HILL FEELING CHILL AFTER PAIR OF POST-WORLDS WINS
Cory Hill didn’t need to win the Shaw and Partners North Bondi Classic to restore his confidence.
The Australian great says he never lost it, and was “actually really happy” with his 11th place finish at the 2022 World Championships in Portugal earlier this month.
“To fly 40 hours and get there and race and perform the way I did, I was over the moon,” he laughs.
But Hill admits he does feel a sense of reassurance after posting two victories in the two weekends he has been home, following a hidden battle with illness.
First, at the Coolangatta Gold Downwind, then, over a quality field in Sydney.
“To be completely honest, coming home and having these two races couldn’t have come at a better time,” Hill told The Paddler.
“If I didn’t have a race from Worlds until the Doctor, there would’ve no doubt been a festering sort of feeling about ‘Was that as good as I am? Or was it a bad day?’
“I didn’t feel amazing last weekend racing but I got the job done over Tommy [Norton] and Riley [Fitzsimmons], who are really good.
“I didn’t feel good, but I paddled good last week. Today, I felt good and thought I paddled good.
“We know which races are the big ones though, so i’m looking forward to the Shaw and Partners WA Race Week and taking this confidence there.”
While Hill recorded a comfortable victory, he didn’t have it all his own way.
A field of around 200 paddlers gathered at Watson’s Bay for the start of the 11 kilometre dash out of Sydney Harbour, around South Head and into the iconic Bondi Beach.
Western Australian stalwart Reece Baker was among those to drive the early pace, with Hill waiting until the turn at South Head to begin making his move.
And once he did, there was no looking back.
Hill winning ahead of ironman legend Shannon Eckstein in second and Mitchell Trim in third. Baker finished fourth and North Bondi’s own Jim Walker came through for fifth.
The women’s race provided another world-class battle between Jemma Smith and Danielle McKenzie, with Smith winning out to consolidate her World Championships triumph.
You can read more about the women’s race, and what the result means for Smith’s confidence, by clicking here.
“I hadn’t paddled around that part of Sydney before but it’s very similar to the Northern Beaches,” Hill reflected.
“There’s a lot of cliff faces, there’s a lot of backwash and it’s quite technical. You have to be switched on and attack when the opportunity comes.”
Although his focus is fixed on the Shaw and Partners WA Race Week, the conditions had Hill looking even further forward to the 20 Beaches Ocean Classic in December.
“Today gave me confidence for that and also reiterated that I love the bump and the shit. Most people don’t love it, but I do.”
Cory was thrilled with his victory, but he may have been even more excited for the man who came second.
Shannon Eckstein retired from ironman racing three years ago as the most decorated competitor the sport had ever seen.
Even though his training and racing schedule meant he was rarely able to compete downwind, his ocean paddling pedigree is just as impressive, having won the Hong Kong Dragon Run in 2009.
Now with a bit more time on his hands, the 39 year-old will be lining up at the Shaw and Partners WA Race Week as one of the unknown quantities that has what it takes to shake up the sport.
“In my mind, if he had been able to spend more time in ocean paddling, he would have numerous World Titles, Molokai’s and the like to his name,” Hill declares.
“He was the reason I got into ocean racing. I was coming two minutes behind him on a downwind… then I saw him go to Hong Kong for the weekend and win the Dragon Run, have a great time and come home with 5,000 US dollars.
“That was the day I started taking an interest and reading Glicker’s [Joe Glickman’s] race reports. I did the maths and thought, ‘OK, if i’m two minutes behind Shannon, where would I be?’
“He’s one of the greatest of all time at our sport, without even doing our sport full-time.”
Downwind paddling is something Shannon has always been passionate about, as he wrote for The Paddler in his ‘In The Boat’ article back in 2020, which you can read by clicking here.