BONNIE HANCOCK TO PADDLE AROUND AUSTRALIA IN SURFSKI
Bonnie Hancock’s new challenge is so enormous that you need to read it twice in order for it to sink in.
Come December, she’ll depart Sydney on her surfski and attempt to paddle around Australia.
All 16,000 kilometres of it.
It’s almost the stuff of fiction, which is fitting – given she came up with the idea while browsing through a library.
“I’m a bit of a bookworm, a lot of people don’t know that about me.” Hancock laughs.
“I’m a massive nerd when it comes to books – I love reading all types, especially autobiographies.
“I was perusing the Broadbeach Library when I came across ‘Fearless’, the book that Joe Glickman wrote about Freya Hoffmeister, who was the first female to paddle around Australia solo.
“She did it on a 30 kilogram plastic kayak, which totaled a 100 kilogram weight when it had all of its supplies… and she actually did it with no support boat.
“I was so inspired by reading her story that I just couldn’t let go of the idea.
“Then it came to me… I just thought, ‘Hang on… I could do something like that on my ocean ski.’”
That was two years ago.
Now, her dream is coming to life.
Since that lightbulb moment, her husband Matt Palmer has been the only person aware of her harboured desire.
“I think he thought I was going to let the idea go,” she laughs.
“But in the end he realised it wasn’t going to go away and said, ‘Alright, if you’re going to do it, I’m going to support you.’”
After extensive planning, this week Bonnie set a departure date and revealed it to the public.
Her ambition becoming reality.
“It’s such a good time in my life to do it, before I have a family,” she says.
“There’s never a ‘perfect’ time… but I can’t think of a better time than now, to be honest.”
“If I can provide any kind of inspiration for people, then that’s really cool too.”
Bonnie has ensured she’ll be in peak physical condition, with her departure set for just after the Shaw and Partners Doctor and 20 Beaches Ocean Classic.
“In a way, I’ll be as physically prepared as I can,” she explains.
“But the mental side is going to be a big one… there’s going to be days when you feel absolutely horrendous and you’ve just gotta get on the ski and go.”
That understanding is crucial, given the workload that she’s aiming for.
Hancock wants to complete the circumnavigation in six months – almost half the time of the current record.
To achieve that, she’ll need to complete some huge days, ranging anywhere from 50 to 100 kilometres.
It’s daunting to read, but Bonnie isn’t feeling overawed.
“It’s really, really interesting because in Freya’s case, she didn’t actually train for the trip,” she says.
“I’m now 31 and have been training since I was 10 years old.
“I think your body’s muscle memory and conditioning is there and that’s what I’ll be falling back on.”
That’s not to suggest that she’s taking this lightly.
More than a decade as one of Australia’s leading surf ironwomen means that she’s gathered a knowledgeable support network.
On top of that experience, her husband Matt is a strength and conditioning coach at an Australian rugby league club, while Bonnie herself is a nutritionist.
“It’s pretty cool actually, every day in clinic I advise athletes and the everyday person on what to eat, now I’m using myself as a bit of a guinea pig,” she explains.
“I’m going with the concept that everything I put into my body has to have a purpose.
“Covering the different kinds of vitamins and minerals, figuring out my caloric intake that I’ll be needing… I think it’s an area that could really go wrong and have an impact on you.
“Your immune system is under so much stress, that you really need to be nailing the nutrition.
“It’s about reading and researching as much as I can, as well as using the resources around me.”
“I’m like a sponge, soaking up as much information as possible.”
Her research has already led to a number of technical decisions being made.
Bonnie will paddle anti-clockwise around Australia in order to maximise the strong currents that run through the Great Australian Bite, along the country’s southern coastline.
She’ll be followed by a catamaran that will carry a crew of three or four people, including Matt, and will be skippered by an experienced sailor who will, for the most part, dictate her itinerary.
“That [knowledge] is going to be the difference in a 50 kilometre day and a 100 kilometre day.” Hancock says.
Rather than sleep on the boat, she’ll instead aim to come to land each night, to ensure she doesn’t develop ‘sea legs’.
She’s hoping to use the surf lifesaving network to sleep in clubhouses where possible and has already been “overwhelmed by generosity.”
But she’s aware that luxury won’t always be available.
“There’s a stretch in Western Australia with limestone cliffs that is 180 kilometres long,” she says.
“I’ll be the fifth person, if I complete it, that’s done it.
“People have done it on their kayaks and had to sleep on them… 180 kilometres where you physically can’t come to land is just crazy to think about.”
Of course, there are some obvious variables that simply can’t be prepared for.
And, of course… sharks.
“It’s definitely something you think about but mind you I was paddling at Currumbin yesterday and had a big shark come within 10 metres of me,” she says.
“I think having the boat there provides a bit of reassurance.
“People mention getting bumped continuously by sharks, things like that… I’m trying to mentally prepare myself and visualize those things happening, so you don’t panic and don’t freak out.”
“I’ve accepted I’m going to see stuff and have some bumps… but they’re some of the risks we’re trying to prepare for as best as possible.”
There is an added significance to this adventure.
Hancock is determined to raise awareness and money for men’s mental health charities.
Once she hits her fundraising target to cover the expenses of her trip, which is believed to be around $200,000, then every dollar will be donated.
She’s partnered with Sport Australia to ensure that he’s donations are tax deductible.
“I saw what the pandemic did to a lot of people,” she explains.
“There’s a lot of mental health fundraising out there that’s women for women, and men doing it for men.
“Hopefully in my life I can do different adventures, and my next one could be on women’s mental health, but I really saw the need with the statistics and tragic losses that were happening to focus on men’s mental health at this time.”
That awareness is providing her with an extra source of strength in the face of the seemingly impossible.
And it might just be the most important tool she has.
“I know I’m doing it for a bigger cause than myself,” she explains.
“It’s hard to explain, but when you’re in that moment paddling, you start to think about the people messaging you who have lost people around them through mental health struggles.
“When you think about things like that you realise, ‘Yep, I can get in the ski today and do 80 kilometres.’”