THE PADDLER’S PROFILE: MALCOLM TURNBULL
Malcolm Bligh Turnbull AC, the 29th Prime Minister of Australia, is a paddler.
For some, this will come as a shock.
But it shouldn’t – his passion for the pastime has been clear right throughout his professional and political career.
In the aftermath of losing the office in a bitter leadership coup in 2018, Mr Turnbull was asked on the national broadcaster just what he would do next?
The answer was obvious.
To get out on Sydney Harbour and go for a paddle.
“I’m absolutely sure I said that, and I’m absolutely sure that’s what I did that day,” he tells The Paddler.
Yet even for the most enthusiastic of political observers within the paddling scene, his knowledge of all things kayaking – and his genuine admiration for them – still come as somewhat of a refreshing surprise.
Paddle length and angle?
210cm at 0 degrees.
Average distance per session?
Weapon of choice?
His Mirage 582 sit-in sea kayak or his sit-on-top identical equivalent.
“I love kayaking, I love the harbour,” he says.
“I’ve spent a lot of my life on it and I’ve never spent a minute on it that I’ve regretted.”
“Kayaking is obviously good exercise, but I only really work out my upper-body, so I don’t find it to be good cardio exercise for me.
“But I think that mental health benefit is just as important as the physical health.”
For a politician who held the highest office in Australia, that’s crucial.
A life in politics is never smooth, but Turnbull was exposed to – and responsible for – some of its more cruel undertakings.
Like it does for everyone around the world, paddling has provided Malcolm Turnbull with a chance to escape.
“I just find it very peaceful… sometimes I just paddle and dream, and look at the water, and at the birds.
“One of the great things about kayaking, which people who don’t do it can’t appreciate, is that because you can paddle over just a few centimetres of water, you can see everything that’s beneath the surface.
“You can see what’s on the bottom, the seagrass, the fish… it’s a very intimate connection with the ocean.
“Compare it to sailing; you’re obviously in deep water so you don’t run aground, there’s a lot going on, the sail is flapping, waves crash over the bow.
“In a kayak, it’s more you and the universe I guess… it’s fantastic.”
He’s quick to point out that he certainly doesn’t see himself as a “serious paddler”.
“I’m there for a good time not a hardcore workout… I don’t know if that’s a good skill or not, to be honest” he laughs.
“I’ll stop and take a picture or get out somewhere and have a stretch and a coffee.
“I don’t twist and turn a lot… I had an operation on my lower back once and have to watch that, so i’m not putting the torsion into it.”
Understandably, there weren’t too many sessions in the notoriously cold capital city of Canberra throughout his political career.
“That sort of puts the ‘eskimo’ back into ‘eskimo kayak!’”
Although when he’s at home in Sydney, he does get out on the water most days – just as he has done for the past 30 years.
“I can’t exactly remember what got me into it, but back in the eighties I had a 16 foot sit-on kayak, like a big surfski, and I used to paddle that,” he explains.
“I had it all rigged up in the garage in the house we lived in Paddington so I could drop it straight onto the roof racks.
“When we moved to a property in Point Piper, which is on the water, I bought another one and I had that for 20 odd years.
“Then I replaced it with these Mirages, which are great boats… and they’re carbon fibre, which helps me because they’re so light.”
For the audience of The Paddler, no doubt there is one burning question…
Why doesn’t he paddle a surfski?
“I have paddled a surfski but I prefer the sea kayak,” he explains.
“The Mirage has a pretty narrow hull… a lot of people would find them quite tippy.
“Some sea kayaks are pretty big and roomy around where you sit, but they’re not that much wider than a surfski.”
“And the good thing is, when it’s really cold, you can put a skirt on and keep yourself nice and warm.”
Of course, that preference in boat selection compromises speed while out on the water, along with the opportunity to chase the bumps that bounce in every direction on the busy Sydney Harbour.
“I’ve never really been successful surfing in this boat, or sea kayaks generally,” he says.
“The problem is [in sea kayaks] if you’re on a wave and go a little bit off centre, you’ll roll.
“In 30 years of kayaking in the harbour, I’ve only fallen out twice… and one was while trying exuberantly surfing the wave of a ferry.”
“If you’re on a surfski, it’s easier to get back on.
“Getting back into a sea kayak, unless you can do an eskimo roll – which I can’t – it’s a pain.”
He’s quick to point out that he does have a self-rescue system set up in his kayak in the unlikely event that does happen.
Safety comes first – he always wears a lifejacket, too…
Especially after he was caught without one and slapped with a fine during his time as Prime Minister in 2017, to much amusement.
“The Daily Telegraph and Murdoch press have never been friends of mine, so they would often send photographers down to the beach outside our house to try and catch me doing something that would make for an embarrassing picture,” he explains.
“They got a picture of me on a dinghy without a lifejacket when I was moving from a jetty to a beach, a distance of about 10 metres in water that was no more than eight foot deep.
“If you’re on a boat under 30 feet, you’ve got to have a lifejacket… it was 200 bucks!”
With his life lived firmly in the gaze of the public eye, the escape that paddling provides is undoubtedly part of the attraction.
“Yesterday I paddled for about 16 kilometres and the whole course was basically empty.
“It’s amazing, you can be out in the water just off the city and there’s no one around.
“It’s also perfectly socially distanced… unless there are some fish with COVID, I think I’m pretty safe,” he laughs.
It’s an appreciation that every paddler – regardless of ability – can relate to.
And one that’s driven Malcolm Turnbull’s love of getting in the boat.
“The whole cosmic experience of being out on the water, the constant change of moments, every one is different from the other… it’s magical.”
“I’ll never tire of kayaking… I love it.”
The full conversation with Malcolm Turnbull, including his 10 Doubles interview segment, will be included on the next episode of The Paddler’s Pod to be released on July 19.