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.