It’s been just over a week now since the 2012 Mauritius Ocean Classic and I’ve had some time to think about the event and what it meant to me. What started out as an almost insurmountable physical and mental challenge, ended up being a magical event on a beautiful tropical island that brought together amazing people from around the world who competed against each other whilst also sharing advice, stories and importantly, friendship.
There aren’t many events where a complete numpty paddler like myself can rub shoulders with and line up against the very best in the world. Not only could I share the same space, but the world’s best were happy to share a laugh and a joke, and later even a beer or two. I had such an amazing time surrounded by positive, happy and healthy people that I almost forgot about the sheer terror I felt at the mountainous waves that I’d be facing each day off the reefs of southern Mauritius.
A reliance on self-mounted wide-angle cameras doesn’t do justice to the awesome sea conditions we got to see. 3+ metre swell building up to and finally breaking over exposed coral reef is truly a sight to behold…. and when you know you’ll be in an egg-shell thin boat in that zone later that day, it becomes even more tense to look at. Of course we took wide lines where possible and avoided most of the dangerous spots, but that didn’t stop us from wandering too close from time to time. I can’t explain what it’s like to turn your boat back away from a reef, facing waves bigger than houses that are steepening on approach, when you’re still 2-3 km out at sea. Incredible!
The day of the actual Island Shamaal was probably the calmest day we had there – both of our previous paddles had been far scarier than the major race. Of course, the only hint in the video below is around the two minute mark when the Le Morne mountain behind me disappears behind a wave, but there were many times when I almost couldn’t believe the size of the swell we faced.
Conditions aside, I walked away with many things to think about. Health and fitness for one, as I was inspired a great deal by conversations I had with top athletes on how to overcome challenges to fitness. I also got to see a paddling environment teeming with positivity and optimism. I came thinking that Mauritius could possibly be the end of my surfski days, and walked away amazed and thrilled by the opportunities and camaraderie that the world of surfski had shared with me. Far from feeling it an end of days, I came away filled with even more enthusiasm about my future in downwind paddling. Add that to the incredible friendships made, and the Mauritius Ocean Classic became one of the most memorable events I’ve ever been involved with. Cheers – FP
Extra Special Thanks to: Above and Beyond Holidays, LUX* Tamassa Resort, Stellar Surfskis, Slipstream Surf, Carbonology Australia, MyKayakCoach and Benefit Active for their incredible support. Also an extra shout-out to pro South African paddler Barry Lewin for his idea of comparing how the Le Morne channel should be paddled vs the way Nat and I actually paddled it, and for kindly giving me some of his own footage to use. Check out his great paddling website here.
Here’s the vid – if you have the bandwidth, make it fullscreen and enjoy!