The Australian Ocean Racing Series, including Perth’s iconic Doctor, has been cancelled for 2021 as a result of the country’s COVID outbreak.

The nation’s entire east coast is currently battling a rise in cases, bringing sweeping lockdowns and the closure of state borders.

Combined, these measures essentially forced series director Dean Gardiner into the heartbreaking decision for a second-straight year.

“It’s just disappointing,” he says. “If it was in my control I’d feel really pissed off, but there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it.”

“We’ve done everything we can to make it all happen, but it just is what it is.

“It’s like turning up to a downwind race and there’s no wind… there’s nothing we can do about it.”

The Perfect Boat for any Paddler

Events ran by Ocean Paddler, headlined by the Doctor and WA Race week but also including Sydney’s The Chucky and North Bondi Ocean Classic will not go ahead.

However, a number of separately organised races around Australia are still planning to proceed.

In fact, each state will have at least one high-profile race this year, local restrictions permitting.

For more information on those events, keep an eye out for The Paddler’s new race calendar launching soon.

Among those to look forward to, at this stage Sydney’s 20 Beaches Ocean Classic is still hoping to run.

“That’s not our race and there’s an organizing committee around that, so it’s up to them if they want to go ahead.” Gardiner says.

“We’re keen to do it, but it’s a just a matter of their decision.

“I’m pretty sure if we are permitted to have 200 people at an outside event or something like that, it might happen.”

The Perfect Boat for any Paddler

Crucially for the future of the Australian Ocean Racing Series, the 2021 cancellation means Shaw and Partners naming rights sponsorship will be extended by a further year.

That deal still has two years to run and also covers sponsorship of the WA Race Week and Doctor, along with a number of series races throughout the year.

Gardiner says the vast majority of current sponsors have already indicated they will return next year, and he’s already drawing up plans for at least one new major event.

However, he can’t help but feel a sense of missed opportunity that racing has again been unable to run as planned, given the sport’s current soaring popularity.

“After that Race Week in WA, I thought it was a momentous time in ocean paddling.

“It was just a huge week and as a sport we got a lot of momentum out of that week, I thought.

“To not be able to follow on from that, last year and again this year, is sad.

“But there’s a massive groundswell for ocean paddling or just paddling a surfski anyway.

“We haven’t lost the momentum of the growth in participating in the sport… we’ve just lost the momentum of the real high points in the sport.”