NORTON & SMITH SWEEP FORSTER RACE WEEKEND
Tom Norton and Jemma Smith have recorded perfect weekends in Forster, winning both days of the latest Australian Ocean Racing Series round.
More than 150 competitors lined up in today’s main event, the 20 kilometre Shaw and Partners Forster Ocean Classic.
While the first two years of the Forster Race Weekend served up grueling conditions for competitors, today’s instalment, fanned by a southerly breeze, was described as “unbelievable”.
“I had nearly given up on Forster,” Norton laughed.
“It was so good. There were runs right to the finish.”
That helped to set up a thrilling finish between Norton and Cory Hill.
Hill had lead for the first 12 kilometres, but after Norton chose to take an uncharacteristically wide line, he fought his way back in front.
“It was a bit of a role reversal,” he said. “I didn’t want to get caught inside like I did last year.
“I just wanted to stay relaxed and really turn it on in the last 7 kilometres.”
He delivered on that, taking a narrow lead around the final turning buoy, located 800 metres from the finish.
But the drama was far from over.
Hill produced another surge that pushed him onto the same wave as Norton coming into the wave zone.
Norton opted to pull off the wave and chase the back of it to shore – a decision that proved to be the right one, with Hill losing control, allowing Tom to claim back-to-back victories.
“I just wanted to come here and have two strong races and feel good about my paddling,” Norton said. “The main goal is Molokai in four weeks’ time.”
“I told myself that I wouldn’t be disappointed if I lost this weekend.
“But to paddle well and win – even though the races were close – I see it as a successful weekend to know that i’m able to go with Cory over these distances.”
Oscar Jones was three minutes further back, rounding out the top three
Like Norton, Jemma Smith travelled to the Mid North Coast searching for a reassuring performance, rather than simply recording a winning result.
The current ICF World Champion delivered on both fronts, posting commanding victories on both days of racing.
In today’s Shaw and Partners Forster Ocean Classic, she was four minutes ahead of Sascha Taurins and Emily Doyle.
“I was happy with the weekend”, she said. “I haven’t really done too much in the ocean ski since Aussies [Surf Lifesaving Championships]… but i’ve just jumped straight back into it trying to get some distance in before Molokai in a few weeks.
“I had a big training week coming into this, so the goal for me was seeing how I would deal with a bit of pressure and intensity coming off the back of volume.
“It seems like it’s all tracking alright at this stage, I have a lot more work to do in the coming weeks, but I am happy with where I am at.”
Smith is part of a large group of athletes Shaw and Partners Financial Services is taking to Hawaii for the iconic Molokai Challenge.
Despite finishing her sprint season just a few weeks ago – in both kayaking and surf lifesaving – the iconic island crossing is a major priority.
“I’ve never done it before, so it’s daunting, but I am really excited for the challenge of it”, she said.
“The longest surfski race I have done is the Doctor, which is just over halfway [of Molokai].
“It’s going to be a big shock to the system, but i’m just trying to do as much as I can between now and then and get used to sitting down for that long.
“I’m going there to race really hard and do as well as I can, but a lot of people speak about how, in that first year, you just learn so much. Then in those second and third years, you know what to expect and better understand the lines and conditions.
“I’m trying to do a bit of research beforehand and talk to people and get as much of a background as you can to help you as much as possible to do well over there.”
Molokai is also on Norton’s mind.
The Tasmanian helped his powerhouse surf club Northcliffe reclaim the esteemed Taplin Relay national title in Perth at the start of the month.
The commitment he showed to that sprint distance means he hasn’t been able to bank as many training kilometres as he would’ve liked.
Although the weekend of racing has helped to calm any concern.
“I’m not going to lie, I was a bit nervous about that.” He said.
“At Aussies, you do three races a day and not much else, so you’re not doing much paddling and I knew Cory would be doing big weeks back at home.
“I haven’t really stopped since the WA Race Week, so I knew I would have some fitness. But to know i’m even with Cory is a good feeling leading into the last four weeks of training.”
“I think we’re both paddling well. I hope us two, as Australians, are in a good position to challenge the South Africans at Molokai.”
Given the quick turnaround between his racing seasons, Norton knows success at Molokai is a tall order.
But he isn’t daunted, having juggled his training with becoming a new father for the past six months – all while serving up impressive results.
When asked how he is balancing those demands, the answer was simple.
“I don’t know… i’m just doing it,” he laughs.
“It’s just day-by-day. You set out a training plan at the start of the week, but by Tuesday, you may as well just throw it over your shoulder.
“It’s just making the most of your time on the ski, and also making the most of your time with family. That’s kind of what i’m doing. Taking it day-by-day, session-by-session.
“When I was younger, like 25 and right into sprint kayaking, if I didn’t finish the exact program I had set for myself, I would write it off as a terrible week.
“I don’t know if i’m just getting older, but you have to be a lot more flexible now and really make the most of your key sessions.
“It seems to be working alright. I’m enjoying my paddling and life is going well. I’ll just keep running with it I guess.”