THE DOCTOR WIN THAT JEMMA SMITH HAS BEEN WAITING YEARS TO CLAIM
Even before today’s starting-siren sounded, Jemma Smith could lay claim to being one of Australia’s greatest ever surfski paddlers.
A prodigious ironwoman talent who burst onto the Nutri-Grain Series as a teenager, Smith has claimed numerous State and Australian titles in the Surf Life Saving arena.
She’s represented her nation at canoe sprint World Championships, and of course, is the current ICF Ocean Racing World Champion.
But there’s one title that had eluded her, despite being so determined to win.
That was, until today, when she won the Shaw and Partners Doctor.
“It’s the one that I really wanted,” she told The Paddler.
“I’ve always had my sights set on this race and I’ve been close a couple of times, but I feel like I haven’t had my best race here previously.
“The Doctor is so special and it’s so prestigious in the paddling community, so I really wanted to do well today.
“I’m absolutely stoked with the paddle and i’m really happy I finally have that win that i’ve been chasing for a couple of years now.”
After dominating the Shaw and Partners WA Race Week up to today, Smith was the odds-on favourite to finally break-through for that victory.
She produced a blistering paddle to win the West Coast Downwind, claimed both of the Dr Benjamin Hewitt Sunset Surfski Series races in offshore winds and heatwave conditions, and even finished second in the Dash for Cash.
But she crossed the channel to Rottnest Island on alert.
Not just because of the intense heat, and lack of wind over the 28 kilometre course back to Sorrento.
The memory of showing similar strength at last year’s event, before finishing second to Danielle McKenzie in the Doctor, was in the back of her mind.
“Last year I had a great week, but the Doctor just didn’t play out the way I wanted.
“I learned a lot last year, just in terms of picking the right line. I think that comes with experience, too, and just backing yourself.
“Today I went in with a really clear plan and had faith in all of the training that I’ve put in. I felt good, and just wanted to produce a paddle I was really happy with and leave with no regrets.”
Smith didn’t need a reminder of the fight that was ahead of her, but she got one in the opening kilometre of the race, nonetheless.
With Race One placing $2,500 on the Hot Spot, for the first paddler past the 1.2 kilometre turning marker, the pace was on.
Having spent the year in the world of canoe sprint, vying for a place on New Zealand’s Olympic team for the 2024 Games in Paris, defending champion Danielle McKenzie flew off the line.
“I actually went past Dani at one stage, but I had a feeling she was going to want the Hot Spot,” Smith recalls.
“She put on a burst leading into the can and I didn’t want to blow my gasket too early, so I was happy to let her go. I was focused on finding a nice comfortable rhythm from there.”
McKenzie claimed the cash prize, but she admits it came at a cost.
“I’ve never really done that before, and it took me a little bit of time to recover from that, but I felt really strong between the 5 and 18 kilometres marks.” McKenzie says.
“I worked my way back, then Jemma just put the hammer down and I lost her.”
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Smith says she felt in control of her tempo, but when she saw Cory Hill come past her at around the 7 kilometre mark, she was compelled to act.
“I absolutely didn’t expect them to come past that early and I thought, ‘Oh my god! This is going to throw the race open a bit here,’” she says.
“It’s so hard to keep track where all of the women are from there, so I thought that I just had to go and start milking anything the ocean throws my way.
“I was hoping to stay consistent and I was able to do that, holding a strong pace around the Centaur Marker and into the beach.”
That approach saw her record a comfortable winning margin, crossing the line in a time of 2 hours and 52 seconds.
That was almost two minutes ahead of Danielle McKenzie (2:02:42) and South African Michelle Burn (2:03:47).
After pushing the pace in the early stages of the race, rising star Kira Bester (2:05:06) finished fourth, with Georgia Miller (2:05:57) rounding out the top five.
In the men’s race, Cory Hill claimed a record-extending fifth title, on what was a memorable day for his family, which you can by clicking here.
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Smith’s focus will now turn to defending her ICF Ocean Racing World Championship in just one week, when Australia hosts the event for the first time ever.
Competitors will race from Fremantle to Scarborough Beach, on a course that is similar to that of the West Coast Downwind, but on a slightly different angle.
It’s somewhat unknown territory for the world’s leading paddlers, but if there’s one lesson Smith has learned from her experience at this year’s Shaw and Partners WA Race Week, it’s not to overthink it.
“At the end of the day, you just have to back yourself,” she says.
“We’ve had some incredibly close racing this week in a range of conditions, but at the end of the day, when you get on the line you just have to back yourself.
“I’m so happy with the way I paddled throughout this week, and to win today just tops it off.”
Danielle McKenzie will be a notable absentee from next week’s race.
The 2019 World Champion has committed to her Olympic dream, and will return to New Zealand to continue her training.
And she does so with a smile, after an enjoyable week back in the ocean.
“To be honest, I really enjoyed today’s race,” she says.
“It was quite hard not having a whole lot of wind on offer out there, but i’m really impressed and stoked by the way I paddled.
“I had some really good sections, particularly between the 5 and 18 kilometre marks, and I enjoyed the start taking out the Hot Spot.
“Training has been very different. I’ve just been paddling in the flat, in the K1.
“But I didn’t want that to have any sort of effect. I still went into every race thinking I could win it. You have to have that mindset as an athlete.
“Jemma, Michelle and Kira are all paddling super strong. It’s really cool to see that there’s a really strong women’s field out there, and that you really have to work in each race.”
“My goal was to build into this week and finish strong, so i’m stoked.”