NEW INITIATIVE ‘PUSHING THE LIMITS’ FOR FEMALE PADDLING
It started as a fleeting thought, but Danielle McKenzie and Bonnie Hancock hope their new program ‘Pushing Limits Coaching’ can help drive female paddling to new heights.
McKenzie, the current ICF World Champion, was in Hong Kong for the 2019 Dragon Run when the idea first sprouted in her mind.
“I stayed with two ladies who were racing and they were tossing up whether to paddle a faster ski or a more stable ski because of the predicted wind,” McKenzie recalls.
“It had never clicked to me that people out there would be really nervous because of the conditions.
“One of the paddlers actually fell out and then couldn’t get back into the ski for like a minute.”
At that time, McKenzie was a newcomer to the discipline of downwind.
But when she witnessed a similar situation at Sydney’s Bridge to Beach earlier this year, she was moved to try and address it.
“We were lining up on the start line and everyone was giving the faster paddlers more room… I think because they were too scared to start next to us because of their lack of confidence to get in clean.”
And that was where Pushing Limits Coaching was born.
Chatting with a paddler from Townsville in far north Queensland after the race, McKenzie began exploring the idea of female-specific coaching to help establish a support network for those who need it.
Moved to help the women in paddling around her, she enlisted one of Australia’s most experienced competitors in Bonne Hancock.
“Dani contacted me and said, ‘I’m pretty keen on doing clinics into the future, is it something you’re interested in.’ Hancock says.
“I just said, ‘Absolutely! Whatever way I can help boost female paddling.’
“I have so much respect for Dani, she’s lead the way in changing women’s racing and taking it a step further.
“We just want to support these amazing female paddlers and grow the movement.”
That’s the goal for McKenzie, too.
“We don’t want to take people away from their current coaches, but instead just add an extra outlet for them.”
The pair didn’t quite know what to expect ahead of their first clinic at Currumbin on the Gold Coast at the start of the month.
But whatever that was – the day exceeded it.
“We had just under 30 paddlers across the two sessions,” McKenzie says.
“We just practiced things like buoy turns, basic race tactics and starts.
“There’ll be more days focused on going in and out of the break and the skills that come with it, like rolling – because a lot of girls don’t know how to do that – but this was just a starting point.
“There’s two sides to the initiative – helping people who are going to races but lack confidence… then just being available to everyone, whether that’s surfski based or lifesaving based.”
The majority of their first participants were from the local surf clubs in the region, but the clinics aren’t specific to either discipline.
“We’ve called it ‘Pushing Limits Coaching’ and that can mean anything,” Hancock says.
“Whether it’s a weekend warrior or someone who just wants to improve right through to those athletes racing at the elite level.
“We just want to provide that supportive and nurturing environment.”
McKenzie and Hancock both walked away from that first day with a burning desire to do even more, and the response from participants – and also the wider community – has matched it.
They’ve been asked to host clinics interstate and have already confirmed dates on the Sunshine Coast and in Sydney.
The reception has blown them away.
“I only started taking ski paddling seriously at the start of 2018 and I set myself the goal of getting on the podium at Aussies and winning State,” Hancock reflects.
“I never thought I’d be able to achieve both of those things… but I ended up doing it.
“I couldn’t believe the improvement when I actually focused specifically on ski paddling and the things I learned from my coach Nick Crilly – and that’s part of the motivation with Pushing Limits.
“Between Dani and I we have 25 years of experience paddling and racing, and I’d never reflected on how that could really help others on their own journeys.
That’s the long-term goal for Pushing Limits Coaching.
While the pair will continue to race at an elite level, they’re just as committed to growing their project – and in turn, growing the pool of female paddlers.
“I think female paddling is in a better place than it ever has been,” Hancock says.
“I always credit people like Hayley Nixon for leading that charge – not just in achieving equal prize money, but also the opportunity to race the same distances, the opportunity to have a podium at the end of races and get that same attention as the guys.
“It means you get the gun female paddlers turning up to races and it all flows on from there… you can see it with the younger paddlers coming through now.”
Long-term, they hope the benefit of their work won’t just be confined to females, too.
“A lot of the feedback has actually come from males – not just females,” Hancock adds.
“Females have a lot to offer in coaching and I don’t think it’s just limited to other females.
“Currently our sport is dominated by males, but we want to help change that.”
To learn more about Pushing Limits Coaching’s upcoming clinics, follow them on Instagram at @pushinglimitscoaching or click here.