RACING TO HELLS GATES IN HEAVEN ON EARTH: AUSTRALIAN PADDLING’S NEWEST CHALLENGE
Chris Price has always loved his paddling.
Even learning the craft on the cold waters of Tasmania under the tutelage of Jeremy Norton – dad to Aussie powerhouses Tom & Sam – it’s always been his passion.
And that only amplified once he moved to the Gold Coast, setting him on a path that would, ultimately, give rise to Australia’s newest, toughest event.
“As things played out, I happened to be in the right place at the right time and got involved in one of the first OC6 teams that paddled Molokai,” Price recalls.
“It was guys like Chris Maynard, Billy Eckstein – as in Shannon and Caine’s dad – Gavin Hill [father to Cory Hill], John Holmes… the list goes on.
“I was probably holding them back a bit, but that’s when I got a taste and understanding of what the paddling culture is like over there.
“My interest in those type of events grew out of that.”
That inspiration is obvious in the Shaw and Partners Hells Gates 38.
Set for its inaugural running in July on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, competitors will paddle 38 kilometres from Mooloolaba to Noosa – with the dramatic name taken from the finishing point’s world-famous coastal walking track.
Instead, it’s the course itself which may make some paddlers nervous…
The Shaw and Partners Hells Gates 38 will be run from the south to the north regardless of wind direction.
“The course lends itself to a challenge of that distance,” Price explains.
“You stand on the beach at Mooloolaba and looking north you can see the eastern point of Noosa Heads National Park and you think, ‘that looks like a long way and I’m paddling there, then I have to paddle around the corner.’
“But every time I drive up the coast or see a picture of it, I can say, ‘I paddled that distance, I conquered it and I feel pretty good about it.’”
It’s an intimidating challenge, but one that’s immediately struck a chord with the Australian paddling community – and for good reason.
The coastline is one of the most picturesque in Australia, while even in the depths of winter, the daily temperature lands somewhere in the mid-20’s.
No doubt the idea of a Noosa getaway is helping to drive interest.
Price has been pleasantly surprised by the uptake and there’s many more to come, with training groups from all corners of the country committing to the task – even overseas.
“We’ve got a registration from New Zealand, which is just great.”
The race has received strong sponsor support too, with Shaw and Partners assuming naming-rights ownership, contributing more than $20,000 in prize money.
It’s one of the reasons why there’s heightened optimism that the Shaw and Partners Hells Gates 38 can become a mainstay on the Australian racing calendar.
Hawaii has the Molokai Challenge, South Africa has the Cape Point Challenge, but Australian downwind paddling is yet to cement a point-to-point long-distance race with ‘iconic’ status.
For his part, Price isn’t thinking that far ahead – at least not yet.
“It’s either a pathway to Molokai, or if for whatever reason you’re unable to get to Molokai, then this is the next challenge for you above those races around the 20 kilometre mark,” he says.
“Of course, with every event you’re involved with, you want it to grow and become iconic.
And yes, we know what you’re thinking…
The average wind on the Sunshine Coast during winter does blow out of the south.
“Sure, it’s fun paddling downwind and arguably it’s easier… but if it is a tough day, it adds to the sense of achievement and satisfaction that you take out of it.”
For more information on the event, click here.