The first ever Oceania Adventure Racing Championship was held at Gold Coast and in the city’s hinterland hills and parks, and it delivered an innovative and tough course, world class racing, and a weekend to remember!
The weather was the wild card, as it has been at so many adventure races this year. With heavy rain and storms predicted through the weekend some sports events were called off, but adventure racers are tough, adaptable and equip themselves for the conditions, so the race went ahead.
The winners of several past series races were in the line up, racing for the title, a place at the Adventure Racing World Championship in South Africa, and a prize pool of $10,000. They would paddle, trek and mountain bike non-stop over a 178km course, which would stay open for 36 hours. There was also a shorter course of 143km which would be open for 24 hours, and both courses started near the Aquatic Centre, which served as a comfortable race HQ.
Among the favourites on the Championship course were Alpine Avengers, 3 Points of Contact, Thunderbolt AR and Team Rogue. These teams included some of the most experienced and successful Australian adventure racers of the past decade, with lots of international and expedition race experience between them. Joining the favourites were Team Chipesti from North Queensland, who have had strong races in the past couple of years and shown their potential, without yet notching up a win.
The start for the 36 hour teams was at midnight, so getting any rest before the race was challenging, especially with the excitement and uncertainty about what lay ahead. Teams set off in kayaks towards the Nerang River, making their way through the city nightscape in a very unique start.
Luke Smyth from Chipesti said, “Paddling through the skyscrapers of the city and the million dollar houses on the canals was very different to the paddling we do back home, or in any other adventure race, and was one of my favourite stages. We had a strong paddle and made a break from the pack (or so we thought).
“We cruised into the first transition and to our surprise Alpine Avengers were already there assembling their bikes! They made a strategic move to portage their boats along the city roads on a trolley for a big section of the paddle which paid off. The race was on!”
It was, and these two teams would dispute the lead for the entire race, on a course which offered navigation challenges and tactical choices, as well as demanding endurance and strong team work.
Teams were only given the checkpoints for the next stage at each transition, and Race Director Chris Dixon set teams a puzzle by giving them the choice to collect the first paddle checkpoints on leg one at the start, or on leg 9 when they paddled back the same way to the finish. It was the same format for legs 2 and 8, mountain biking on the trails of the Nerang National Park.
All of the top teams made the same choice on the paddle checkpoints, but as they rode into the night on stage two, teams took many different options. Team 3 Points of Contact opted to collect all of the checkpoints, leaving none for stage 8, while the other lead teams left some for later. It was a bold move, which left 3 Points of contact behind the other lead teams, but with more checkpoints in hand, and would only play out towards the end of the race.
Legs 2 and 3 (trekking in the Nerang Conservation area), also allowed teams to collect the checkpoints in any order they chose, and it was the same on a paddle from Hinze Dam around the south western arm of Advancetown Lake, and on a later hill trek in Numinbah. There would be no rest for the navigators and most teams would have to make smart choices based on their speed and endurance, deciding how much of the course they could tackle in the deteriorating conditions.
For the leaders, it was simpler; they would do the whole course as fast as possible!
Alpine Avengers and Chipesti swapped the lead, twice taking completely different routes on free navigation stages, but these choices didn’t separate them by much. Thunderbolt AR stayed in a consistent third, just behind the leaders, while 3 Points of Contact gradually slipped further back, and in the end didn’t stay close enough to the leaders for their early tactical choice to get them on the podium.
Smythe picks up the story for Chipesti. “It was a game of cat and mouse, constantly swapping positions with Alpine Avengers. We had lost some time looking for two checkpoints on Leg 7 (18km trek) so we knew we had some work to do going into Transition 4.
“Leaving the transition we started a 60km MTB leg with over 2000m of climbing! We pushed hard to catch the Avengers and make the most of the remaining hours of daylight. The last 10kms of the bike leg went through the Nerang MTB Park, with multiple checkpoints. We knew the race could be lost in the bike park, being so close to the finish and as it was the last challenging navigation in the race. With some extra serves of caffeine we worked our way through picking up the checkpoints.
“To our relief we rolled into the final transition still in the lead! We quickly packed our bikes and jumped into the boats. The remaining legs to the finish were an 11km paddle and 7km beach run. We knew the teams behind us were all seasoned athletes and not going to let us get away easily, so we knuckled down and emptied the tanks, leaving nothing to chance to cross the finish line and take the win!”
Their winning time to take the title of the first Adventure Racing World Series Oceania Champions was 24 hours 36 minutes 55 seconds, and after the win the team posted on Facebook; “Feels so good to finally pull off a win in the adventure racing scene! Bring on South Africa!”
Only the top 4 mixed teams and the male pair, Team RUSH, completed the full 36 hour course, getting all of the checkpoints. The Vortex Divas were the only all female team to cross the finish line and Liz Woodgate summed up their experience.
“We planned our route working on the slower times, knowing the weather would be a factor in making the cut-offs. Our priority was to cover as much of the course as possible, collect as many CP’S as we could and finish every stage.
“We were happy with our navigation and it’s great to have a team with 4 navigators. Angela did have to hand over the map when she lost her glasses in the big hike, but unbelievably the other female team, Wild Women, found them and handed them in!
“The big (last) MTB stage had us pushing our bikes for what seemed like hours up steep rocky trails that even the local teams said they never ride. The sting in the tail was there were many descents that were also too steep and rocky for us to ride down! It poured with rain, turning the trails into little rivers!
“We had a strong tailwind and torrential rain for our final trek along Surfers Paradise Beach, more famous for bikinis and skyscrapers than thermals and waterproof pants!
“We always knew the Oceania Champs would be a hard race, and it delivered, but at no point did we think of quitting. That’s just not in our nature and I’m super proud of this tough, resilient, thoughtful and upbeat group of women we call Divas.”
The 24 hour race experienced the worst of the weather, and all of the teams had to miss some checkpoints.
Six male pairs managed to finish the 24 hour course, lead by team Pair of Kooks, and the Premier Mixed class winners were team Crazed Curlews Kooky Kiwi, even though they crossed the finish line last, after more than 23 hours of racing in torrential rain.
They put their success down to good navigation (by Mitchell Krome), strong team work, and being able to make changes to their plan on the fly. Tara Hassan commented. “I think we managed to pick just the right amount of course to do to still make it to the finish inside the cut-offs and on the (mostly) intended route.”
The team are all part of the Tri Adventure (Noosa) training group and benefitted from the experience gained there. The group founders, Jan Leverton and Kim Beckinsale were racing too, and putting into practice the combination of self-awareness, critical judgement and determination they coach, to be the only female pair to reach the finish.
Beckinsale said; “Jan and I raced as Mountain Designs Vintage Wild Women and we had all the gear we needed, plus more, and we either put it on straight away or carried it just in case. I think that made a huge difference.
“The most challenging part was riding in Nerang on flooded trails when it got dark as the rain was so heavy you could not see much, which was hard enough without trying to navigate!
“We got to TA5 for the paddle back just on daylight and it was still pouring with rain and a slog with rain and tide against us. Finally, when we arrived at TA 6 it had stopped raining, but we kept on all of our wet weather gear as it was so windy!
“We headed to the beach. Wow! The ocean was a crazy washing machine and there was no one on the beach at all. Usually Sunday morning at Surfers it would be packed with bikini clad tourists, but not that morning!
“What got us through? Persistence, a positive outlook, having and carrying the right gear, and the navigation skills to find the checkpoints I guess.”
You can find the full results and information about other Wild and Co. races at https://www.wldnco.com
Race photographs and reports can be found on the Wild&Co Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/wldnco
For a full calendar for the 2023 ARWS Oceania Series see; https://www.wldnco.com/arws-oceania-series. The next ARWS Oceania Championship is scheduled for 27-29th October 2023.
The next race in the series is the Alpine Quest 48 hour race, starting on November 10th and organised by https://adventurejunkie.com.au