Dragon Run “The Most Competitive Race of the Year” - Aussies take 1, 2, 3

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Take a technically challenging course, add some of the world's best elite surfski paddlers, mix in a dash of hectic weather and you've got the Dragon Run - "definitely the most competitive race this year," said Dawid Mocke who came fifth after hitting the wall some 5km from the finish.

Winners DR09 Graham Uden

Shannon Eckstein (1st), Jeremy Cotter (2nd) and Tim Jacobs (3rd) (Pic: Graham Uden)

Clean Start

The start was "particularly clean and fair," according to Mocke. 

Dragon Run 2009

Clearwater Bay to the Nine Pins

Dragon Run 2009

And they're off... (Pic: Graham Uden)

As the paddlers emerged from Clearwater Bay into the open ocean, two packs formed - Dawid Mocke, Tom Schilperoort, Dean Gardiner, Jasper Mocke, Tony Schumaker, Clint Pretorius in the larger group to the north; and Tim Jacobs, Shannon Eckstein, Jeremy Cotter, Hank McGregor and Sean Rice in a smaller pack to the south.

Dragon Run 2009

The close knit pack on the way out from the Clearwater Bay (Pic: Graham Uden)

Almost immediately they started catching runs, which became better as they swept around Steep Island (where the packs regrouped) towards the distinctive Nine Pins Islands. 

"The first bit was great," said Michele Eray after the race.  "The runs were good down to Nine Pins, much easier than on the next leg."

Michele Eray

Michele Eray (Jon Dingley behind) (Pic: Babs Yendell)

"Lovely runs," agreed Dawid Mocke.  "They were about 1.5m, and going with us at that point."

As they approached the turning point at southernmost pinnacle of Nine Pins, the front four spread out; Eckstein a little way in front, then Mocke and Pretorius then Cotter another couple of boat lengths behind...

Meanwhile the women's race was tight with Michele Eray (SA), Katie Pocock (NZ) and Ruth Highman (Aus) close together.  "Oh no, there's a massive barge coming right through the middle of the fleet," said commentator James Shortis over a dodgy mobile phone connection...  "The top twenty or so are through but the rest are going to have to wait for it."

As the paddlers maneuvered to work their way around the intruding vessel, Eray managed to put some distance between herself and the other women and rounded the Nine Pins turning point in first place.

Tony Schumacher

Tony Schumacher negotiates the turn at the Nine Pins (Barry Lewin close behind) (Pic: Graham Uden)

Sean Rice

Sean Rice (Dean Beament behind) (Pic: Graham Uden)


Dragon Run 2009

Nine Pins to Cape D'Aguilar

Nine Pins to Cape D'Aguilar

"I was quite tentative for the first couple of km," said Eray.  "It was really difficult, with runs coming from the right.  Very technical and you had to work right the whole time."

Back at the front of the race, Eckstein had built up a 50m lead, with Mocke in hot pursuit.  Pretorius, having initially taken a slightly inshore line had worked his way back out again and was paddling wave for wave with Mocke.  Cotter was on their left, slightly further out to sea.

Clint Pretorius

Clint Pretorius rides a run on the way to Cape D'Aguilar (Pic: Babs Yendell)

A little further back, Tim Jacobs and Jasper Mocke were together on the same line as the leaders.

Meanwhile Hank McGregor, Sean Rice, Mark Anderson and a couple of others were on an inshore line to the right of the course.  "Looks like they're on the wrong line today," said James.  "The guys in the middle are on the perfect line.  There are a couple of guys well out to sea."

The group out to sea included Tony Schumacher (Aus) who wrote in a comment on surfski.info:

"This was not because I thought it was going to be better (although I hoped it may have worked out that way) but rather because I was not good enough to surf the runs back in towards the headland nearly as good as Shannon, Tim, Jeremy and Dawid. There was a very strong tail wind coming over our right shoulder and the conditions were very technical."

Some 5km into the downwind stretch, Mocke caught Eckstein and passed him.  But the Australian, paddling only his third long distance race ever (and for the first time downwind in the Mako Elite), responded and the two men diced side by side, trading the lead as they alternately accelerated down the runs.

Shannon Eckstein and Jeremy Cotter

The dice - Shannon Eckstein and Dawid Mocke traded the lead, wave for wave... (Pic: Graham Uden)

Shannon Eckstein and Jeremy Cotter

(Pic: Graham Uden)

Shannon Eckstein and Jeremy Cotter

(Pic: Graham Uden)

Cotter's outside line seemed to be helping him as the swells curved towards the land. He'd passed Pretorius and was making ground on the leaders.  And as the lead group approached the Cape, the ever green veteran Dean Gardiner moved into the top five, his legendary downwind skills coming to the fore.

With 300m to go to Cape D'Aguilar, the seas became messy, reflected waves mixing with the prevailing swell and Mocke and Eckstein were still trading places.  100m back, Cotter was just in front of Pretorius.  Further back still, Tim Jacobs, Jasper Mocke, Dean Gardiner and Daryl Bartho were chasing hard.

Meanwhile, Eray was working every run in a desperate effort to hold off the other women.  "Ruth Highman is outstanding in the runs," said Eray afterwards. 


Dragon Run 2009

Cape D'Aguilar to the Finish

Cape D'Aguilar to the Finish

As they rounded Cape D'Aguilar, the character of the race changed radically.  The paddlers were faced with a 5km stretch on relatively flat water, partially protected from the wind which was now coming at them diagonally from the right.  "Half way to the finish, the wind comes into your face," said Mocke.  "There were one or two bumps to begin with, but it was pretty flat."

Eckstein rounded the Cape just in front of Mocke.  Mocke, perhaps having burnt just too hard in chasing down Eckstein on the downwind leg, felt his arms and back seize up as he hit the wall.  Race over, it was all he could do to keep paddling as he watched Eckstein accelerate away from him.

Seconds later, Jeremy Cotter came surging past and the race developed into a monumental sprint for the finish. 

Jeremy Cotter

Jeremy Cotter digging deep (Pic: Babs Yendell)

"I could see them through binoculars from the finish," said Andy Orr.  "Even from 3km away I could see the spray from the paddles. The power of these guys is just incredible."

Tim Jacobs, too, made a surge for the finish.  Rounding the Cape in fifth position, he soon overtook Pretorius, and sped past a struggling Mocke to chase after the two leaders.

Eckstein said afterwards that he was particularly worried about the last section to the finish as he'd only trained for a 20km distance.  Feeling strong though and highly aware of Cotter's abilities, Eckstein put the hammer down.  It was enough to maintain a 20m lead and Eckstein crossed the line in a time 1:33:05, just 15 seconds in front.

Shannon Eckstein

Shannon Eckstein claims the 2009 Dragon Run (Pic: Graham Uden)

Tim Jacobs came third just over a minute later in 1:34:51, some 48 seconds ahead of Clint Pretorius who'd also passed Mocke who finally crossed the line in fifth in 1:36:03

The winners

Australia 1, 2, 3! (Pic: Babs Yendell)

Settling down to the challenging conditions, Michele Eray built up a fairly substantial lead by the time she reached Cape D'Aguilar.  Surprised by Highman's abilities in the runs, Eray was took no chances on the flat and pushed hard all the way to the finish.  Eray won the women's race (coming 24th overall) in a time of 1:53:38, with Highman coming in second (1:55:11) and Katie Pocock in third (1:56:41).

Stoked

"I have a lot of respect for the guys doing this stuff," said Eckstein on the finish line.  "I'm pretty stoked to have the win!"

"The Aussies are really tough," said Dawid Mocke afterwards.  "They'll try and crush you from the start - you've just got to jump in and hang on!

"Shannon went so well in the runs," he added.  "He's clearly got a natural bent for it.  I really hope [long distance] surfski can offer him enough interest to keep him coming back.  It would be great to have him at more races.

"This was the race of the year in terms of competitiveness," he said.  "It would have been great to have had Matthew [Bouman] here too."  (Bouman was unable to compete because of business commitments, but will be at the Dubai Shamaal on 2 December.)

"It was pretty hectic out there," said Andy Orr later. "Ten of our local lads DNF'd in the conditions.  At this time of year the wind should have been more from the NE, and that northerly blow, combined with the currents and waves that were running in two directions, really added to the challenge.

"We've been unlucky with the winds," he reflected.  "Maybe next year we'll get the normal classic downwind conditions!"

Dragon Run 2009

Tim Jacobs (3rd), Jeremy Cotter (2nd) and Shannon Eckstein (1st) with the sponsor

Women Trophy DR09

Katie Pocock (3rd), Ruth Highman (2nd) and 2009 Dragon Run Women's Champion Michele Eray (Pic: Graham Uden)


Photos by Graham Uden http://graham-uden.smugmug.com


Photos by Babs Yendell


Start Procedure

I asked Andy Orr to explain how the Dragon Run organisers accomplished what was reported to be a particularly fair, controlled start to the race.

Start - Dragon Run 2009

Moments before the start (Pic: Graham Uden)

"First of all we kept them on the water for about 25min warming up - and the cold weather may have knocked some of the nonsense out of them," he chuckled.

"But more seriously, the location (Clearwater Bay) is really sheltered and flat - so it was easy for them to see and hear everything and to control the skis at the start."

The start procedure was as follows:

  • Stationary start between two boats; quite a narrow line so they were quite bunched up.
  • Big green flag (i.e. very visible) raised ten minutes before the start.
  • Red flag raised a minute before the start.
  • Once the red flag is up, the race can be started at any time once a line has been formed.
  • Flags down and air horn sounded to indicate the start.
  • The paddlers were also warned that anyone jumping the start would be given a two minute penalty.
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