This weekend saw the Lea Extreme Race enter its 2nd decade of existence. The forces of nature aligned sweetly, with the river gods and weather gods throwing a party for the 40 competitors, 15 event crew and the dedicated fans who trekked into the river to watch the event. Incredibly, the weather on Saturday was warm and sunny and the flows in the river were fantastic. They were the best conditions for many years, if not ever.
The Lea River is situated in the wilderness near Cradle Mountain and features over 1km of technical grade 4 rapids in a steep, walled gorge. The fact that the gorge is stunning and beautiful is typically overshadowed by the numerous waterfalls, including the 8 metre 2 stage drop called ‘Proctologists’ and the 5 metre feature drop ‘Plastic Surgeons’ which is the climax to the most technical rapid on the river. The drops thankfully land in friendly pools and numerous technical rapids between the major drops keep paddlers grinning the whole way down. Paddlers compete in pairs, giving this race a unique twist and increasing the safety of the event.
Those in the know thought that some fresh young faces might make the podium this year. Daniel Watkins and Andrew Eckhardt were looking dangerous in practice, holding fast dry lines on Plastic Surgeons during the week. Dan Hall has traditionally dominated this event, only twice being beaten and this year saw the return of his original team-mate Justin Boocock after an absence of 5 years. Andrew and Daniel didn't finish due to a broken paddle so we'll have to wait until next year to know if they can de-throne Dan Hall & Co. This year saw Dan and Justin win with a clear break on the rest of the field in a record time of 9 minutes and 24 seconds. 34 seconds back were Will Hughes and Tom Griggs who held their well-practised lines and had the fitness to substitute for regular paddling.
In third position were the first interstate paddlers, Rob and Alex McIntyre from NSW and the Australian Wild Water team. They lacked the river knowledge of the locals but still almost snatched 2nd position, finishing only 11 seconds back. Rob and Alex are fired up to return in 2014 to try and take 'The Bull' trophy back to NSW.
Only one female was keen to prove that she could hold a 'sickline', Kate Eckhardt showed some determined paddling to come ninth at 10 minutes and 55 seconds with her team mate Brad Rogers. Organisers hope to see the 12th year of the Lea Xtreme race be the first year to have 3 all female teams. Expect significant prizes for the first ladies team in 2014.
This event is as much about the race as it is about the social event. The vibe on Saturday was one of excitement, old and new friends all gathered in a remote and beautiful place for the race. Presentations were held in the sunshine on the lawns of Weindorfers Restaurant in Gowrie Park who fed the lively banter Saturday night, a crowd of misfits partied into the early hours.
A big thanks to everyone who helped the Derwent Canoe Club successfully host Australia's longest running extreme kayaking competition.
See the image below for results.