WITH a new chairman and a new motto, the 46th annual Avon Descent is set to be better than ever with an array of new competitions aimed at bringing novice paddlers to the event.
While the focus of the Descent will remain the 124km, two-day marathon from Northam to Bayswater, chairman and Avon Legend Greg Kaeding said the unique program of events encouraged paddlers to take the plunge – which just happens to be this year’s slogan after the Descent ran with Hell or High Water for several years.
On day one there will be a Northam to Toodyay Avon Schools Challenge for students in Year 11 and 12 and a Power Challenge from Northam to Cobbler’s Pool.
On day two there will be an Avon Surf Challenge, a circuit race from the finish line of the Descent that will go up the river and back again over 15km which will see surf boats racing on the Swan River.
“Like all iconic events, you have to continually look for opportunities to re-engage the public, so we’ve decided to put on these challenges with a view to getting people to participate in these shorter distance events, so that maybe they’ll be tempted to take on the full challenge in the coming years,’’ he said..
“It works with the slogan this year, Take The Plunge, which moves away from the Hell Or High Water slogan we were forced to adopt after five years of low water levels.
“People were becoming disillusioned in their capacity to finish the event, but with the rain last year and this year, now is the time to take the plunge and we’ll be taking entries right up until race day.”
With 450 official entries and water levels around 1.2m, Mr Kaeding said the Descent should be one of the best ever, and one person who should know agrees with him.
Swan Valley’s Ramon Andersson has scaled the highest of heights in paddle sports, claiming a bronze medal in the K-4 1000m event at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, but he said it was his entry as a novice in the 1981 Avon Descent that inspired him to take his sporting career further.
“The first time I did it was back in 1981, I was 18 and I loved it, and I guess that’s what ended up drawing me to the sport, why paddling or kayaking became my sport because I enjoyed my experience so much in the Avon and did quite well for a novice,” he said.
“To be honest I don’t know how many I’ve done, because there was a whole stack of years where I’ve been involved competing for Australia or coaching, that I didn’t do the race.
“I reckon it’s somewhere around 10 to 15 but I don’t know exactly.”
Andersson has seen the river at the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and even though he claims he’s long past his competitive best, he hopes to still feature in the rankings.
“The highest year on record was in 1983 and I competed in that and I still remember the river was virtually unrecognisable to what we know and love today, a lot of rapids we know of just weren’t there and the path we took down was completely different, paddling down the vineyards in the Swan Valley.
“I’ve also done some low years, I remember doing it in a K2 with another fairly large guy such as myself and we probably had to get out 40 to 50 times over the course of the race.
“I’m long past my best, I’m mid 50s and I don’t class myself as an athlete anymore, I’m a coach that keeps fit, but certainly in my class I’ll be relatively competitive and in the over 55s, I’d like to win that and certainly place.
“If I can be top 4, top 5 in the classic skis overall, I’d be pretty happy with that.
“Top 3, who knows.”