Jackson Collins on his way to victory in the 2021 Shaw and Partners 20 Beaches Ocean Classic. PHOTOGRAPH: © Allan Coker.


Jackson Collins is aware of the assumption.

One of Australia’s strongest sprint kayakers, he’s been near untouchable in calmer conditions since arriving on the ocean ski scene – and knows some may think that’s the way he likes it.

But when organisers indicated that extreme weather could move the 2021 Shaw and Partners 20 Beaches Ocean Classic to the protected waters of Sydney’s Pittwater, Collins desperately hoped against it.

The Perfect Boat for any Paddler

Having claimed victory over two-time world champion Cory Hill on Lake Macquarie at the Moon Island Ocean Classic last month, he knew this was his chance to announce himself to the world.

“Cory is the ocean guy,” Collins tells The Paddler.

“He’s very skillful and very technically advanced in the runs… I knew people wouldn’t think much of me getting the win over him in the flat.

“I wanted to be able to say that I had done the work in the ocean to beat him in his ideal conditions… I didn’t want people to say I only won because it was flat.”

“20 Beaches has been the one I’ve been aiming at… all roads led to this one.

“It was the one where I could say ‘I’m a contender in the ocean ski now’ and not just when it’s flat.”

The weather forecasts held true, and organisers held their nerve, creating the best downwind race Sydney has seen in years.

Southerly winds pushing 20 knots, backed by a rising groundswell, gave the field of more than 360 paddlers a day to remember.

At the front of the field was Collins, breaking clear of a pack of six in a final sprint around Barrenjoey Headland and into Station Beach.

He finished seconds ahead of Hill and former Australian representative Greg Tobin, who produced one of his finest performances to date.

To view the full results, click here.

GALLERY: After 20 kilometres of racing, paddlers were forced to contend with the notoriously tricky reef break in front of Barrenjoey Head. PHOTOGRAPH: © Allan Coker.

The Perfect Boat for any Paddler

“I’ve been doing this race since I was 16 or 17, and I have wanted to win it for a long time… so to be able to get the win in conditions that I’m not the best in means the world to me.” Collins says.

“The fact that it’s such a prestigious race… it’s a great honour that I’ve been able to put my name on the trophy alongside all of those other great paddlers.”

Jackson Collins holds the Steve Wood trophy for the first time, alongside Cory Hill (left) and Greg Tobin (right). PHOTOGRAPH: © Allan Coker.

The story of the race runs far deeper than a showdown between Collins and Hill – not that they may have been aware of that, as it unfolded.

After the controlled chaos of a standing start at Fisherman’s Beach, Collins and Hill became locked in a duel on a shallower line, chased by Oscar Jones, among others.

They were completely unaware that a group of paddlers, predominantly locals from the heavyweight Newport Surf Lifesaving club, had pushed hundreds of metres further out to sea to reach bigger runs.

Mitchell Trim led that charge, narrowly ahead of Tobin and Luke Morrison, who had opened a gap over Sam Djodan, Jayke Rees and several star juniors.

They clocked faster splits on their course, but also paddled an extra 700 metres. Incredibly after 20 kilometres, the two lines rejoined as one at Barrenjoey Head right on top of each other for one final fight upwind to the finish.


“I had no idea… I thought it had become a two-horse race between myself and Cory,” Collins admits.

“I wasn’t even looking, I didn’t even know until we got right to that last point where it went from Cory and I, to all of a sudden there was six of us there.”

“It didn’t change a lot for me, because I knew I would have to push pretty hard to get in front of Cory… but still, it was a rude shock.”

Collins (closest) locked in a final sprint against Hill (middle) and Tobin (furthest). PHOTOGRAPH: © Allan Coker.

The race for the women’s title was far more one-sided.

Jemma Smith entered the race as the overwhelming favourite and produced a performance to match, finishing more than four minutes clear of Hannah Minogue and Brianna Massie.

The Perfect Boat for any Paddler

“It’s a really special end to the year for me,” Smith tells The Paddler.

“Not being able to compete in as many races as a normal year has been disappointing, but to have two races to round out the year [Moon Island & 20 Beaches] was amazing.

“Then to take the wins in both, where both were unreal races in unreal conditions, was a great way to end the year.”

Jemma Smith with the Yanda Morison trophy, alongisde Hannah Minogue (left) and Brianna Massie (right). PHOTOGRAPH: © Allan Coker.

The margin of Smith’s win can’t be overlooked – against an impressive field, it was a stunning paddle.

While the men’s field split in two, the women’s – which left five minutes earlier – stayed compact, and Smith streaked ahead.

“I spoke to Dean Gardiner and Mitchell Trim before the race and they were doing two different things,” Smith recalls.

“I decided I would just take the middle line and see what happens.

“In the end, it worked out quite well, but I couldn’t see anybody for the entire race. I had no idea where all of the men were, it was a pretty interesting race.”

The Perfect Boat for any Paddler

With the border between New South Wales and Queensland finally opening tonight, Smith will head north for a sprint kayaking camp, before shifting focus to the Nutri-Grain Ironwoman series.

But her emerging ocean ski career will remain a focus.

“I’m really looking forward to mixing up my paddling when a few more events start to pop up in the first few months of next year.”