With the river rising, Avon Descent veteran Darryl Long and relative newcomer Kiera Albertsen are expecting hell and high water, fast times and top three finishes in their divisions.
The 124-kilometre race, which kicks off bright and early at 8am on Saturday morning in Northam before concluding late on Sunday afternoon in Bayswater’s riverside gardens, is the State’s premier white-water event.
The good news for competitors is that due to recent rainfall the river is rising, fast.
Long, taking part in his 37th Avon Descent since claiming victory in his very first Descent in 1981, is somewhat of an elder statesman when it comes to navigating the notoriously tricky course.
He believes the slogan for this year’s event – Hell or High Water – is just about spot on.
“This year is looking great,” he said.
“Water has low and has been low so most people haven’t had a chance to practice in the good water.
“On Tuesday morning the water level went above what it was last year, last year it had been higher and fell down for the race.
“We’re expecting that it will be up, even maybe more than it is now, for the race.”
For 19-year-old Albertsen, competing in just her fourth Avon Descent, the appeal of the race is the strong community feel among the paddlers as well as the challenge of the course, and she has a goal to finish among the top three female competitors.
“A lot of people are really friendly on the water, and you don’t get too many chances to do a white-water event, especially such an iconic one like this.
“All the rapids and the tea-trees are really great experience.
“I struggle with the trees, just manoeuvring around them, and the valley is a challenge but I’m starting to get the hang of where to go to avoid the rocks.
“With the calibre of the paddlers this year I’m hoping to finish in the top three, and definitely the top 20 overall.
“There is lots of strong competition but I’ve been paddling really well in training so I hope that translates to the race.”
Rather than keep his experience to himself Long, who was declared an official legend of the event in 2012, said he was more than willing to advise younger paddlers on how to make their run through the rapids.
“The course changes, trees fall down, but over the years they’ve gotten clearer and it’s a bit easier than it used to be.
“We share as much ability and knowledge than you can but it’s a confidence thing, it’s hard to explain to someone that you need to paddle hard through that is within half a metre of ending your race.
“You just need to aim for that half a metre and keep going.”
The Avon Descent officially starts in Northam at 8am Saturday morning, and Long said racers should be through to Bells Rapids, one of the highlights of the race and a spectator favourite, just after 9.30am on Sunday morning.
By Liam Ducey