Oy. Call for the first morning is at 6:30 AM with competition to start at 7. Not so hard for me, since I am awake a little after 4 AM, but still, it is dark outside and raining as we leave for Maroochydore and we arrive on time and discover I am in heat 5.
It is an interesting contest. Heats of 5 paddlers, 15 minutes long, and a creative scoring system: You are allowed to catch as many waves as you want, and the judges will score each ride, but you will only get credit for a single ride. To get credit for the wave, you must raise your paddle over your head and then paddle immediately to the beach. So after each ride, you have to ask yourself whether you think that ride was good enough, or if you should try for another wave. To make it more interesting, if you run out of time, your get nothing.
Conditions are fairly big, with some good-sized barrels firing off. Boris and I are watching, and see a paddler deep in the barrel catch an edge and then get sucked up inside the barrel and go over the falls and get absolutely pounded. A couple of roll attempts end with a swim, and we suddenly realize that the paddler is floating but not moving. A bunch of us run into the water and swim out to the person, who turns out to be the reigning women’s world champ. She’s swallowed a bunch of water and is coughing and retching. We swim her in and then carry her ashore, and although she’s coming around and feeling better, the ambulance shows and and, as far as I understand it, she’s off to the hospital to be checked out. (She turned out to be perfectly fine.)
But hell’s bells, talk about intimidating.
Quite a few people have gone swimming by the time my heat comes up, and here I go, in my surf boat for the first time since early May, after having paddled my river boat for many weeks. I’m immediately reminded: this thing is super-tippy. I get pounded when paddling out, and discover that my roll isn’t working so hot. A couple of beat-downs later, I simply bail out.
And am reminded of Carlisle’s rule of swimming: bailing out rarely improves your circumstances. Better to relax (after all, you can get a breath even when you fail), take some time to diagnose what you are doing wrong, and keep firing off roll attempts and until it is clear that they aren’t going to work.
So there I am, swimming, feeling totally silly, and a couple of guys come out an grab my boat and give me a tow too (they are wearing swim fins, which greatly simplifies the rescue operation). Back on the beach, I hop back in my boat and paddle back out, get a single not-bad ride, claim it, and I’m done. At the end of the day, I’m third of five in my heat, not so bad, but only first place advances from round 1. Meanwhile, I’m not feeling very confident.
Boris and I then head to the local car rental place, where I pick up a cute little read Hyundai Getz, a small hatchback. It turns out that it is long enough that I can (just) fit my boat inside! Score!! Boris then hands me the keys to the house and heads back to Brisbane. After going back to the beach to watch the rest of the comp (holy moley, there are some super good surfers in the finals!), I head home via the supermarket, make myself dinner, and then make my way to Twin Waters Resort, the contest headquarters, for the award ceremony for the Shootout and a paddler’s meeting. I meet my teammates, find out that we start again tomorrow at someplace called Alexandra Headlands bright and early: meet at 6:30, start at 7:00 with Men’s Open High Performance. I’m in heat 2—can’t be late!