He’s an outstanding paddler, but Tom Norton isn’t much of a surfski spectator.

“Yeah, I’m not great,” he laughs. “I’d rather participate than spectate, that’s for sure.”

The Australian found himself in the unique position of watching the World Championships, where he undoubtedly would have been a contender, fully-fit on the other side of the world.

The Perfect Boat for any Paddler

“It was hard to watch in a way, knowing I would have loved to be there,” Norton told The Paddler.

But on the other hand, I had something much bigger on… the excitement of that definitely outweighed missing out.”

That bigger task at hand was preparing to become a parent.

Norton and his fiancé Georgia Laird, an outstanding paddler who won The Doctor in 2018, are expecting the arrival of their first child any day now.

“It’s so exciting. We just can’t anticipate what it’s going to be like,” he says.

“It’s an unknown for us and that’s a really fun part about it.

“I don’t see my life changing too much… but I’m sure it will.”

The Perfect Boat for any Paddler

The enormity of the milestone hasn’t slowed Norton’s surfski season.

In fact, stepping away from the competitive circuit wasn’t something he even considered.

“Not really,” he says. “It’s what I do.

“Family will always come first, but I’m really keen for The Doctor and Shaw and Partners WA Race Week, and I’m still training hard and focused.

“Maybe the extra miles over the next month might change, choosing to spend time with my family instead of focusing on myself and my paddling.”

Tom hasn’t raced in a global field since 2019, a year that saw him breakthrough major international victory at the NELO Summer Challenge. 

Although he has been active on Australia’s domestic scene.

After an impressive start to the Australian Ocean Racing Series, that produced a commanding win at the Bridge to Beach, Norton took what he describes as a “big break” from training.

“I was just a bit tired and a bit stale, as we all get.”

Since returning, however, he hasn’t missed the podium in what have been some seriously competitive fields.

The most recent arrived last weekend, where he finished second to Cory Hill at the Coolangatta Gold’s first-ever downwind race.

“Although I didn’t win, I’m definitely starting to feel some benefit from this big training block, which is positive,” he says.

“I think I’m paddling well. I’m doing a lot and feeling fatigued, but I’m hoping that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

“I guess we’ll wait and see at The Doctor.”

Tom Norton (left) with Coolangatta Gold downwind winner Cory Hill (centre) and third place Riley Fitzsimmons (right).

That’s the event Norton’s year has been building towards.

And although he has spent it home in Australia, he knows he can take confidence from the success that his training partners have struck overseas.

Valentin Henot won the European Championships and Mackenzie Hynard finished third at the World Titles in a stacked field. The trio train under Jeremy Cotter, while they also regularly paddle with others like Hill.

“I think we’re very lucky. To some extent we take it for granted that we can train with the calibre of athletes we do,” he says.

“We had three races over three weekends and there was a different winner each time.

“You can’t get much better training than that. We’re very lucky. I guess the only other place you can get that is South Africa.”

The Perfect Boat for any Paddler

In saying that, Norton admits there is a rather large feeling of unknown – in racing, and of course, with impending parenthood.

But, through his typically laidback approach, Norton is choosing to embrace it as he looks to claim what would be the biggest win of his career in The Doctor.

“I’m not sure what’s coming,” he laughs. “I’m pretty confident that I’ve done enough work now to be on the pace and be a contender.

“Becoming a new dad, I hope it will be a happy part of my life. And you paddle well when you’re happy.”

“It has put everything into perspective a bit.

“After all, it is our hobby. As much as we are super serous about it, which is great, it is still a hobby.

“I’m realising you have to really enjoy it when you’re out there, because that’s what it’s all about.”