A group of Noosa OC1 and OC2 enthusiasts headed to Port Douglas recently to compete in the Marlin Coast Challenge. It lived up to its name, proving to be a testing event that was not for the faint hearted.

The outrigger paddlers dreaming of southerly winds and following waves needed to be careful what they wished. The 42 km race from Yorkey’s Knob to Port Douglas did not disappoint with winds picking up for the first leg of the race, and gusts over 25 knots predicted.

This prompted race organisers to caution paddlers that conditions were bordering on the extreme, and to point out that there was no shame should anyone opt to withdraw. Add the possibility of crocodiles and the competing paddlers had food for thought.

The Marlin Coast Challenge consists of four stages that can be completed in a single person outrigger canoe (OC1) or in a two person outrigger canoe (OC2). Paddlers have the choice of completing the course as an iron race – the one crew completes the 42km course – or as a relay, alternating crews. Noosa iron race contenders were John Goller in his OC1 and Des and Wendy Mabbott in an OC2. Phil Benstead and Cath McKee teamed with Dave and Bernie Patterson in the OC2 relay, while Cecily Ridderhof and Pip Kay took on the OC1 relay.

The first hurdle was to negotiate the extreme shore break for the offshore start. Rather than coming through in sets, the waves were relentless and at times unpredictable with paddlers either being washed off their canoes or simply capsizing. More than one crew missed the start as a result, a scene that was repeated as each leg of the challenge progressed up the coast.

The more experienced paddlers revelled in the conditions, while others had their work cut out for them. Just to add to the drama, each race required a beach finish with competitors running through finish gates. Some did it in style, like John Goller who was seen picking up his canoe and running through the gates, while others rewarded onlookers with the spectacle of surf wipe outs and a stagger through the gates.

The race was not without incident for the Noosa paddlers. Bernie and Dave Patterson were forced out of contention through injury during a shore break capsize at the end of the first stage. Cath McKee and Phil Benstead went on to complete the remaining three laps, resulting in a first place for the team in the OC2 Senior Master Mixed division relay. Cecily Ridderhof and Pip Kay were leading their OC1 Senior Master Women’s division relay by 20 minutes as at the completion of the third stage when disaster struck through equipment failure, ending their hopes.

An elated John Goller completed the race without incident finishing third in the most competitive division, the Master Men OC1 iron, in a time of 3 hours 37 minutes. Similarly, conditions did little to slow down veterans Des and Wendy Mabbott who not only won the mixed OC2 iron division in a time of 3 hours 51 minutes, but were also sixth overall out of 16 OC2 teams, 13 of which were relay teams.

An adventurous weekend of spills and thrills with more than a few paddlers acknowledging they were outside their comfort zone; but rest assured, they’ll be up for the challenge again next year!

If you’d like to try the exhilarating sport of outrigger please see www.noosaoutriggers.com.au

Story: Jo Searle

1.       John Goller – OC1 iron race

2.       Des and Wendy Mabbot – OC2 iron race

3.       Cath McKee and Phil Benstead – OC2 relay

4.       Cecily Ridderhof – OC1 relay

5.       Pip Kay – OC1 relay

6.       Bernie and Dave Patterson – OC2 relay