The founder of the Round Bowen Challenge and this year’s Master of Ceremonies, Martin Clarke says last weekend’s race around the island conjured memories of the toughest race ever, in 2002. That year, he says, 10 foot swells meant even experienced paddlers couldn’t finish, and the winner from the year 2000 was pushed into retirement.
“The waters around Roger Curtis were a mess,” said Clarke, following the race awards presentation and barbeque. “That’s always where you’re going to run into trouble whether it’s politically or climatically.”
Dr. Leah Kline, works on the rescue boat for the race each year and says that while this year the swell was not as high (6 feet around the Cape) as 2002, the waters were extremely choppy and erratic.
“Leaving Tunstall Bay we saw the beginning of this water that looked like it was in a washing machine,” says Kline. “There was a following sea, wind at the back, and these reflective waves that made a super-sized effect.”
Kline says that in checking-in with the various paddlers, she noticed even the experienced surf skiers were forced to concentrate hard to maintain their balance near Cape Roger Curtis. She says a man paddling an outrigger gave her the thumbs-up near the Cape, and told her after the race he had a great time. Another stand-up paddleboarder who gave the her the thumbs up had, as it turns out, paddled to the race from Nanaimo.
“He was clearly in his element,” says Kline. She adds that there were a lot of people, stand up paddle-boarders and inexperienced surf skiers in particular, that needed to be pulled off the water.
“There was one woman, an inexperienced surf skier who started the race in Tunstall and just couldn’t stay balanced in her boat and didn’t have the strength to cope, she was quite happy to be rescued,” says Kline. “But another man, who it turns out was her husband made it past the light house at Cape Roger, but had capsized 25 times already. It took some convincing to get him in the boat, but by the time we did it was clear he was showing signs of hypothermia.”
Stand-up paddleboarder Arne Guttmann says his 14 foot board just couldn’t hack it in the rough conditions, and he had to be pulled out of the water after 20 kilometers.
“My friend and I had been training really hard for similar distances, but it was just too much work out there,” says Guttmann. “I remember a couple of times when a kilometer took me probably 20 minutes to half an hour, when in good conditions I can cover a kilometer in 2 minutes.”
Like other experienced surf skiers, race-winner Ken Rice found the area around Cape Roger Curtis to be a great opportunity to accumulate speed. He figures he managed to travel at roughly 15 km per hour. Rice, who competes at roughly seven international paddling competitions per year and studies sports management in Capetown, South Africa, says he’s extremely pleased with how the race went.
“This race is longer than normal, and I’ve never raced around an island before. Racing around an island means you have absolutely everything involved, upwind, downwind, side-wind… and that makes it very exciting. And the whole way around it is exceptionally beautiful,” says Rice.
Rice completed the 33 kilometers around Bowen in 2 hours and 31 minutes, with record-holder Wes Hammer finishing 17 minutes behind him.