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New Records a Highlight to Iconic Avon Descent Spectacular

Posted on: Tuesday, 7 August 2018 at 9:09:39 AM

Tumbling records and a first in the new Stand-up Paddleboard category were the highlight of an immensely successful 2018 Avon Descent which concluded yesterday evening with the final paddlers crossing the Riverside Gardens finish line in Bayswater at 5.45 PM.

On Day 2, over 100,000 spectators and followers of the event took advantage of Sunday’s fine weather conditions and crammed spectator vantage points joining the near three thousand competitors, supports crews and volunteers as the event progressed down the Avon and Swan rivers.

With a number of community Family Fun Days run by adjacent communities in association with the event, vantage points and parking were at a premium along the route.

Northam’s Avon Descent Association Chairman Greg Kaeding said ‘that the race this year had resurrected the popularity of the unique triple marathon power and paddle event with over 500 competitors competing during the two days. Now in its 46th year the Avon Descent is WA’s longest running public entry multi-sport adventure race and now features several one day short course competitor options in both power and paddle-craft, thus ensuring an event that everyone can challenge. Along with the community Family Fun Days the event draws large crowds that not only recognise the unique achievement, skill and endurance of the competitors, but also enjoy the attractions and festival atmosphere created in support of the event’.

This year the event launched its partnership with adolescent mental health organisation ‘zero2hero’ and commencing in 2019 will see category winners of the iconic race, to be known as Avon Descent Heroes’, partner with the organisations mental health professionals, to take the event and the importance of challenges and sport in life to schools and communities through which the event takes place.

On Day 2, in the 46th iteration of the event, it was again a day of records for the power dinghy racers, with the fastest overall time for the 124 km marathon going to team ‘144 Racing’ skippered by Jay Branson and Justin Ferguson. After reaching speeds of 74 km/h on Day 1 as they shot Extracts ‘Williamson’ Weir north of Toodyay, they went on and set a new Day 1 record of 48 minutes 59 seconds, finishing before many of the nearly 500 paddlers had even started at the Town of Northam!

Then on Day 2, and starting first of the power craft at the 12 midday start; some 5 hours after the kayaks and ski’s set off at the Cobbler Pool overnight campsite, they went on a wild and fast ride through the turbulent and fast ?owing white water of the Avon Valley and Walyunga National Parks. Absolutely flying down through the infamous Bells Rapids and successfully avoiding the pedestrian bridge pylons, they quickly accelerated onto the 37 km stretch of flat water reaching the finish line in 1hr 19 minutes and 22 seconds and set-ting a new total record time for the fastest craft ever in a time of 2hrs 8 minutes and 21 seconds.

Equally spectacular was the time of the first paddle-craft to reach the finish line after an early 7am start at the Day 1 finish at Cobblers Pool south of Toodyay.

Starting in cold, but dry 6 degree weather conditions, paddlers were confronted by a wider and faster flowing river which had risen over a metre in the 24 hours since the commencement of the race. Afforded a greater choice of route options with the fast flowing water pushing them down the river, the elite paddlers in the Olympians ‘Challenge’, including Queenslander and Olympic Gold medalist Ken Wallace, local WA paddler and Barcelona bronze medalist Ramon Andersson, and World Marathon Champion Bill Bain also from Queensland, pushed each other on their Team Nelo 5.2 m single racing skis, but were no match for last years winner and local WA paddler Josh Kippin. 

Kippin, paddling a Kevlar composite single marathon kayak, set a new overall singles paddling record of 7hours 34 minutes and 14 seconds beating the previous single kayak record by nearly 19 minutes and the previous fastest single ski record by 6 seconds.

In only the second year on offer, the first ever stand up paddle-boarders (SUP’s) reached the Bayswater finish line with Albany paddler Paul Hepworth followed in some minutes later by local SUP paddler Ric Yeates.

Paul’s time of 12 hours 30 minutes and 31 seconds put to bed the notion that paddle boarders could not make the tight cut-off times imposed by the organisers to manage competitor safety throughout the event, and now opens the way for a number of challengers to not only reach the finish in 2019, but hopefully break that inaugural record.

Not to be outdone, women also featured in the record fest with the Women’s open single ski record falling to Kiera Albertsen with a time for the 124 kilometer event of 9 hours 9 minutes and 19 seconds. The event ‘mental health ambassador’ had a fast and smooth run through the second day avoiding both capsize and collisions in the 2.4 metre water conditions, the highest since the last high water year in 2008 and the highest for over 30 years.

This year also saw the introduction a number of other ‘Challenges’ in the Avon Descent with 3 new short-course options.

On Day 1 Northam to Toodyay Avon Schools Challenge over 32 kms was won in a time of 2 hours 19 by Mathew Greed, with Mathew and the winning participant school Swan Christian College recognised for their efforts and presented on stage at the Toodyay International Food Festival.

Also on Day 1, the inaugural Northam to Cobblers Avon Power Challenge over 52 kms was held, and brought back previous full distance competitors to compete in this short race initiative. The winners were Avon Descent veteran John Goodbody coming out of ‘Avon’ re-tirement to partner and win with Graeme Keesing. 

The third short course event was the Day 2 Avon Surf Challenge held over 15 kilometers on a circuit form the Riverside Gardens finish line up stream to the Town of Bassendean and return. Highlighting the uniqueness, speed and competitiveness of this type of craft over other paddle-craft, the winners of the inaugural event were the team from City Beach Surf Lifesaving Club.
Chairman Greg Kaeding said ‘that with the surge in popularity and support for the event, other short course race options would be considered for addition to the program in 2019. With the 50th anniversary event only four years away in 2022, the talk was on to conduct a unique event option and celebrate what has become a significant and iconic mainstay event on the Western Australian sporting calendar’.

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