They don’t know if there’ll be paddlers from interstate. They don’t know what the race will look like. They can’t even tell in these uncertain times if the Shaw and Partners’ “20 Beaches Ocean Classic” will go ahead in 2021.

But they have set a date – December 11th. And they are, just quietly, pretty quietly confident about getting it done.

Race director Justin Ryan said that after the 2020 event was called off the local paddling community is itching to get out amongst it.

“”The feeling I get from paddlers I talk to is that they would be absolutely pumped to be able to be back on the start line on December 11th.

“We would be thrilled to be able to bring the 20 Beaches Ocean Classic back again in 2021, particularly considering how tough the past few years have been.

“We are excited that it has now become a possibility,” Ryan said.

Action from the 2018 20 Beaches Ocean Classic. Pic: Allan Coker; www.allancoker.com; Instagram @allanspics

With vaccination rates all heading in the right direction in New South Wales, it appears a possibility that Australia’s oldest ocean paddling race will go ahead this year.

What the race will look like will depend on the government restrictions at the time of the race.

Yet according to organisers evidence suggests that restrictions will have eased enough by race day.

Co-CEO of Shaw and Partners Financial Services Earl Evans has stamped his approval for the 20 Beaches to be run in whatever shape or form possible.

At a minimum they’re hoping for a race for Sydney- and NSW-based paddlers.

Best case scenario, state borders open and interstate – even Kiwi – paddlers compete.

Traditionally raced from Manly to Palm Beach in a southerly wind or Palm Beach to Manly in a nor-easter, the 20 Beaches Ocean Classic has attracted the cream of Australia’s best ocean paddlers to vie to hold up the Steve Wood Trophy.  

The great Dean Gardiner won the first men’s race – the Steve Wood Trophy, named for the late Olympian who won K2 Bronze in Barcelona – in 1990 and again in 1992.

Gardiner says one of the great appeals of the Classic – indeed the sport – is that relative newcomers can line-up with the world’s best.

“It’s one of the very few sports in which it can happen. You don’t have weekend cyclists taking on the Tour de France or amateur golfers contesting the US Masters.

“But in the 20 Beaches, you’ve got weekend enthusiasts and local life-savers jockeying for the line with Olympic gold medallists.”

One of those has been Clint Robinson who added the 2011 title to his gold medal in the K-1000m in Barcelona. 

Jeremy Cotter of the Gold Coast has won the Classic three times (2007, 2009, 2013) while Murray Stewart, gold medallist in the K2 in London and a member of Manly LSC and Manly Warringah Kayak Clubwon in 2008 and 2012.

Yet the undisputed king of the water is local boy Tim Jacobs of Freshwater. He’s been champion seven times since 2000, and came back in 2018 after a hiatus to place third behind Cory “Chill” Hill.

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King of the Beaches: Seven-time winner Tim Jacobs of Freshwater. Pic: 20beaches.com.au

Apart from the elite competitors, the Classic provides an opportunity for weekend warriors to test their ocean racing skills on the challenging, point-to-point racetrack.

The race will again be conducted by the 20 Beaches Ocean Classic committee as well as Gardiner, Yanda Nossiter and the Ocean Paddler Team.

Other organisers include the well-known Northern Beaches paddling group known as “The Spooners”.

For more information check out the 20 Beaches Ocean Classic website.