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.