Shaw and Partners’ Race Week – Perth 2023

In the Swedish surfski community we hear lots about paddling in South Africa, Spain and Portugal since a lot of us travel there during the colder months. But Australia is a little unknown to us – probably because its so far away, and not many Swedes have been there for surfski paddling. When I first started to paddle ski back in 2011 I heard about “The Doctor” (a surfski race in Perth, on the west coast of Australia) and in my ears it sounded like a cool thing to do. It looked a bit dreamy in the videos from the competition. But wasn’t until it was announced that Perth was going to host both the Shaw and Partners’ Race Week and the World Championships in surfski. The experience sounded like one not to be missed, so I started to prepare to go, and I want to share my thoughts and experiences from the trip.

So what’s special about surfski in Perth? From November until February there is this breeze consistently kicking in every afternoon, from southwest with minor variations. The breeze has a cooling effect for people in Perth since the temperature is hot and dry (25°C-40°C) during those months. And a sun that is far more burning than at home. This is why the breeze is called ‘The Doctor’ by locals and it is a gift for all people doing wind- and wave sports in Perth.


I decided early to participate in the race week and the World Championships and bought a ticket for about 18 000 SEK. There are cheaper ones but then the trip tend to be very long. It’s like ‘pay a lot now and be happy while travelling’. I travelled from Gothenburg to London and from London straight to Perth (16h flight). So much better than my trip back, which was via Singapore with two stops.

Shaw and Partners’ Race Week

Race Week is an event that tries to gather the best paddlers together for a series of 5 races over one week. The event has been sponsored by Shaw and Partners for several years, who are trying to turn the sport into an elite sport where the best can focus more on training than working. This means that the prize money is good, and event organisation excellent with a lot happening outside of the races.

The included races are:
1. Fenn Downwinder (25km)
2 & 3. The Sunset Series x2 (11km)
4. Dash for Cash (a 300m sprint) and
5. The Doctor (28km).

Signing up for all the events in the Race Week, plus the ferry and ski transport for The Doctor cost around 550 AUD (a little over 3500 SEK). Unlike in Sweden, transport to the start is not typically included so you have to book shuttles or fix the transportation yourself. The event is connected to the Fenn retailer in Australia, so most of the skis were white Fenns (good luck trying to find yours amongst the 500 boats!) but I was lucky that NK sent a whole container of beauuuutfiul CarbonX skis, so I could paddle my usual Nitro 600. Epic had a small fleet as well, other than that there were some Vega, Carbonology, Allwave but overwhelmingly the market in Australia is Fenn.

We kicked off the week with the Fenn Downwinder, which started from Port Beach, and headed north to Sorrento. A big parking lot made it possible for easy drop off, trailers etc. We had all gotten a kit including timing chip, tracker and category coloured t-shirts. At 13.00 we were dropped off at the parking lot and at after a quick check in we were on the beach and ready to race. At 13.40 there was a short briefing where the start procedure was explained (by a lady with a megaphone in the carpark, not easy with more than 400 participants). OC1 + SUP Foil started during the briefing, and 20 min later we were about 100 women starting out on the water. A bit later the men were released. In 90 min more than 400 people had started the race, quite impressing how easy and smooth it seemed like.
Today we were lucky to get the Doctor blowing. The temperature was around 28C but the breeze made it perfect race conditions. The waves started out about 0,5 m and during the race they grew bigger. The wind waves came from behind while the bigger swells came more from the side. For me it was quite hard work to catch those waves, especially in the beginning when they were smaller. The course was a straight line along the coast up so it was important to try catch as much as possible without loosing too much height. The women’s field was impressive containing most of the top paddlers from South Africa and Australia.

Briefing at Port Beach

I can’t say this was a great downwind for me even with the waves. I was tired, had been struggling with jetlag for a week, didn’t really feel like racing. So therefore I was extra happy when I finished as no 1 in my age category (40-50). I didn’t know so much about the Australian girls, I only knew about Amaia Olaberri from Spain, the strong paddler I have been battling against since 2015. Normally she beats me on the flatter races, and I was lucky to come in ahead of her in the waves. I was also pleasantly surprised to receive prize money of 300AUD – not common in the masters category.
Finishing the race on Sorrento Beach was a bit bumpy (and very beautiful) but nothing to be worried about even for us Swedes who don’t have a lot of practice in surf breaks. A few minutes after the race was over we could find the result lists, all thanks to the RF ID timing system. There was some time to cool down, rinse the surfskis (imagine 400 people wanting to rinse their skis) before the ‘after ski’ and prize ceremony. We could buy nice food and drinks at the Surf Lifesaving Club and it was fun to catch up with people.

Chloe Nauta on her way to finish

I wish it could be this easy to arrange a surfski race for 400 people in Sweden… With the Surf Lifesaving clubs, the big parking lots and the warm climate it gets a lot easier. The facilities are great! On most beaches there are toilets, showers and a Surf Life Saving club where sausages can be grilled, water can be filled etc.

TuesdayDr Benjamin Hewitt Sunset Series

Dr Benjamin Hewitt Sunset Series was held in the evening. People could drive after work and participate. We were about 400 starting from the same beach again but this time the finish was only 11km north, at the City Beach. And thanks for that! It was HOT and flat. Around 36°C with desert breeze from the East. People were swimming before the start, trying to keep cool. Same procedure again but this time we chose to arrive at 16.15, starting at 17. As little time in the sun as possible. A packed womens field once again, undramatic since it was flat. Sprinting out to a marker 400m offshore and then turning right towards City Beach. Being flat there was of course lots of wash riding and I tried my best to keep up. I can’t say I enjoyed it but saw it as very good training, especially mentally. To keep struggling and use whatever small bumps there were. Today it was Amaia’s turn to win and I got the second place. Overall in the womens field I came 26th. And It was so inspiring to see so many fast junior- and U23 girls. It makes me believe the sport is growing, especially on the women’s side. I have had a slow but steady upwards trend the last years so being beaten by so many girls can only mean one thing – there are more women and they train harder.

This evening I was introduced to the Australian ‘sausage sizzle’ – something everyone was enjoying after the race, grilled on the outside of the City Beach Surf lifesaving club. Beer and ginger beer, alcoholic and non alcoholic could be purchased and it was so nice and refreshing with a bottled drink after such a hot race. Sun set over the open ocean, extremely beautiful!

ThursdayDr Benjamin Hewitt Sunset Series

Dr Benjamin Hewitt Sunset Series again, pretty much a copy of Tuesdays race. But today it was even hotter, around 38°C. How was I going to survive? Luckily there was a slight headwind so once we had started and turned around the pin it was actually not too bad. The swell from the side together with the wind created some bumps but I could never use them. But I survived the race, got a second place again, my sizzling sausage and some more cash. Another beautiful sunset and the wonderful feeling of being in shorts and t-shirt in the evening. Tropical!

Friday – the Dash for Cash
Something unique to WA Race Week, inspired by surf life saving. This race is a sprint starting 300m offshore, finishing with a 30m run up the beach. Only the 6 fastest from each race got to continue. Can’t say this was my favourite competition but fun to try it out. None of the endurance paddlers such as Gordan and Corey Hill made any money today. It was the younger paddlers and paddlers coming from surf lifesaving. In my category we went directly to a final. Michelle Eray had joined the race week and took the victory in an easy manner. I didn’t have a good race at all and finished 5th

The younger paddlers, especially those from surf life saving, did really well today.

Saturday – The Doctor.

On the way home from Dash for Cash we passed Port Beach to drop off our skis, that were taken to the port to be loaded on the barge for Saturday’s big race, the highlight of the week, and the race that first got me interested in Perth – The Doctor. A 28km race from an island back to land, known for hectic conditions and crossing a major shipping lane. To participate we had to have paddled some qualifying races (Fenn Westcoast Downwinder) to prove we could handle ourselves on the water! This year it didn’t look like the Doctor would arrive at all, the forecast had shown a little wind from southwest, from late afternoon. But the temperature was still hot so I didn’t feel hopeful at all for an exciting race tomorrow. I mentally prepared for hotter than hell.

An early morning start– but early mornings where the sun shines and it’s already 25 C are not very hard. Jumped into race kit, had brekkie and headed off to the ferry, approx 40min drive from where we were staying. Paddle, lifejacket, drinks, snack for the day, sunscreen, flare and rocket, gels and sunnies, we were ready to board the 7am ferry to Rottnest Island. Everything we carried with us had to come home again in the ski. Or be eaten up. We didn’t need to bring any extra clothes, it was so hot that some people chose to race in speedos 😀

Brekkie in heaven

The ferry took about 40 minutes and the last 10 min of the ride was really beautiful. Turquoise water and white beaches – this island looked really nice. As soon as we landed we went to the barge to get our skis. All the skis from the barge were unloaded to the beach and it was quite an impressive sight with so many skis lined up on the beach.

We had been told to relax until we got a WhatsApp message about the briefing and start time. I really like when they wait as long as possible to get the best downwind conditions. Chloe and I found some nice chairs in the shadow and relaxed and ate snacks for a couple of hours while waiting.

Suddenly I felt a breeze soothing my hot skin. It started from the West but later turned to South West. I figured they would let us start around 12.30, as communicated earlier. Finally there was the message in WhatsApp. We moved to our skis and paddled over to the little army jetty for briefing. 500-600 paddlers under a couple of small tents trying to hide from the sun. The briefing started. Suddenly I felt something and looked down. A cute little quokka was investigating my feet. The quokka is a very small marsupial (like a kangaroo) and only lives on Rottnest Island. Very used to people, who are not allowed any interaction with the animals.

Many skis on the beach
A cute little quokka investigating my feet.
The women’s start where the top 30 were seeded to yellow t-shirts and the front line.

The women and master’s men (70+) and the OC6 started first. Then it was the women and OC1, and some masters men. The start line was only approx 30m wide, and we had to squeeze in amongst boats and yachts and it felt a bit chaotic. I took it fairly easy not to get a damaged ski. The water was so clear and turquoise color with the white sand. I both enjoyed the view and tried to race and use the waves from the big group of paddlers. I was hoping there would be some wind waves building up soon because what we had now was just messy bumps from all the paddlers. Not too log after the start Corey Hill and Gordan Harbrecht passed me, both seemed to be flying over the bumps. Wow! I was definitely not flying, I felt tired and hot and as usual I was on my limit to how hard I could push without any rest. Once in a while I found a wave to ride and could pass a blue race t-shirt or two (the womens colour). It was not until I turned around the final marker with only 5 km left that the waves got a bit more to my favour. I could finally link some waves and get my speed up a bit. My hands started to cramp and in the last section I had to paddle with them mostly open. I was very happy to finish since I didn’t have much left in my body. Even though I only managed to finish in fourth in my category I was happy with my performance. I was focused during the whole race and pushed as hard as I could. It took me 2.18.16 to finish and I was 30th in womens. Jemma Smith won the women’s category, 2.0.52. Corey Hill won the men’s category, 1.48.04. Both winners were about 15 minutes slower than last year, when the conditions were good/hectic.

As a memory all participants got a big medal. It will definitely be a keeper for me but I also hope to get another medal and even better memories from crossing that Rottnest channel surfing big waves. Who knows.

Finally finishing! Photo: Ben Thompson

With The Doctor done, Race Week was finally over and I was 2nd place overall in the master’s category, bringing home another 600AUD. It had been hard but good competition days for me with some good experience to bring back home. And of course I felt very motivated to keep training and come back to this professional event next year. Next year I have decided there will be more and bigger waves 🙂

Corey Hill Winner of the Doctor.
The mens 40-50 category podium was filled with living legends like Dawid Mocke and Hank McGregor.

*Most of those participating in Race Week stayed in small tourist apartments next to Sorrento Surf Life Saving club, which acted as the hub for the event. At the hub there was breakfast every day, raffle prizes and social competitions, inspiring lectures from paddlers in the evenings, some social events and paddle and surf life saving clinics during the days. The retailers were there all week, and there was plenty of opportunity to meet fellow paddlers and enjoy the beach and club facilities. Shuttles ran daily for downwinds for 15-35 AUD for transport 10-25km down the coast. This service runs even outside of Race Week – similar to Millers taxi. Since Chloe is originally from Perth, we opted for the more economic option of staying with her parents a little further from the action, but gorgeous paddling opportunities on the Perth river and VERY nice hosts 🙂 It seems like Perth really has something for every kind of paddler!

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