While the northern hemisphere descends into winter with the surf or snow season kicking off, down under the paddling season is just beginning. Each year paddlers from across the country flock to Western Australia for Warden Marr or Downwind Week, as the fabled southwesterly winds turn the Indian Ocean into one of the worlds best downwind runs.
Last year’s Warden Marr Week introduced by SUPWA:
In Perth this seabreeze is called the ‘Fremantle Doctor’ because of the direction the wind comes from and the relief it brings across the city, especially on hot days. This nickname is used as the name for the first of two great downwind races, The Doctor.
The Doctor is a 27.5km race starting on the picturesque Rottnest Island and finishing in Perth’s northern suburb, Sorrento. It is traditionally run on the last weekend of November, this year it will run on the 27th/28th November (weekend holding period for the best conditions although unless conditions are dangerous it is held on the Saturday). The Doctor is an ultra competitive ocean ski race with stand up paddle boards competing since 2009. To me it is such a special race because you start on an island and paddle back to the main land, making it feel a bit like a Hawaiian ocean race.
There are a few logistics to organise for this race, mainly getting your board and yourself to Rottnest Island. Thankfully the crew at Ocean Paddler organise a barge for all boards, loaded on the Friday before the race and a ferry leaves every couple of hours on race day from Sorrento to get you to the start line.
The majority of the race is a technical downwinder, quartering right across the bumps towards the mainland, before the finally turning straight downwind at the Centaur Marker. Similar to M2O, your line is very important with some paddlers getting caught out by surfing too far downwind and having to take a hard crosswind line as they approach the Centaur Marker. My tip is you are better off being too far upwind than too far downwind of the marker so surf right more than you think.
In previous years it has attracted a who’s who of paddling with previous winners including Travis Grant, Connor Baxter, Beau O’Brian, Jake Jensen and Matt Nottage. This year French star and world number 4, Titouan Puyo, will headline the starting list as world number 2 Michael Booth competes on his surf ski. Matt Nottage, Beau O’Brian and Jake Jensen will also be making a return to try and add another win to their name as will a host of other Aussies trying to get their first win. The forecast for this one is looking a bit ominous with hot conditions and northerly winds so you can expect the winner to really have to dig deep and grind it out this year. If the wind does pick up keep an eye on a few downwind specialists Dave Kissane, Marcus Tardrew (late withdrawal due to injury) and Sam Parker who are set to mix things up on unlimited boards. If the wind is on these guys could easily take line honours and even sweep the podium.
The King Of The Cut
While The Doctor attracts a lot of stand up paddlers in recent years it has become the little brother to the King Of The Cut. SUP WA have done a great job building this event from the ground up and now in its fourth year it is arguably the largest Stand Up Paddle Race in the country and probably the biggest downwind stand up paddle race in the southern hemisphere. Generally it runs on the first weekend of December, the weekend after the Doctor, this year it will run on the 3rd/4th December. Previous winners for the men include Beau O’brian (2013 and 2014) and Matt Nottage (2015) and for the women Angie Jackson has had a strangle hold on the competition. Generally if paddlers can only make it over for one weekend of racing, this is the event they choose.
King of the Cut 2015
The King Of The Cut is a more stand up paddle friendly race for a number of reasons:
1. Straighter downwind run in the southwesterly seabreeze (less technical downwind skills meaning it is easier for the everyday paddler)
2. Half Cut option introduced this year means if you are new to downwind paddling this is a good starting point
3. Stand Up Paddle only race (although outriggers were invited this year)
4. Organised by SUP WA, the state wide stand up paddle association
5. Less logistics than the Doctor
6. Larger prize purse
The King Of The Cut is held about an hours drive south of Perth, in the town of Mandurah. The race starts at Dawesville Cut and finishes at Secret Harbour, in the normal southwesterly seabreeze this is a 24km straight downwind run. The Half Cut is the day after the main race utilising the first half of the race finishing at Halls Head.
I break the run up into two sections, before Halls Head and after Halls Head. The first section to Halls Head is closer to shore and easier to keep track on your line and where you are going. Once you pass Halls Head the land bears away and you feel like you are out in the middle of the ocean. Make sure you have your line ups sorted out for this second part of the race as it is easy to surf to the right too much and you will end up having to paddle up/cross wind to the finish line at Secret Harbour. The finish line is along an open stretch of beach and generally has a few rolling beach break waves so be sure to practice surfing your race board in through the surf, it could make or break your race.
The King Of The Cut certainly gets a larger stand up paddle field than the Doctor for both elite and open racers. This year you can expect to see Matt Nottage return to defend his title, Beau O’brian try and reclaim the form that saw him win this race in the first two years, as well as other Aussie pros Jake Jensen, Michael Booth, Kelly Margetts, Lincoln Dews, Toby Cracknell, Ben Tardrew, Paul Jackson and yours truly. International star Titouan Puyo will have his first crack at the cut and Tomo from Japan is expected to make it over for the race as well. In the women Angie Jackson, Terrene Black and Karla Gilbert are expected to show up and give some of the men a run for there money.
Titouan Puyo in the latest ISUZU advert filmed in New Caledonia:
To me the most exciting part is the growth in the open unlimited class. This will be spearheaded by Dave Kissane, Marcus Tardrew, Paul Jackson and Sam Parker but there are a number of other paddlers sending their plus sized boards to the west coast of Australia to enjoy the downwind conditions. Just in my local paddling crew in Sydney there are at least 6 or 7 boards being sent over to compete in the unlimited class, there are reports of more heading over from the Gold Coast and put those together with the WA crew and I think we will see the largest unlimited SUP division outside of Hawaii.
To make things even more interesting SUP WA has put $3000 on line honours for the first time, meaning there is potentially prize money for the unlimited division. Conversely, if a 14ft wins beating all the longer boards, like Nottage did last year, they will be walking away with a cool $7000. I feel, compared to the Doctor, it is a more even battle between unlimited and 14ft race boards because it is a straight run. For the Doctor, the need to continuously quarter off to the right gives a solid edge to boards with a rudder. For the King of The Cut the straighter run will make a very interesting battle between Dave Kissane, Marcus Tardrew, Sam Parker, Matt Nottage, Beau O’brian, Titouan Puyo and the rest of the pros.
So what are you waiting for. Book your tickets and fly down under for a couple weeks worth of fun for Warden Marr or Downwind Month in Australia. If you are worried about getting a board over there contact the Fremantle Stand Up Surf Shop and SUP WA and I am sure they will do their best to help you out.
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