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The people in the Classic

Loyal Landcrew – Eric Barnes

Loyal Landcrew – Eric Barnes

Landcrew Eric Barnes with offsider Janet Corish waiting for their paddler to finish at Brooklyn

Quiz question – who enters a canoeing event but drives the whole way because they don’t want to get wet? It’s the landcrew, the people who get their paddlers to the finish with a healthy mix of food, warmth and encouragement. Eric Barnes has landcrewed 38 Classics – has anyone else landcrewed that often?

Q. Who do you landcrew for? My son, Richard.

Q. Why? How could I stop now?

Q. Best moment? So many over the years. Getting a good sleep at each checkpoint before Richard arrives is my favourite moment of each Classic. Landcrewing with the legendary Bruce Morrison as Richard and the equally legendary Joan Morrison paddled a Classic together. Celebrating my 80th birthday at the Low Tide Pitstop which my son John runs. At the Classic Dinner, being introduced to Mardi who would become my lovely daughter-in-law. Yes, it certainly is a family event.

Q. Worst moments? The rainy Classics. The storm at the start at Windsor after a hot day, just when the boats are setting off.

Q. Best tips? A bucket – it carries everything to the bank from the car and doesn’t mind whatever wet and soggy and muddy things get thrown in it. Don’t bring the kitchen sink but do bring lots of warm clothes as it gets cold at midnight, as well as a pillow and a rug to make your sleeping in the car as comfy as possible. Don’t be worried about finding your way as the signposting is excellent and you will beat your paddler to each checkpoint.

Q. Best reward? Richard always takes me along to the Classic Dinner as a thank you and to meet people in more comfortable surrounds.

The Adopt-a-Paddler Landcrew – Trish Beat

The Adopt-a-Paddler Landcrew – Trish Beat

Landcrew Trish Beat (blue top) and Marni supporting three-man crew
Bob, Phil and disabled paddler Emma in the 2017 Classic

Classic rules require there to be land support for every paddler, whether that be a club supporting its paddlers communally, or individuals supporting their family or friends in individual canoes. Trish Beat has never paddled, but knows much of the river better than most paddlers after landcrewing for her daughter Mardi for 15 plus years. Not only that, she has often adopted other landcrew-less paddlers and done the same wonderful support job that Mardi enjoys. Read her story for what the landcrewing role can be like…

I’ve been landcrew for about 15 years and each year I find more things that I enjoy.
The main thing is being part of an event where I meet so many interesting and active people without having to be active myself, and knowing that they are raising money for the Bone Marrow Foundation.
On the Saturday I help with getting the kayak through scrutineering then off to the hamburger shop in Windsor for lunch and a relaxing afternoon talking with others while waiting for the start. That’s an amazing sight. So much enthusiasm knowing they have 111km ahead of them -- mostly in the dark although I believe it is beautiful with the stillness of the night and a moon shining on the water and cliffs.
After seeing my paddlers start, I then drive to Sackville where I can sit and relax on the riverbank with many of the other land crews. The local Rural Fire brigade often have a barbeque and tea or coffee for sale so it is a good chance to support them while watching the sun set over the river and, of course, watching the faster paddlers pass by. Mardi rarely stops there but I always have some warm soup and something for her to eat just in case.
From there I head off to Wiseman’s Ferry where I set up to wait until about midnight for Mardi. It always amazes me that there are so many people there in the middle of the night having fun socializing while waiting for their paddlers.
There’s always a great atmosphere, with everyone discussing how their paddlers are going, and any problems they have had on the way. On one occasion I was speaking to a paddler whose land crew hadn’t arrived (which upset him), so I gave him a mug of soup and a couple of chicken salad rolls and a peeled orange to take with him so that he could continue on. I always have spares of everything ‘just in case’.
It’s on the road again to Mooney Mooney to watch the fastest of the paddlers finish and then wait for Mardi who usually arrives just after I’ve watched a beautiful sunrise over the water.
Almost every paddler arrives with a big smile and great satisfaction that they have completed the paddle. It’s quite a feat.
As far as things to take, I always have a spare waterproof torch and batteries, extra warm clothes for my paddler, a chair and blanket, a good first aid kit, a small gas stove and billy, a supply of canned soup, bread rolls, a barbeque chicken and salad, bananas, nut and muesli bars, some chocolate, a pre-peeled orange in a cliplock bag, and of course warm clothes for myself as it can get pretty cold on the riverbank overnight. It’s also wise to have a distinctive small light at Wiseman’s so that the paddler can find where to pull in. It can get a bit crowded at times.

40 Year Paddler

40 Year Paddler

Greg Thompson and David Lowe at the start of the 2019 Classic

Hi Greg Thompson here. Hopefully I can finish this year’s HCC as it will be my 40th a significant number. What a journey!
Starting in 1979 under the old banner of the Outward Bound Hawkesbury Canoe Classic with a work colleague daring each other to have a go – we found a TK2 with no rudder and threw in a couple of plastic chair seats, 5 practice paddles on the Parramatta River and absolutely no idea of what we were doing we turned up at the start.
These early years saw a big variety of boats and paddlers - many boats just patched together, nothing like today’s carbon, ultra-light, narrow and fast craft. The average paddler was probably a little different too: a little under done in training, preparation, nutrition and hydration (or food & water as it was called then) – many just having ‘a go’ at a great adventure of paddling nearly all of the mighty Hawkesbury under a moonlit sky.
Our race started and we nearly collided with the Windsor Bridge pylon 300m into the adventure - racing was not an option as surviving and finishing were out goals. It did not bode well as we snaked our way down the river calling ‘left, left, left’ then right, right, right, RIGHT’ as we attempted to steer the boat. Mental note to self: have the steering worked out or get a rudder.
Looking forward to a longer rest at the Wisemans Ferry checkpoint and close to the southern shore we were jolted out of our sense of security when a ferry cable jumped out of the water at chest height. I was able to grab it and stop the boat but it then began to sink (as the ferry stopped on the other side of the river) onto the front boat deck. Fortunately I was able to push us backwards as the cable slipped in to the murk. Mental note to self: “Beware of Ferry Cables” - great decision to have the SES at ferry ‘crossing gates’.
Tony was able to sleep for hours (4hrs) at Wisemans Ferry while I laid there with burning arms. Finally we set off again, there were not many boats left on the river. When we stopped to rest we held onto mangrove branches so we would not be pushed back up the river with the tide. Mental note to self: don’t waste time sleeping/resting when the tide is running out, short rests only and keep moving.
Finally, finally as we paddled from Bar Point through the channel and we saw ‘the finish’ glistening in the bright sunshine – the Brooklyn Bridge. Elapsed time 20hrs 3 minutes and 50 seconds
Mental note to self: there must an easier and faster way to do this adventure.
So started a 42 year sojourn.
It is ‘Moonlight Madness’ and ‘retrospective enjoyment’ I know. I have talked to myself many times on the river, usually with the tide coming in, shoulders, arms and arse aching - mental note to self: remember how bad you’re feeling now before you decide to do this stupid……….. race again; or no way am I doing this again, you have to be an idiot, who does this - self inflicted pain - but I’ll finish first before quitting.
The HCC: what a metaphor for life, for my life. It’s long, its sometimes very difficult, you have friends supporting you, to get the rewards - effort and perseverance are necessary, preparation a must, pain/doubt encountered. When you think you are stable and everything’s going well something happens and everything becomes shakey and impossible. You think you’re hopeless and you’ll never finish or achieve your goals. I need to do things in small achievable bits to obtain the final big goal. Keep moving even if it’s slow, things will change.
I must admit that participating in an event like this has helped me with my mental health and well-being. There is nothing like being in a city of 3 million (1970’s) to 6.4 million (2022) getting out early on the Nepean and having the river to yourself (still). Paddling up through the steep stunning gorge - rain, wildlife, mist, sunrise breaking, heart pounding - I had achieved something and it made the rest of the day better no matter what happened.
Others have joined me in this craziness and shared the pain and exhilaration of competing and completing one of the truly magnificent adventures so readily open to us. The great bonds developed with those who care for you as land crew - this is good stuff.
I have been very fortunate that all my kids have attempted the race with me, it almost became a Thompson coming of age activity with Jared, Ben and Rebekah all paddling a double with me when in Year 11. This culminated in 2009 when we had 2 brothers one sister and one Dad in a K4 and finishing. Mental note to self: when training with family find out first what mood they wake up in for early morning practice.
Paddling the Hawkesbury - massive jelly fish bouncing off your paddle, bioluminescence lighting sparkling up kilometres of bow waves and paddle strokes, enveloping fog sweeping over you, stunning sunrises, crackling yellow tongues of bushfires snaking across high ridges, wind chop beating you, the Milky Way turning on top of you, chasing the paddlers light sticks in front of you, the loneliness and digging deep - all very good.
A couple of serious health scares, fortunately, happened just after HCC so I had enough time to recover to paddle the following year. Post heart issues in April 2012, I was fortunate to have Brendan Luchetti and my two sons offer to crew a K4 with me – no expectations and as always follow my motto finish the race, stay upright and if possible go past as many boats as possible. We had a stunning night finishing on an outgoing tide and not missing a beat with 8hrs 11min 53 sec. Mental note to self: always have a great crew around you.
You stagger up the boat ramp at the finish helped by your persevering land crew, exhausted, stiff, sore, weak, aching, skin peeling, thirsty and hungry. A small medallion is pressed into your hand from an encouraging smiling face. Mental note to self: “you’ve done it – persevered, fought physical and mental exhaustion, achieved your goals or not but you have finished - what an achievement! Say thank you for the medal, smile and be nice to your land crew.”
As you stand around recounting the night’s effort as the pain subsides, you warm up, the mind demons of the night evaporate or you slip off to sleep as the long suffering land crew drive their athlete home. Mental note to self, almost excitedly: “Next year in the HCC I can ………..”
So the sojourn continues …….
Greg Thompson [behind John Harmer, the paddler with the most Classic finishes]

1949 vintage - Ocean ski paddler – Tim Hookins

1949 vintage - Ocean ski paddler – Tim Hookins

Photo courtesy of Abbey Digital
In 2012, Tim Hookins set the Vet60 Un1 record. He’s only been getting faster since.
This was before Ocean Racing Skis were recognized as a distinct class.

Tim has paddled, set and held records, landcrewed, and generally been an ardent Classic supporter for eons. He was also Paddle NSW president between xx and xx.
These days, he gets excited by chasing and catching waves on his ski in the ocean. Perhaps he’s one of the hardy bunch of paddlers hoping for wavey conditions on the big open stretches around Bar Point.
This is his story…

Never let that nagging self-doubt limit how far you can go in any pursuit.
When I finally, agonisingly, reached Wisemans Ferry on my first Classic back in 2003, I stopped for a rest and made the unusual decision to have a shower. By the time 10 minutes under the hot water had floated by, my dreams of finishing were in tatters! I never did get myself back into the boat. My wife also had not discovered the widely used technique of forcing her charge back into the boat with some very stern words if necessary.
By the following year I had learnt that the company of good people was a huge advantage in those circumstances and good people with spirit are in plentiful supply both paddling in and volunteering for the Classic.
In a team of three the next year we did the race in Mirage 580s. One of my companions went swimming at 3am, bashed against the hull of a launch with the river current flooding out at about 9 knots near Spencer. We rescued our teammate and soon got under way, though I’m sure he was pretty chilly for a few pitch black kilometres after that.
Meantime my love of Ocean Racing in surf skis had taken hold and I was doing races out in the ocean starting with the “20 Beaches” classic from Palm Beach to Manly.
Back in 2007 there was no category in the Classic for surf skis and very few were entered. The theory was that in an open ski you would freeze to death starting with your legs!
So in 2008 I entered my “Fenn Elite” ocean ski as an unrestricted single craft. I put a little plastic makeshift screen in front of the said at risk legs and survived. Maybe it was a warm year. But this is the interesting thing about challenges. Knowing I could survive a 111km paddle overnight, the next challenge was to do the Molokai Surfski world championship which is a mere 52km, but in a single paddle over the open ocean from one Hawaiian Island to another. Building upon my Classic experience I achieved it and enjoyed the wonderful experience of being out there on the open Pacific Ocean at the age of just under 60.
Since then I have honed my experience as an ocean paddler and have now participated in the Australian Ocean Racing series each year. I have now done “The Doctor,” a premium ocean race of 28km over an open stretch of the Indian Ocean between Rottnest Island and Perth, 8 times. I found that my quickest time was the most recent, done just after my 70th birthday.
I had thought my quickest paddling was years behind me but my recent experience has left me wondering: If I do the Classic one more time, would that not be a great springboard for having another crack at the Surfski World Champs at Molokai? I would then be the oldest paddler to have done it.
As I said earlier, never let yourself be limited by self-doubt.

Persistent Paddlers – Brendan O’Sullivan

Persistent Paddlers – Brendan O’Sullivan

Brendan O’Sullivan has regularly paddled one of the fastest but most unstable craft in the fleet, leading to unexpected swims.

Only a handful of paddlers have completed more Classics than Brendan O’Sullivan. He has set records in a variety of craft but perhaps what sets him apart is that three generations of O’Sullivans have been involved. He has paddled on multiple occasions with his father, one of these with a broken back, and this year aims to compete with his son.

Q. How many Classics have you completed? 33 Consecutive. Every year since I was 15 years old
Q. Why do you keep coming back? Used to be that I wanted to beat my previous times, set a new record or finish in the top 10. But these days (and age) I just want to finish
Q. In what classes have you competed and with whom? Junior TK2 with Peter Dorsman. Open K4 with Brian O'Sullivan (Dad) and Peter and Brian Dorsman (Father & Son). Mixed OK4 with Peter Dorsman, Dallas Newman and another female whose name eludes me. Mixed OK2 with Dallas Newman. OK2 with Brian O'Sullivan (Father). OK1. VK1

Q. What will you be paddling in 2020? At this stage looking to paddle with my 17 year old son Connor (first HCC for him) in a medium rec
Q. Have you ever capsized? Yes, 4 times. 3 times within the last 2km, and one of those times was actually within sight of the finish and the outgoing tide assisted me to swim across the finish with the boat
Q. What is your favourite memory from your Classics? Actually finishing it in 2005 in a K2 with Dad. That was the year that I broke my neck racing my motorbike in the July which left me a quadriplegic. After extensive rehab and learning how to walk again, I had very little training and I only got my neck brace off 3 weeks before the race. I was more of a passenger after 30km, Dad really did all the work. It set my rehab back about 2 months and the Doctors were not happy with me but were amazed that I did it. It was my goal to enter, finish and keep my consecutive finishes going.
Q. What feature of the Classic do you think might most attract a first-timer? The challenge and the added bonus of discovering the beauty of traveling at night, and the comradery of the other paddlers talking to everyone and assisting strangers if needed.

Valiant Volunteers - Nick Stepkovitch

Valiant Volunteers - Nick Stepkovitch

Nick Stepkovitch (left) with physio students at Windsor ready to demonstrate warm-up exercises to gathered paddlers at the pre-race briefing.

The Classic is a test of endurance, both mental and physical. Even just entering the event is an achievement – saying to yourself and the world that you are up for the test. To look after the physical side, the Classic has a team of volunteers who provide physiotherapy and general first aid coverage. Leading them is the amazing Nick Stepkovitch. He has been involved in 39 Classics but has never once wavered from his dedicated volunteering to get out in a canoe himself.

Q. What is your favorite Classic memory? Driving between Dargle and Wisemans along the river road. Full moon, clear night, moon sparkling on the water and the glow of the cyalumes at each end of the craft as they glided down the river.

Q. How long have you been involved? Since 1980, when I was running the Red Cross Sydney Mobile First Aid Team which covered the Classic for the first time. I introduced the physios in 1982 after I finally graduated from Physiotherapy at the Cumberland College of Health Sciences (now the University of Sydney).

Q. What does it take for you to miss a Classic? My Wedding in 1982 was on 23rd October. This was the only time I have missed the Classic since I started. From then, I have firmly stated that the Classic weekend is not negotiable and have missed a few family weddings and events since, as a result.

Q. What do you do in everyday life outside of your Classic volunteering? Usually, caring for my family, spending time watching the boys play sport and being involved with injury management for their footy and underwater hockey. Spending time with my intellectually disabled daughter and covering extra domestic chores for my wife who was diagnosed with blood cancer in 2011. I also get to travel around the world and Australia at the expense of underwater hockey to wear the Aussie uniform to do the physio and watch my son play for Australia and bring home some hardware.

Q. How much paddling do you do? Ironically, I have done very little paddling through my life - I have done more scuba/snorkel activities - in spite of being involved in 39 x 111km Classics and 5 x 266km ocean surf ski paddling events.

Q. What is the funniest/saddest/most heartwarming moment you’ve seen at the Classic? Most heartwarming moments have been the regular paddler, partner or parent seeking out one of my students at the finish to thank them for the outstanding work they did upstream to get them/their paddler to the finish line.

Q. Tell us a bit about your team. I have been operating the services as a training/teaching and research exercise for Physio students/medical researchers and the NSW Ambulance Extended Care Paramedics since 1996. Five of the physios who worked for the Australian Olympic team in the 2000 Games and one who was employed by Great Britain for the yachting had all covered a few Classics with me during the 1990’s.

Cameron Tunbridge

Cameron Tunbridge

Cameron Tunbridge in the front in 2018

How old were you when you started paddling? I was in my early teens when I started canoeing with scouts and venturers and a major paddling adventure in the Northern Territory with my father Max, then entered into paddle sport as a junior, early 80's.

How did you first become involved in the Hawkesbury Canoe Classic? My first Hawkesbury Classic was an intro into paddle sport and came about as a sort of a dare from my father Max and his brother Lyn who were both Hawkesbury paddlers. I paddled a borrowed TK1 essentially without any actual training other than a quick practice at Lane Cove River to figure out how to hold and use double blade paddle, that resulted in about 13hrs to complete, aged 16years.

Did paddling in the Hawkesbury Classic at a young age have an influence there after.? After completing the first Hawkesbury Canoe Classic, guess I was hooked on paddling and entered my first club race at the then newly formed Manly Warringah Kayak Club the following weekend, guess this set my path into marathon racing but moreover or more importantly I believe that paddling the classic presents people of any age or ability and certainly younger people a challenge to overcome the discomfort zone and learn to push through adversity when the going seems tougher than would normally have been experienced in regular day to day life, determination is a valuable life lesson.

How many Classics have you completed? I have completed ten HCC from twelve starts.

In what classes? I have paddled in a variety of kayaks, ski's and sup boards.

What is your main motivation for entering and paddling? Main motivation is always the intrinsic challenge to enter and complete the journey from start to finish, the Hawkesbury river is all mighty and will test everyone's physical and mental stamina so finishing remains the main motivation. Fundraising is very important, this is probably not my strong suit but it's good to contribute something to a valuable cause. Also my grandparents lived on the banks of the Hawkesbury river during the depression years and we returned them to the river after they passed, so there is a real connection for myself in that regard, guess it gets in your blood, probably throw me in there too when I'm gone, as good a place as any right.

How fast have you managed? I have managed 8hrs 47minutes paddling a K1 early 90's and 11hrs 36minutes on stand up paddle board, more recent years, faster in team boats.

Why do you think no one has got even close to your all-time record, despite multiple attempts? Good question and one that has often been raised. I would say the reason is simple but two fold, good fortune and good paddling. Sports that involve interaction with natural elements, times or outcomes will be affected as a result and records mostly will be set or broken in favourable conditions. In 1985 the classic was subject to the Hawkesbury valley area being flooded about ten days prior which provided residual run off that contributed to additional out flow and that influenced the event, whilst I have heard stories about the river bursting its banks and a flood of biblical proportions that some people have since described, I recall regular tidal conditions present from start to finish and benign weather on the night but certainly some degree of extra out flow when the tide was ebbing, many new records were set or existing records broken on that occasion and we originally set out to achieve the first sub eight hour passage. As asked why our open K4 record and subsequent outright fastest time of 7hrs 11minutes 45seconds still stands or has not yet been superseded despite multiple attempts, whilst at the same time many other class records set or broken on the same night have indeed been broke and rebroken, some many times over is probably a testament to our strong team boat capability and skills that were not easily acquired, well managed campaign, eager to perform, young and eager and in peak condition, an excellent skipper was Brett Worth, proven ultra marathoner, we were all at that time in our paddling careers recent marathon world cup or national level paddlers, so when the planets are aligned the job got done. Having said that I would also like to say that a sub seven hour Hawkesbury is entirely possible by today's standards, given that we lost eight to ten minutes with damaged steering gear and repairs to the boat on the beach at Wisemans, we used a traditional timber commander K4 and flat blade paddles of the day, advancements in equipment technology and superior athlete ability should also account for something but finding the crew combination is probably key.

Do you still see or paddle with others from the all-time record setting crew? It was great to paddle with Brett Worth again last year after a 25 year hiatus as regular double partners, we managed first place in double unlimited 50+ amidst some tough opposition in our category and set a new class record and arrived for line honours and fastest time and enjoyed the paddling. Grant Hughes an ocean canoe specialist nowadays and Garry Byrne a multi-sporter, yes we were paddling buddy's for years and still keep in touch.

Were there any disasters? Yes alas on two occasions I have failed to complete the HCC both times retiring at Wisemans. First time was in a K1 this was from too high expectation and lack of proper preparation or going too fast early and running out of determination, young and foolish. Second time was paddling with a partner who suffered from dehydration and hypothermia went into the first aid tent. Richard Barnes or Guy Holloway who were both paddling alone in a double craft and finished, but tired, beaten and disappointed, we went home early that year, game over, thanks for coming, humble pie eaten and lessons learnt on both occasions.

How does K4 compare to SUP? From my experiences paddling the Hawkesbury Classic regardless of craft type is always challenging and never gets easier but paddling from Windsor to Brooklyn on a stand up paddle board is a seriously tough even gruelling way to travel but all the more rewarding to accomplish on those three occasions, guess I would like to give it another crack.

What is your stopping strategy? In kayaks or ski's I prefer a one quick stop strategy at Wisemans usually under 90 seconds, but on stand up paddle I would make two quick stops to take on fluids, due to the duration of the task, but I have done three stops in past years depending on objectives. At this point I would like to thank my dear wife Lyn who is also my trusted land crew and integral to any Hawkesbury paddling these days. I would like to make a Hawkesbury together with Lyn in future and sample some hospitality at the low tide pit stop.

How physically and mentally demanding do you find doing a high speed Classic? I would recommend not getting too anxious leading up to the event, it's too easy to get over excited prior and burn up all your energy before the start on the big day, learn how to set out at a pace that can be maintained, racing too hard early can be risky so progress carefully into the wall of fatigue, get into a mentally relaxed zone and enjoy the journey, the measurement of speed is variable and relevant to paddling ability, meteorological, tidal effects and possibly others are in a group, so I prefer to think of speed in terms of maintaining an best average pace for a given amount of effort, in my case 70-75% of functional threshold, that would be measured with combination of power or forces applied to the paddle, cadence and heart rate metrics, guess it's important to have physical and mental fuel in the tank for the final leg from Wisemans to Brooklyn.

How long does it take to recover after a Classic? In recent years I have been fortunate enough to have been off the water and home around 3am for a good night sleep and up around 8am for my favourite post Hawkesbury beer and sausage breakfast with paracetamol and codeine chaser. I'm usually still buzzing for a few days afterwards but the fatigue sets in around Tuesday, best to keep on paddling gently to alleviate the feeling of overcompensation from doing a massive effort then nothing, something like cold turkey. I would say about two weeks of general physical stress and probably takes a while to come back to normal but possible to make another sustained effort within one week.

VALE Wendy McLean

VALE Wendy McLean

Wendy McLean passed away on 25th May after a short battle with cancer.
Wendy was a stalwart of the Canoe Classic, having been involved for over 30 years. She completed the event 11 times, the last in 1998 with her brother Don.
Wendy held positions of committee member, President, Treasurer and Secretary over many years. She, most famously, held the position of entries coordinator from 2001 to 2011, when a bout of ill health led to her handing the position on to Claire Shanahan. Wendy often would process over 400 entries manually in the days before any computerised system. In fact she said that she preferred paper entries. As entries coordinator, Wendy had contact with many paddlers, most of whom she could recall by name. Many became her friend!
Wendy never retired from the classic. After her time as Entries, she spent endless hours sorting our accounts, so we could go forward in a sound financial way.
Wendy worked tirelessly to raise money for our charity, the Arrow foundation. She was generous in time and money.
Wendy believed that the classic was more than a race but was an event that made a difference to peoples’ lives.
Wendy’s enthusiasm, generosity and friendship will be missed by all the HCC family and beyond.
Wendy McLean 26/05/1943 -25/05/2021

The Mud Queen and her Recipe for Success – Elke van Ewyk

The Mud Queen and her Recipe for Success – Elke van Ewyk

Elke van Ewyk paddling past Cattai in the 2016 Classic Photo courtesy of Abbey Digital

You probably will not recognize her, but that mud-covered person at the Low Tide Pitstop, holding you steady and serving you hot drinks and delicious treats, may well be Elke van Ewyk. She is one of the real stalwarts of the Classic - a paddler and a volunteer and a landcrew over many years. She is also an amazing cook and in the dark you may well get to sample one of her famous slices.

It’s that mud, isn’t it, at the Pitstop. What did it feel like? As my leg descended deeper and deeper into the sticky viscous mud, it felt wet and cold and gave this big squelch when my foot reached a firmer surface. I did get out in the end but I wasn’t sure at the time.

What makes you keep on volunteering there? Being able to help the paddlers. Tony Carr told me one of the highlights of his 2010 race was seeing me wading through the mud towards him bearing a scone with jam and cream and a cup of tea on a silver tray. Another paddler, whom I will never recognize in daylight, called me an “angel”. Then there is the way paddlers wrap their tired and frostbitten fingers around a hot drink with such delight. It makes the mud seem a bit less muddy.

What is the most popular slice? I have volunteered at the Lowtide Pitstip for 3 years. Caramel Slice was the most popular slice during the 3 races I helped at the Pitstop. All other slices, scones, cakes and biscuits are appreciated by both paddlers and LTPS volunteers.

Share with all the landcrews out there your favourite recipe for a slice that will get their paddler down to the finish. My favourite slice is Anzac Slice.

Anzac Slice


1 Cup of Plain Flour
1 Cup of Brown Sugar
1 Cup of Rolled Oats
¾ Cup of Desiccated Coconut
150g unsalted Butter
2 Tablespoons of Golden Syrup
1 ½ Tablespoons of Boiling Water
½ Teaspoon of Bicarbonate of Soda

Step 1
Preheat Oven to 170 degrees C. Grease your slice tin. Place Flour, oats, sugar and coconut in a large bowl and stir to combine.

Step 2
In small saucepan place the butter and golden syrup and on a low heat, stir until the butter has melted.

Step 3
Mix the Bicarbonate of Soda with water that has just boiled. Remove saucepan from the heat and slowly add water mixture. As you add together the mixture will bubble and froth to approximately triple the size.

Step 4

Make a well in the bowl containing the dry ingredients. Add wet mixture. Stir until combined.

Step 5

Spoon mixture into the slice tin. Bake for 14-16 minutes or until golden brown.

What’s the easiest role? Paddling for sure. That’s why I’m paddling this year. I have enjoyed all my roles – be it volunteering at the Pitstop, scrutineering, handing out medals at the finish or landcrewing for my friends. I love the Classic from every angle.

Best tips for first timers? If you are volunteering, don’t forget a headtorch and a thermos. If you are paddling you the Wiseman’s Dash, make sure you change your clothes at Sackville. You will feel fresh and you will have more layers as the cold sets in after dark.

The Persuader – Paul van Koesveld

The Persuader – Paul van Koesveld

Photo courtesy of Ian Wrenford
Talk to this man, Paul van Koesveld, if you want tips on how to persuade a team of 64 paddlers to compete in the Classic

My other Classic career is paddling
Q. When did you discover paddling?
At the age of 53, I didn’t know what a kayak was; at 54 I hired one then bought a sea kayak and at 55 I paddled it in the Classic. I had no idea what I was doing but I got there, loved the experience and felt great. Well, the aches hit a bit later and Angela would have
needed to put up with some complaints at home on the Sunday but I bounced into work on the Monday feeling great about myself.
Q. Have you participated in further Classics?
Yes, I was hooked by the event itself and the positive feeling around it. I paddled 6 more Classics fitted between 2 years in Brisbane, 1 year on the Victorian border, a torn bicep, hip replacement one, ruptured disc, hip replacement two. None of these injuries were due to paddling, in fact paddling was an enormous help to my recovery and I’m paddling better now as a 71 year old. Three of my Classics were in a double, the others in a single and both forms have their joys and challenges. I might yet have another in me, possibly a Wisemans Dash which is a great innovation: go a bit less far but go faster.
Q. Are you a member of a canoe club?
When I entered my first Classic, I didn’t even know kayak/canoe clubs existed. However, I met a member on the local river and joined the local club, Lane Cove River Kayakers, just before the Classic; I really appreciated the advice and support they gave me and Angela, as landcrew, along the way and the joy members experienced from their participation. I’ve been a keen member since then and have occupied a number of committee roles in the club.
Q. Well, what do you regard as your primary Classic “career” if it isn’t paddling?
It is my six years as being my club’s main Classic organiser and promoter plus the years before and after as a member of the club’s strong Classic team.
Q. I guess it must have been satisfying but in what ways?
Although Lane Cove already had a strong history of active participation in the Classic, it felt really great to build on this. There were a number of aspects to this: encouraging members to enter; helping them find suitable club or member craft to use and paddling partners; advice sessions and newsletter/website articles from our most experienced members to help both paddlers and landcrew; familiarisation and training paddles; improving systems and arrangements to ramp up the support for our paddlers before, during and even after the event; encouragement of members and friends to join the support teams; encouragement to raise more than the basic sponsorship sum.
Q. How many Lane Covers were involved?
Between 2012 and 2017 Lane Cove generally had more than 40 entrants with a best of 64 paddlers in 52 boats in 2016; these included serious athletes and experts, beginners and average paddlers. The Lane Cove team was larger than this, with around 20 other members based at Windsor, Sackville, Wisemans and the finish to help our paddlers get down the river as efficiently, happily and safely as possible, most staying up much or all of the night to do so. Oh, a few of us have also enjoyed participating in the Classic planning and race organisation; last year, I ended up in the exalted position of assistant starter – it was fun.
Surprisingly, the bigger the team, the easier to organise – everyone helps each other in planned and ad-hoc ways, shares experiences, and has a great time along the way.
Q. Were you concerned that some starters would not finish?
I have been known to worry about things but have had no real concerns about that. A few members didn’t go the whole way but all did well relative to their own expectations.
A few paddles comer to mind: Kerrie M and Wendy A were almost total newbies to paddling and in a tippy K4 but were always going to get there with the determined Jana O aboard and Anjie L driving the boat along. Chris T always finished strongly, typically with about three 6km training paddles under his belt. Adrian C took longer than he hoped one year but had graciously accepted my “offer” to shepherd a worried paddler home from Wisemans; he was still the first 70+ paddler to finish. Justin P took a long time (including a couple of km paddling with his hands) but became the first 80 year old to complete the Classic; Justin tried again another year but had to leave Kenji O to paddle the double on his own from Wisemans, itself inspirational. Dave H broke his paddle in half near Spencer but still finished; yes, Keg was also in the double with a complete paddle.
Actually, I found a couple of Wisemans Dash paddles inspirational for their speed: Toby H and Andrew L getting their double ski to Wisemans in 4:45 with Matt B in a K1 just a minute behind.
Q. What is the key to club motivation?
I believe it is simply a matter of demonstrating that the Classic is iconic and very important to us and to the paddling community so we are keen to make the event as smooth, safe and fun as possible. After that, current and new members seem to come out of the woodwork to enter and to be part of the support team; it is nearly as infectious as Covid 19.
Race reports and photos of happy participants and supporters certainly help spread the joy. You might think that a photo of members wading in deep, cold water in the middle of the night might be turn-off. However, the smiles shown on the “mud larks” at Wisemans as they help paddlers land and get underway efficiently with a dried out boat, maybe a massage, without forgetting their extra water and snacks and with a rousing send-off has brought out new volunteers every year.
A bit of face-to-face follow-up and maybe nagging also helps.
Q. What about landcrew?
Obviously, other Lane Cove members become landcrew for their paddling mates, most having already experienced the Classic from the water. Yes, the club also helps find experienced members as landcrew for those unable to find their own; the shared club landcrew arrangements can really help in this circumstance.
Q. Anything else to add?
Yes, I encourage other paddling clubs and groups to ramp up their support for the Classic. It is very rewarding, easier than you would think and builds on itself.

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