20 Beaches Ocean Classic - lessons to learn?

6 years 1 month ago - 6 years 1 month ago #25338 by AR_convert
Knowing that many paddler chose to avoid facebook, where a lot of discussion around this event is happening, I have shared this here for all to learn from.

Michael Booth posted this open letter to his page and shared it to his facebook page regarding the running of the 20 Beaches Ocean Classic on the weekend.

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE 20 BEACHES ORGANISING COMMITTEE
What Happened?



In this letter I will outline what I think happened on Saturday and why I think paddlers need an explanation. I will also give you my thoughts, ideas and potential outcomes to rectify what happened. Please read below and give the paddling community an answer by 6pm on Wednesday.



“What am I doing this for?” That was the first thing that went through my head Saturday morning. In hindsight I wished I just turned over and went back to sleep. My gut was telling me not to go and I should have listened!



The night before the race after deliberation with many past champions of the event I decided to book my flights. Flights were booked in on Friday at 7:30pm and $100 entry in, just before the cut off at 8pm. Like most paddlers, I was looking forward to travelling away with my mates and participating in a well-run event. It’s been a huge year for me and I have raced most weekends but at the end of the day I wanted to support Australia’s longest running surf ski race. I couldn’t resist.



20 Beaches hasn’t been an event I’ve attended over the years, despite it having great prestige among Australian paddlers (or used to?). After attending in 2012 it left a bitter taste in my mouth after poor management damaged my impression of the event. Growing up in Newcastle each year, many of the paddlers would drive down the F3 to attend what used to be the biggest race in the country. I looked up to all those paddlers from my local surf club and couldn’t wait till I got a shot at it. It was something I really wanted to win, as I got older.



After the event this year many paddlers including myself, were left angry, confused, disillusioned as to what the event has become. We just had to laugh! It was a joke! We all just want answers as to what happened over the weekend and why? I’ve said some things over the past few days that have been very critical of the organisation and management of the event, some constructive and some not. But now 48hrs after the debacle of an event, I have spoken, read and digested what I think happened and we all need to create positives out of this. The biggest thing that irked me after the event was when I was told by you, ‘the organisers’ that “its not our fault” and what I was saying “wasn’t helping”. Well I’m sorry but that kind of response is just plain and simply unacceptable. I just laughed and walked away. Who were you kidding?



I have had numerous conversations with people asking what happened? I really don’t think anyone knows? This is my recollection of events:



Leading into the event everything seemed great. It was well organised with check in, safety, registration and briefing all being very clear about start times and processes. However once we got near or on the water the shit hit the fan. So basically the thing that everyone went there for wasn’t organised aka the start and finish! I was told a paddler alerted you to the fact there was some surf at Freshwater the morning of the event? I also was told the Northern Beaches Lifeguard Service didn’t even know the event was on? And a lady set off her flare and was picked up by a roving lifeguard jet ski’s, as there wasn’t sufficient water safety? Let me know if I am wrong.



After the briefing the paddlers were advised to make their way out, about an hour from the start time of 1pm. The women, sups and OCs would go at this time with the rest 10 minutes later. There would be two pink cans behind the break that would constitute the start area and a beach finish at Palm Beach? Neither of these were the case.



I waited a bit on the grass and went down to Freshwater Beach in the northern corner about half an hour after the briefing. About 50 paddlers were making their way through the 3ft surf. A few paddlers were coming off but it didn’t seem like anyone was in any real danger. If you waited for the sets to come through there were large lulls in between. After about 100 paddlers got out, then everything seemed to go pear shaped. One paddler got swept into the flags in the middle of the beach and the lifeguard tried to stop everyone going out. This was ok, as he seemed to have control. This is when the clubby patrol got involved and all hell broke loose after that.



They launched about 6 IRBs and were yelling at people on the beach. They were zooming in and out of the break creating havoc. It became a circus! After a ten-minute break they would only let 10 people out at a time for the remaining 100 still on the beach. You can only imagine how long that would take… At this time as there were no pink cans out the back, like you advised, and ultimately paddlers had nowhere to hover around. There was also no communication between the organisers on the beach to the pack out the back. So they just started paddling out what could only be assumed to be 3-4km with a media boat following.



Once people start paddling they just go. I’ve seen a few posts about the culture of paddlers breaking the start. And yes it is an issue, however despite me not being in that group this time, I think this race is an exception to that call. I do know for a fact that many of the elite paddlers stopped the pack multiple times telling everyone to stop and go in. However many other paddlers refused to listen. But how can you blame the paddlers out the back? They had no idea what was going on? There was no communication whatsoever? I was probably a kilometre behind them… but how was I to tell them what was going on? I shouldn’t have to! I assumed the organisers would have told them? What about safety? Paddlers being that far out to sea with no water safety is downright dangerous! What’s the point of enforcing safety on the shore if there is no safety once paddlers are on the water? Is it mismanagement? Or was there just no water safety?



I had paddlers asking me what was going on. I had no idea. I was in two minds, do I just hang around or do I just paddle off with the mob down the coast? Do they know something I don’t? I nearly just paddled to the beach and went straight to the airport. There was so much confusion and I’m sure everyone has their own story! But who is to blame? I just floated down the course angry at my decision to go down to compete. But by the end, I was over it. I refused to cross the ‘deep water’ finish line. We were told it was a beach finish?



I believe something constructive needs to come out of this. Otherwise an event steeped in tradition will be lost forever. After this weekend I do not think the current organisers can handle that many people racing or the task of organising such an event. And that’s fine, event management isn’t for everyone but they need to hand it over to someone that can do it properly.



You said you won’t be giving refunds and all prize money will be pushed to next year. Who does that help? No one will be there next year anyway at this rate! Paddlers should be either getting a refund for an event that basically didn’t happen or at a minimum free entry if the event goes ahead next year! Think about the Kiwi’s they would have spent up to $1200 bucks to do the event, or the guys from Perth, $800. What about the QLD & Tasmanians $600? This isn’t just going to go away! Everyone has a bitter taste in their mouth. They all expected to come to a well – run event.



Something constructive needs to come out of this. Whether you as the management of the event sack yourselves or a new event is created? But the paddling community needs some kind of explanation! The sport needs to move forward not backward. The elites, punters and paddlers of all levels need an answer. It was one of the most expensive events to enter and essentially it just became a disorganised training paddle. It’s just not good enough.



The biggest problem coming out in the wash of this event is the lack of communication once paddlers went in the water at the start and after the event. I just can’t understand how an event can be stuffed up so badly? It’s not that hard! The paddling community needs answers. There are no results, don’t bother with that. Tell us why what occurred, happened? And how you are going to rectify your mistakes? Who is to blame? Why there wasn’t a contingency plan? This should all be detailed in an apology to the 250 paddlers who paid money for a service that wasn’t provided. I hope something constructive can come out of this.



We all deserve a response and outcome by Wednesday 6pm.



I look forward to your response,



Kind Regards,



Michael Booth

Always looking for the next boat :)

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6 years 1 month ago - 6 years 1 month ago #25339 by AR_convert
Here was the response from the race director

20 Beaches 2015
As the Event Manager, I regret the way things panned out at the start of the 20 Beaches on Saturday 12th December. We can understand that it was disappointing for many of the paddlers. But it was as disappointing to us having put so much effort into the planning and running of the race. Rest assured, any lessons we can take out of this we will. There is a Risk Management Plan in place relating to the event and it was largely successful given that there was no loss or injury. That is our first priority. Other parties not under our control also affected the outcome as you will see below.
I have listed the unfolding of events to illustrate to you the factors which contributed to the outcome. I do this with humility, not trying to lay blame or deny responsibility. I just want you to understand what happened on Saturday.
Shortly after briefing paddlers started heading towards the beach and making their way past the break. Approximately 80 to 100 skis had successfully done this via a channel on the north end of Freshwater Beach. Large waves and possibly a lack of experience resulted in a ski against the rocks and several skis drifting south into the patrol area. The council lifeguard and patrol captain stopped all skis from entering the water as there was extreme concern for the safety of other beach users. We instructed our IRB’s that were loaded with the starting buoys to abandon the buoys and give all possible assistance to any skis that remained in the surf zone.
The council lifeguard made it quite clear that if we did not employ all assets to control the wave zone he would deny access and stop the race. After negotiations with the council lifeguard it was agreed that 10 skis at a time could enter the water together and make their way out through the surf. All our IRB’s were then utilised to ensure this was carried out as safely as possible.
Whilst this delay was happening the initial paddlers that left the beach earlier took it upon themselves to start a race. I believe these paddlers were fully aware there was no start boat but chose to start anyway. Once all paddlers were cleared off the beach a start line was established with the remaining paddlers and a start gun fired. Following that a start was also given for the Doubles and OC6.
There was to be 3 distinct start waves for this race.
Wave 1: SUP and All women on single skis
Wave 2: All Men on single skis
Wave 3: All Doubles and OC6
This was made clear via a newsletter on Friday evening to all online registrations and at briefing on the day. It is clear from the race photos we have been given that SUP’s, Women and some of the Men on single skis all left at the same time.
We have no possible way of reliably establishing what time the initial group started or who was in this group so therefore a true winner cannot be established. As race organisers we cannot justify awarding paddlers who do the wrong thing, knowing it is wrong, so to be fair to everyone involved we will not be issuing prize money or results for the men on single skis. The prize money for these categories will be held by Paddle NSW for use at next year’s event.
We believe the results for the Women, SUP’s Doubles and OC6 race to be correct, so prize money and results will be awarded to these categories.
We will be in discussions over the next couple of months with the view of the start/ finish to return to the sheltered waters of Shelley Beach although this will incur additional cost due to the large council fees involved. Other alternatives will also be looked at. The major thing we believe compounded the problems on Saturday was starting the race on a surf break and the problems associated with it.
I apologise to you, the paddlers who paddled the event on Saturday but especially those whose results were affected through no fault of their own.
Regards
Brett Greenwood
Race Director

Always looking for the next boat :)

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6 years 1 month ago - 6 years 1 month ago #25340 by MaxB
People should pull their heads in and show some respect to the people who volunteer countless hours, unpaid, to make these events happen. It's largely a low-profile amateur sport, and we need support and encouragement to see it grow - not this sort of rubbish. Congrats to the organisers for having a go.
The following user(s) said Thank You: uk_exile

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6 years 1 month ago #25341 by Grumpytex
Can see both sides of the argument, race directors do their very best to put on a safe races for ALL levels of ability, ‘elite’ paddlers want a challenging well organised race. The sport is growing so quickly that these types of iconic races are now being attempted by those new to the sport with varying degree of ability and fitness, the skill levels between the top level paddlers and first timers is quiet significant.
I am very new to the sport and my first real ocean race was this year’s DOCTOR. It was a massive challenge. I finished about an hour after the leaders and to be honest struggled through in survival mode a lot of the time, in complete contrast to those more experienced paddlers who reveled in the conditions! I finished and I’m hooked.
Lessons to learn? As a paddler wanting to do these type of races I need to make a concerted effort to attain the skills and confidence to race in these types of conditions and safely finish, or make a decision to not enter the water if the conditions exceed my ability on the day. With more and more people entering the sport race directors may need to look at innovative ways of encouraging these new paddlers whilst still catering for those “racing” at the highest level. Like Triathlon in the early days, paddlers of any ability can line up next to the best athletes in the world in any race; same start line, same course. There are very few sports in the world where this happens and is part of the attraction and adventure for all.
Without race directors, volunteers and people willing to spend countless hours organising races there will be NO races, no prize money and those ‘Elite’ athletes would be in another sport. Without new people to the sport, novices like me, there is no growth, less sponsors, less prize money and eventually less or no races.

My 5 cents worth.
The following user(s) said Thank You: AR_convert, TaffyMick, uk_exile

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6 years 1 month ago #25350 by Love2ski
Grumpytex,

Your points are well founded, however I do not believe the issue at the 20 beaches was inexperienced paddlers. Most paddlers in the area know their limits, and many, like me chose not to race given the expected conditions.

As I understand it the race did not work due to the arrangements at the start. The race organisers did not have a mechanism to safely control and move the boats at the start from the beach to the water. This resulted in risks to swimmers that had to be managed and the collapsing of start protocols.

The race was well promoted and stated clearly that it was for experienced paddlers only.

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6 years 1 month ago #25352 by Fath2o
Is there a possibility that the most experienced and elite paddlers could stay on the beach assisting other paddlers, assist with beach safety and then be the last to paddle out?
Might mitigate a lot of problems and be good PR.

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6 years 1 month ago - 6 years 1 month ago #25358 by jagter
Some observations. (From a SA paddler that wasn't there)

- I've seen a lot of disregard for starter's orders in many races. You just need one guy to suddenly start paddling and off everyone goes.

-Boats getting taken out in the surf is part of the sport. It sounds like the lifeguards were over zealous, and a lot of the the problems in this instance stemmed from their interference. Although it also sounds like the organizers didn't inform them about the race beforehand.

- The organizers should have put the cans out waay earlier. Then there wouldn't have been a problem.

-Most races are run by volunteers (or press ganged club members of varying enthusiasm ), so don't be too hard on them. No one is getting paid to do this.

- IMHO I find batched beach starts to be the most reliable, as the organizers can keep an eye on things. In just about every race I've done with a deep water start there has been some kind of a problem. (early start, some start others don't. Start while people still on the beach. press boats in the way, Or mostly a combination of all the above)

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