Team Oceanpaddler

Dean Gardiner

Oceanpaddler founder Dean Gardiner is regarded by his peers as the best Australian downwind paddler of our time, his reputation founded on countless victories internationally at the world-renowned Molokai Challenge, at the ICF World Cup, world regattas and countless races in Australia. 

A nine-time Molokai World Champion, Dean’s first Molokai was in 1989, and since then he has raced almost every one of the 53 km Hawaiian enduros.  The most revered ocean ski race in the world, paddlers are faced with an ocean crossing, traversing the Kaiwi Channel from Molokai island to Oahu.   So dominant was Dean, that the race record that was set in 1994 – and he bettered in 1998 – held strong for 24 years, only broken in 2018 by his good friend and fellow Fenn paddler, Cory Hill. 

Perth born and bred, Dean was the founder of the iconic Doctor race, a 27 km downwind race from Rottnest Island to Perth.  He staged his first Doctor in 2001, won it in 2022, and has built it over the last two decades to the legendary event it is today. 

In 2002, Dean introduced ocean paddling to Australia through the introduction of Fenn skis to our shores, and the development of the first ocean racing series. 

Two decades of hard work and financial risk by Dean, has seen the sport flourish in Australia and now Oceanpaddler organises the Shaw and Partners Australian Ocean Racing Series, a 16-race championship across five Australian states. 

Dean’s a pioneer of ocean ski racing, and along with a handful of passionate paddlers from around the globe, is largely responsible for the popularity of the sport today.

Oceanpaddler owner and founder Dean Gardiner has been Australia’s most successful ocean paddler over the years. He is regarded as one of the best downwind paddler by his peers with a reputation backed up by outstanding results.

From his first Molokai Surf Ski win in 1999, he has won the title 9 times and held the record which he set in 1994 until 2018 when it was broken by Fenn paddler and good friend Cory Hill. 

In 2002 Dean introduced ocean paddling to Australia through the hugely successful ocean racing series. The growth of the sport in Australia has largely been attributed to the hard work and financial investment that Dean has put into the sport.

Dean is regarded as one of the pioneers of ocean paddling and along with a couple of others are largely responsible the growth of the sport and where it is today.


Dean’s story…

Born in Perth, Dean started paddling at 13, a fun pursuit with some mates out of Floreat Surf Club.  A lack of surf in the summer months, and an abundance of downwind on Perth’s beaches, made paddling the ideal replacement for riding a surfboard.

“I was paddling pretty young but never really got into the competitive side till my late-teens.  Back then I was inspired by guys like Ken Vidler, who had dominated surf ski and ironman racing,” said Dean. 

Dean trained most of the time by himself and would paddle up wind from Floreat, then catch the runs back nearly every afternoon.

In his late teens, Dean started working as a professional fisherman in Australia’s north.

“Those were interesting times as I was really enjoying the paddling and was just starting to get into the competitions.  

“Fortunately for me, fishing kept me on the water and was predominantly winter months in the north and I would bolt back to paddle in Perth over summer. I kept myself pretty fit on the fishing boats with loads of surfing and running when we were back at port.”

By his late-teens, Dean had moved to the stronger City of Perth Surf Club and was really starting to perform in surf-lifesaving events. 

“I came back from a season in the north and was pretty fit and jumped straight on the ski at the start of summer. I was still a junior, and Kelvin Graham who went on to win many surf-lifesaving titles and an Olympic medal in kayaking, was the guy to beat. 

“It was great to have Kelvin around in those early days as he set the bar very high when it came to performance and dragged a few of us along for the ride.”

There were no real solid training programs for ski paddlers in existence at the time, so Dean came up with a way of converting swim training to paddling.

“I had guidance at City of Perth from guys like Greg Mickle and I learnt to train under the tough swimming regime that Rick Turner had created. It was Rick’s programs I used as the base for my ski paddling training. 

“Rick was awesome with longer distance swimmers. Given that our races at the time were around 4 minutes long, it made sense to train the same as a two and four hundred metre swimmer but on a ski.

At the time, work in the fishing industry was diminishing so Dean became a skipper on the trawlers in Exmouth Gulf.  “I loved working on the boats and the north-west lifestyle, but it was taxing on the body and was unsustainable as any income was quickly soaked up in living expenses.”

In the late 80s, Dean moved east to Sydney and Manly Surf Club.  Working as a lifeguard and driving charter boats on Sydney Harbour provided an income and paddling with guys like Steve Wood, Greg Bennett, Tony Vieceli and Guy Leech gave him a competitive drive.

The surf-lifesaving events at that time were great, but Dean was more inspired by the longer events that were emerging. A few years before Grant Kenny had won Molokai as a 16-year-old and news of endurance events in South Africa, Tahiti and the US was filtering out.

“I competed in the SLSA events with some good results but it was the open water events that I was drawn to,” said Dean.  “I think this may have stemmed from my days at sea on the fishing boats and feeling comfortable with the expanse, having a sixth sense for the small idiosyncrasies the ocean can present.”

In the late-eighties, Dean competed in his first Molokai. He was hooked and has been to nearly every event since. Dean won most of the Molokai events through the nineties breaking the record in 1994, and then again in 1997. That record was held until 2018 when it was broken by Dean’s good mate Cory Hill and then in 2019 by another mate Hank McGregor.

Early nineties also saw the creation of the 20 Beaches race in Sydney. Dean won the first of these events, and just about every other race that was going at the time.

In 2004, Cape Town hosted the first ever ICF Surf Ski World Cup and Dean took this out from Herman Chalupsky and Tim Jacobs in big seas.

“I was travelling a lot in the late 90s and early 2000s. There were quite a few events at that time in different countries and I loved going to those places and racing different people.”

It was on one of these trips to South Africa that Dean met up with Keith Fenn.  “I had never paddled the South African skis and was adamant that I never would.  I had total faith in Ray Burtons skis made in Australia, and felt I would be giving something up if I moved to the “Saffa skis” even though I knew they were quicker.”

“But around the time Ray Burton passed away.   I rolled up to a race in South Africa, and my ski didn’t make it.  Keith gave me one of his to use and since then I have been paddling a FENN.”

At the end of the race, Keith told Dean to hang onto the ski.  Dean bought two more and put them on a plane in Cape Town – the first importation of ocean racing skis into Australia and a purchase that would signal the start of Oceanpaddler.

At the same time Dean forged a relationship with a major men’s magazine and the Australian Ocean Racing Series was formed. “When I brought the three skis back I didn’t really know what I was going to do with them as there was no ocean racing series in Australia and the couple of distance events that did exist still required the use of SLSA skis. 

“These skis were longer, lighter, thinner and a hell of a lot faster, so I started a race for them!”   The first Australian Ocean Racing Series event (The Men’s Health Ocean Racing Series) was held at Balmoral Beach in 2002 with another seven races throughout the country that summer.

“We had pretty good support through Men’s Health but it was a lot of work to set up and some events saw only 14 competitors turn up!. There was no interest from Canoeing or SLSA in our events, and to be honest, that was disappointing for me.”

Dean is very proud of the status of ocean ski racing today, and Oceanpaddler’s exciting 16-race, five state Shaw and Partner National Series that attracts hordes of enthusiastic paddlers, most racing ocean skis.

“We get 500 paddlers plus at events.  I love that everyone is so passionate about the sport, but why wouldn’t they be?  It’s a sport where they can race from a teen through to a veteran.  It’s a sport for life, is great for your core, great for your aerobic fitness, and kind to your knees, and importantly has a camaraderie and community like no other,” said Gardiner.

Oceanpaddler owner and founder Dean Gardiner has been Australia’s most successful ocean paddler of the years. He is regarded as the best downwind paddler by his peers with his reputation backed up by outstanding results.

From his first Molokai Surf Ski race in 1999 Dean has taken part in almost every race since, winning the event 9 times and held the record for the race since 1994 until his good friend and Fenn paddler Cory Hill broke it in 2018. 

In 2002 Dean introduced ocean paddling to Australia through the hugely successful ocean racing series. The growth of the sport in Australia has largely been attributed to the hard work and financial investment that Dean has put into the sport.

Dean is regarded as one of the pioneers of ocean paddling and along with a couple of others are largely responsible the growth of the sport and where it is today.


History

Dean started paddling as a thirteen year old with some mates out of Floreat Surf Club in Western Australia. A lack of surf in the summer months and an abundance of downwind on Perth’s beaches made paddling an appropriate replacement for riding a surfboard.

“I was paddling pretty young but never really got into the competitive side till quite a few years later” Back then I was inspired by guys like Ken Vidler who had dominated Surf Ski and Ironman racing in the Surf Lifesaving events”.

Dean trained most of the time by himself and would paddle up wind from Floreat then catch the runs back nearly every afternoon.

In his late teens Dean started working as a professional fisherman in Australia’s North.

“These were interesting times as I was really enjoying the paddling and was just starting to get into the competitions, we all have to work at some point and fishing was what I wanted to do. Fortunately for me it kept me on the water and was predominantly winter months in the North and I would be back to paddle in Perth over the summer months. I kept myself pretty fit on the fishing boats with loads of surfing and running when we were back at port.”

By that time Dean had moved to the stronger City of Perth Surf Club and was really starting to perform in the Surf Lifesaving events. 

“I came back from a season in the North and was pretty fit and jumped straight on the ski at the start of summer. This was in my last year as a junior competitor and Kelvin Graham (who went on to win many Surf Lifesaving Titles and an Olympic Medal in the kayaks) was the guy to beat. It was great to have Kelvin around in those early days as he set the bar very high when it came to performance and kind of dragged a few of us along.”

The move to City Of Perth Surf Club was a good one for Dean as there were quite a few good role models to guide some of the younger competitors. There were no real solid training programs for ski paddlers around at the time so Dean came up with a way of converting swimming training to paddling.

“The move along the beach was a good one as I had guidance from guys like Greg Mickle and learnt to train under the tough swimming regime that Rick Turner had created. It was Ricks programs that in the future I would use as the base for my ski paddling training. Rick was awesome with 200, 400 and longer distance swimmers. Given that our races at the time were around two and a half to four minutes long, it made sense to train the same as a two and four hundred meter swimmer but on a ski.”

At this time the fishing industry was dying and new strategies had been implemented to replenish the diminished fish stocks. This meant that the work was drying up or was simply not profitable. It was time to move on.

Dean was working as a lifeguard through the summer months and still heading North for the winters basicly working for minimal pay as a skipper on the trawlers in Exmouth Gulf. 

“I loved working on the boats and the North West lifestyle, but it was taxing on the body and was unsustainable as any income was quickly soaked up in living expenses.”

In the late 80s Dean moved to East and to Manly Surf Club. Working as a Lifeguard and driving Charter Boats on Sydney Harbour provided an income and paddling with guys like Steve Wood, Greg Bennett, Tony Vieceli and Guy Leech gave him a competitive drive.

The Surf Lifesaving events at that time were great but he was more inspired by some of the longer events that were starting to become more prevalent around the World. A few years before Grant Kenny had won the Molokai event as a sixteen year old and news of events in South Africa, Tahiti and the US was starting to filter out.

“I competed in the SLSA events with some good results but it was the open water events that I felt I was getting drawn to. I think this may have stemmed from my days at sea on the fishing boats and feeling comfortable with the expanse and learning the small idiosyncrasies the ocean can present.”

In the late eighties Dean competed in his first Molokai event. He was hooked and has been to nearly everyone ever since. Dean won most of the Molokai events through the nineties breaking the record in 1994 then again in 1997. That record was held until 2018 when it was broken by Dean’s good mate Cory Hill and then in 2019 by another mate Hank Macgreggor.

Early nineties also saw the creation of the 20 Beaches race in Sydney. Dean won the first of these events just about every other race that was going at the time.

In 2004 Cape Town hosted the first ever ICF Surf Ski World Cup. Dean won this from Herman Chalupsky and Tim Jacobs in big seas.

“I was travelling a lot in the late 90s and early 2000s. There were quite a few events at that time in different countries and I loved going to those places and racing different people. “Some of those events still exist today but as is the nature of sports like ours it is very difficult to sustain events over an extended period of time.”

It was on one of these trips to South Africa that Dean met up with Keith Fenn. 

“I had never paddled the South African skis and was adamant that I never would.  I had total faith in Ray Burtons skis made in Australia and felt I would be giving something up if I moved to the “Saffa skis” even though I knew they were quicker.”

Around that time Ray Burton retired.

“I rolled up to a race in Knysna, SA, and my ski didn’t make it. Back then we used to fly with our skis. Keith gave me one of his to use and since then I have been paddling those craft.”

At the end of the trip Keith told Dean to hang onto the ski, he bought two more and put them on a plane in Cape Town hence the first import of ocean racing skis into Australia and the start of Oceanpaddler.

At the same time Dean forged a relationship with a major men’s magazine and the Australian Ocean Racing Series was formed.

“When I brought the three skis back I didn’t really know what I was going to do with them as there was no ocean racing series in Australia and the couple of distance events that did exist still required the use of SLSA skis. These skis were longer, lighter, thinner and a hell of a lot faster.”

 “So I started one.”

The first Australian Ocean Racing Series event (The Men’s Health Ocean Racing Series) was held at Balmoral Beach in 2002 with another seven races throughout the country that summer.

“We had pretty good support through Men’s Health magazine but it was a lot of work to set up and some events saw only 14 competitors turn up which was disappointing. There was no interest from Canoeing or SLSA in our events which was also disappointing.”

Dean can be proud of what exists today with a very solid National Series, most states have their own series and on any given weekend there is an event going on made up predominantly of ocean racing skis.

Oceanpaddler owner and founder Dean Gardiner has been Australia’s most successful ocean paddler over the years. He is regarded as one of the best downwind paddler by his peers with a reputation backed up by outstanding results.

From his first Molokai Surf Ski win in 1999, he has won the title 9 times and held the record which he set in 1994 until 2018 when it was broken by Fenn paddler and good friend Cory Hill. 

In 2002 Dean introduced ocean paddling to Australia through the hugely successful ocean racing series. The growth of the sport in Australia has largely been attributed to the hard work and financial investment that Dean has put into the sport.

Dean is regarded as one of the pioneers of ocean paddling and along with a couple of others are largely responsible the growth of the sport and where it is today.


 

Yanda Morison

Olympian Yanda Morison (nee Nossiter) has represented Australia at two Olympic Games in the sport of sprint kayaking, racing at Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney in 2000 in Australia’s K4 sprint kayaking squad. A member of national team for 6 years, Sydney based Yanda trained at the NSW Academy of Sport, and raced at many world regattas and numerous world championships for her country.

Yanda competed in surf life saving and in 1999 won the Mixed Double Surf Ski Gold Medal at the Australian Surf Life Saving Championships. During her time as an elite kayaker Yanda raced Outrigger Canoes winning back to back titles at the 1997 and 1998 Wahine O’Ka Kai Molokai Outrigger event with the Australian Riggeroos team headed up by Lisa Curry.

Following her retirement from Olympic competition, Yanda turned her talent to ocean ski racing and in both 2004 and 2005 won the iconic 27km downwind race, The Doctor, from Rottnest Island to Perth. She later went on to compete in Surf Boats for 10 years, winning a Gold Medal in the Open Women’s Surf Boat event at the 2012 Australian Surf Life Saving Titles.

She is passionate about ocean racing, and runs Ocean Paddler with Dean. Yanda is responsible for pulling together the nuts and bolts of every event to ensure competitors get to the start line and have a sensational, yet safe, race experience on the waters off the Australian coastline.

Yanda is a Level 2 Kayak Coach and accredited Personal Trainer, specialising in technical coaching for paddling disciplines.  She lives in Sydney, is married and is the mum of two boys.