Ballistic Beginning to the 2012 World Series ** video **

Tuesday, 17 January 2012 07:05 | Written by  Joe Glickman
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Jeremy Cotter on the way to win the 2012 Fenn Cup in Sydney Jeremy Cotter on the way to win the 2012 Fenn Cup in Sydney Credits: Greg Kitto

By Jeremy Cotter’s own lofty standards, 2011 was a year he’d like to forget.  From the end of 2007 to 2010, the 32-year-old former ocean ironman reached the podium in every ski race he started, at home and abroad. In 2010, for example, he was third at Molokai, second in Mauritius, second in Perth and third in San Francisco.

…unable to fire

However, in 2011 he felt “unable to fire.” The culprit, he says now, was stress in the form of the exams that stood between him and his certification as an EMT.  An athlete with a fierce work ethic who thrives on routine, Cotter felt nearly suffocated by the daunting mental challenge – call it the academic equivalent of a man swimming laps in blue jeans. In the time it took to learn the difference between the costoclavicular ligament from the cuboid bone, Cotter’s streak of consecutive podium finishes came to a jarring halt.  Along the way, he lost his racing mojo and, as he said only half in jest, most of his marbles.

“I’ve never been so stressed about anything in my life,” he told me on Sydney’s Collaroy Beach shortly before the start of the 14-km Fenn Cup, the inaugural event of the 2012 OceanPaddler World Series.

With his exams now successfully behind him, a more relaxed Cotter arrived in Sydney with not a lot of confidence and much to prove. “I’ve not been in the mix for long while,” he said. “I feel a bit like a forgotten man.”

Go ballistic

At 2 PM, 115 paddlers bobbed in the choppy chop off Long Reef.  (Notably absent were Tim Jacobs, Murray Stewart and Clint Robinson, who were coaching and/or taking strain at a sprint regatta further up the coast.) Cotter’s race strategy was simple:  “go ballistic” off the line, dictate the pace up front, and hang on until the finish line at Palm Beach.

While Cotter “fired” like the Jezza of old, a sprinter named Paul Smith claimed the Hot Spot 500 meters into the mad dash. Joined at the hip to Ben Allen, Cotter maintained his frenetic pace for 10 minutes until he eased ahead. Close behind in third was Bruce Taylor; further back, Cade Barnes, Mark Anderson, Dean Gardiner and Damian Daily diced for the remaining prize money that paid to eighth place.


I know Cotter well: we hung out in South Africa during the Southern Shamaal and bonded during a dangerous encounter with a massive bull elephant (dangerously comical as it pissed with hypnotic force as it sauntered by our idling vehicle, so close we could see the bristles on his butt). But this was the first time I’d met either Allen or Taylor and I was eager to see these decorated waterman in action. While I’d noted Allen’s impressive results in many an international race, I’d not paid him much mind until the 2010 Dubai Shamaal where, on a cruelly hot, brutally flat day, he held off Dawid Mocke and Shaun Rice. It was obvious on film that Allen was a grinder extraordinaire, and now when I stood next to him on the beach I could also see that the lad is a solid as a sculpted encyclopedia. Taylor, on the other hand – a former standout on the paddle board -- is long, lean and lanky, and as skilled a downwind paddler as anyone in Oz.

ben allen

Ben Allen gets air...

bruce taylor

Bruce Taylor pursues on an outside line

Four kilometers into the grind, Cotter lengthened his lead to roughly 100 meters over Allen, skillfully scratching on to whatever runs there were to be found in the confused chop.  While Allen pursued like a Jack Russell chasing a tennis ball, Taylor moved into second place, opening as much as 100 meters on Allen. “Of course I wasn’t happy,” Ben said afterwards, “but I stopped thinking about Bruce and just concentrated on the water until I reeled him in.”

Hands held high, shoulders rounded like a prize fighter stalking his opponent, Allen pulled even with six kilometers to go, only to watch the smooth-stroking Taylor surge ahead yet again.

Technical conditions

Along the stark, striated cliffs along Avalon, home to some of the world’s best surfers, the water turned frothy and Allen secured his hold on second. Said Taylor:  “The conditions were technical. It required a lot of strength to find anything to surf.”

Having grown up chasing the runs ricocheting off the headlands along Sydney’s northern beaches, Cotter felt “really really good” in the “skippy” water, averaging 14-to-15 kph through that sloppy stretch. “I knew if someone was coming to get me they’d have to be pretty special.”

jeremy cotter

Cotter negotiates "skippy" water

Cotter raced home towards Palm Beach, where luminaries like Mick Jagger, Nicole Kidman and James Packer, Australia’s richest man, hang their beach umbrellas, covering the 16 kilometers in 1 hour 13 minutes and 52 seconds. Allen’s time of 1:14:26 was 34 seconds faster than Taylor with Cade Barnes two minutes back and race director Dean Gardiner home in fifth.

dean gardiner

Dean Gardiner came 5th

Massive relief

Chatting with me on the beach, Cotter’s voice was marked by equal parts elation and relief. Calling the win “massive,” he said, “it was great to get back to the old way I used to race, aggressive and leading from the front. I feel freer now, almost like I’m starting over.” Referring the Perth Doctor on January 21, he said, “I can’t wait for next Saturday. I feel like the new kid on the block again; almost like I have nothing to lose.”

Jeremy Cotter

Cotter jogs up the beach to win the 2012 Fenn Cup - a "massive relief" to be firing again...

Fittingly enough, Bruce Taylor, twice a bridesmaid at the Doctor, who experienced a lung-searing, run-up-the-beach loss last year against Tim Jacobs last year, feels much the same. And, oh yeah, Ben Allen, a hard man with a focused plan, can’t wait for next week either.




Here's video of the race from White Hot Media...


Joe Glickman recently published Fearless, an account of Freya Hoffmeister's solo sea kayak circumnavigation of Australia.  If you haven't seen it yet, check it out.


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