He’s been involved in surf life saving, swimming and paddling for as long as he can remember, but earlier this year 56-year-old Ian Wright took it up a notch and set-off for Hawaii to compete in the Molokai Surfski World Championships — a notoriously challenging 53km paddle through the treacherous Kaiwi channel referred to the ‘Channel of Bones’ – yikes! Ian not only survived, but won his age category, claiming the Kala Kukea Trophy. Here he tells us about the ‘bucket list’ experience, including tips for others thinking of making the voyage, and also reveals more about himself and his love of water sports.
“A US destroyer crossed the channel through the middle of the paddlers — the US Navy stops for no one”
Was this challenge easier or harder than you expected? Fifty-three kilometres is never easy, but the cooler conditions made it easier than 53km in Townsville! Early in the race, with so many support and pilot vessels, it was difficult to maintain balance and a good rhythm. I had a great support crew, including my wife Tarina, who was familiar with racing and how I was looking during the race, and that reassurance certainly helped.
What was the highpoint? The finish! And the best Mai Tai cocktails on the planet.
Did anything interesting or unusual happen? Yes, a US destroyer crossed the channel through the middle of the paddlers — the US Navy stops for no one.
How much training did you do in the lead-up? The training was pretty intense with six to seven ski sessions a week, including a weekend paddle to Saunders Beach from The Strand. I’d do up to 90km a week paddling, plus two gym sessions at Alpha Omega Health and two runs. But developing good sleep patterns and maintaining a suitable diet was just as important as the training.
“Race within yourself, and race to a plan and stick to it. Don’t let the excitement of the moment override the race plan”
Would you do it again? Absolutely YES — even though it’s ticked off the bucket list, the lure of paddling and surfing in Hawaii is hard to beat.
Biggest lesson? Race within yourself, and race to a plan and stick to it. Don’t let the excitement of the moment override the race plan. We had some very good advice leading up to the race.
Your tips for others doing it? Preparation is the key. Make sure you get familiar with the craft you’ll be racing in — Fenn Elite Glide is my ski and I was able to hire a very similar ski in Hawaii — a Fenn Elite — and I was lucky that one of my paddling buddies had one and swapped skis for the six weeks leading up to the race. Also, a week or so before the event familiarise yourself with escort boat and logistics.
“We have a great group of likeminded paddlers who have become good friends, including an informal paddling group called the Burke Street Boys”
Did having a good support crew from home help? It was great having [fellow paddlers] Peter McEwen, Charlie Wilkie and my family there. That was Pete’s third crossing and Charlie is a veteran of the crossing and both proved to be invaluable sounding boards leading up to the event and on the day.
More about Ian Wright…
What’s your day job? Director of Aussie Car Loans Townsville servicing Mackay to the Cape and west to Mount Isa. Outside of work, I’m a member of the Picnic Bay Surf Club. I previously coached and was the director of surf sports and also Queensland Country Coach for three years, but I’ve taken some time out to fit in my recent training schedule.
Aside from this race, what’s your biggest paddling achievement? I have limited paddling achievements, however, I was successful in my age group at the Gregory River Marathon and I’ve also won the NQ Ocean Paddle Series for the past couple of years. I have always competed in Surf Life Saving and previously won an Australian Surf Race Championship and also medals at the World Masters Championships in the surf race. I’ve also done the Coolangatta Gold a couple of times with the best result being a third place finish.
What do you enjoy about the sport? It keeps me off the street! We have a great group of likeminded paddlers who have become good friends, including an informal paddling group called the Burke Street Boys.
What’s your favourite thing to do on a weekend in Townsville? Paddle! Just joking (sort of!). When the weather is right, my wife and I like to take the jet-ski to the island for a swim and brunch.
What’s something we don’t know about you? I could ride a bike when I was 27 months old without training wheels [culminating in an article in a national magazine]. Another little-known-fact is that I collect Bundaberg Rum and surfboards.
What’s your next goal? Snowboarding in Japan early next year with Tarina, and then maybe Mauritius for a round of the World Surfski Series.
What are you doing to get there? Just maintenance at the moment until a decision is made to go, then I’ll increase the training slowly.
Who would you most like to train with? The German Olympic kayak team, plus Clint Robinson and Grant Kenny — both former Australian/world champions and Olympians and former winners of the Molokai World Championships. They each have very different experiences to share.
Most treasured piece of fitness gear? Used to be the Speedos and goggles, but now it’s the Fenn Ocean Ski and Performance CR paddle.
My best local fitness tip is… Get out and enjoy life while you still have breath in your lungs.