020 is confirmed for both men’s races, as is his partner, decorated ironwoman Georgia Miller.
Miller launches her ocean paddling career this week and heads to Forster straight off the back of winning her third Australian Ironwoman title at the National Surf Lifesaving Championships (Nationals) on the Gold Coast on April 10, just a few months after being hit with COVID and pericarditis.
“It’s my start of a grand plan to race The Fremantle Doctor in November. Forster will be my first hit-out and to be honest, I am a complete novice when it comes to ocean ski paddling and long-distance paddling events but I’ve got a good coach in Riley,” said Miller, who’s partner is Fitzsimmons.
“Sure I can paddle a surf ski in and out from the beach, but catching runners out in the ocean to gain an advantage is a completely different story.
“Then there’s the distance! Yep I can do a short-course ironwoman event, but paddling for 20kms at pace, well that’s something else. But I’m ready to give it my best shot, I’m actually excited and it is a whole new challenge for me.”
Riley Fitzsimmons and Georgia Miller
In 2021’s inaugural event, the Gold Coast’s Tom Norton won both races, with Cory Hill and Michael Booth also making the podium. In the women’s field, Georgia Laird took gold in the Nine Mile and the Central Coast’s Jemma Smith won the 20km Forster Ocean Classic.
They’ll be all back, bar Laird, with Norton and Hill chasing points after being struck by COVID and illness for round two of the series. Forster’s defending champion, Norton seems well fit, after making the final of the Open Ski title at the Nationals at North Kirra. His brother Sam Norton is also competing as is his 61-year-old dad, Jeremy Norton.
The Newport Surf Lifesaving crew are all on a racing high after winning the Open Ski Relay at Nationals. Luke Morrison and Greg Tobin were part of the winning outfit, with Morrison currently leading the Ocean Paddler leader board, and Tobin 4th. Mitch Trim is another Newport star, and there’s a family of teens – the Morris brothers Zach, Jake and Mitchell also in the front-end chase.
In the women’s category, there’s D-Mack to contend with! New Zealand’s Danielle McKenzie has been nothing short of awesome in the series’ first two rounds winning the Bridge to Beach and The Chucky and leads the championship points. She once again proved her power and skill at Nationals winning the Women’s Open Ski title. But the pressure is on for the Kiwi with the Central Coast’s Jemma Smith (now training with Newport) and Bulli’s Hannah Minogue pushing for the win, and a new threat with the steely ironwoman, Miller, lurking in the shallows.
2021 Forster Race Week winner Jemma Smith.
2021 Forster Race Week. From left Cory Hill, Tom Norton and Michael Booth.
Another name to watch will be 50-year-old Atlanta Olympian Jim Walker, who despite being more than twice the age of many of the young field at Nationals, made the Open Ski Final and white-washed many in the race to come home an incredible – and inspiring – fourth.
“It was a gold medal finish for me,” exclaimed an elated Walker as he crossed the finish line at Kirra beach last Sunday (April 10). “Ski paddling is my life, I just love it and to come in fourth, well that’s gold for me.” Walker brings his enthusiasm to Forster and his creds, and goes into the race leading the over 50 men’s category after winning his age class in the opening two Ocean Paddler rounds. He’ll face some strong paddlers – and big personalities – including Bruce “Hoppo” Hopkins of Bondi Rescue fame and paddling legend, Tommy Woodriff.
CALLING ALL PADDLERS
The three-day festival includes a Thursday training session conducted by the sport’s elite taking competitors through some of the key skills of entering and exiting the surf zone and how to hook ocean runs. It is open to anyone, so locals wanting to learn about paddling are welcome to join.
The field will also be paddling for good, with a Thursday night Welcome Dinner hosted by Olympian, Jimmy Walker, at The Sicilian raising money for the charity of the series, Gotcha4Life. Paddlers also donate through their entry fees and the aim is to raise funds to support Gotcha4Life and their work to build better mental fitness and mental muscle for all Australians.
For entries and further details go to https://oceanpaddler.com/events/
SHAW AND PARTNERS FORSTER RACE WEEK AGENDA
*Direction of racing subject to wind
Thursday April 21 at 3pm – Training with the Stars – Forster Main Beach – want to learn about paddling, join us for free
Friday April 22 at 1pm; expected finish 1.50-2pmThe Nine Mile – between Black Head an Forster Beach * (13 km distance)
Saturday April 23 at 1pm; expected finish 2.15-2.30pm Forster Ocean Classic – between Elizabeth Beach and Forster Beach * (20 km distance)
*Direction of racing subject to wind direction
FFI Ingrid Roepers at email@example.com on mobile 04 111 989 44
DINNER BOOKINGS – Buy tickets when entering online or email firstname.lastname@example.org