BEYOND THE BUTTPAD.
INVESTEC MAURITIUS OCEAN CLASSIC.
Latitude 320*17’S Longitude S7*33’E
The tropical Indian Ocean island of Mauritius was home to the 9th edition of the Mauritius Ocean Classic.
Previously colonized by the Dutch, French and British and now a Republic the island is 2000 kms off the southeast coast of Africa. This race has already established itself as one of the best downwind courses in the World Series and has the ICF World Cup label. The 330 kms of coastline feature sandy beaches and most of the island is surrounded by coral reefs which create calm lagoons. Mauritius was home to the now extinct Dodo which I can believe, as there were no Dodo’s at the Classic only racing snakes.
The event is hosted and organised by Investec, Lux Tamassa, JPH boathouse and the organizing committee. Lux Tamassa is situated on the West Coast of Mauritius and turns into a surf ski village for the week of the event. The paddling itinerary consists of down winds both inside and outside the reef each day. Safety of the paddlers are assured by JPH boathouse who provide security boats on both courses. The down winds leave from Tamassa and end at Le Morne where the boats are collected and both boats and paddlers shuttled back to Tamassa for delicious burgers served from the remains of an old ford pick-up truck. Afternoons feature coaching sessions by some of the sports legends. For the ladies do not miss any coaching session by Nicky Mocke and for the men Oscar Chalupsky’s is a must. As you know Oscar is the world’s greatest surf ski paddler and if you don’t believe me ask him he will tell you. Or you can chill at the pool, watersport on the lagoon or take a power nap. Cold Phoenix beers on tap for the sunset and party time in the evening. Can’t be bad and chuck in some nice warm water paddling. There is the FTL team race on the Thursday with teams consisting of the fast and faster paddlers. Bribery and corruption are recommended not to get Dean Gardiner the most successful Aussie paddler of all time as your team captain, I had him last year you will “Kak”.The week is not only about the elite paddlers it also accommodates paddlers new to the sport who can do the down winds and the race inside the reef if they are not comfortable going outside.
I was staying with family 40 minutes North of Tamassa in Black River otherwise known as Swart Rivier (due to all the South African Expats). Michael MacLachlan had booked self-catering accommodation in Black River for R500 a night so it is possible not to stay in Tamassa and if there are a number of you to share the cost of a hired car you can save some bucks, however for first timers I would still recommend taking the hotel package which is fully inclusive board, meals and drinks (ABF please). As all of boats were already in Tamassa JPH Boathouse could only find a Stealth Strika (Noah’s old boat) in much need of TLC to loan Michael. With a bit of innovation and a fair degree of luck the patched up Ski was launched and we paddled from La Preneuse to Tamarin Bay. Michael who was going to hire a boat to see the resident dolphins didn’t need to as we bumped into them on the way to Tamarin. On the way back we discovered that the Strika was leaking badly and this necessitated a rapid return to shore. Next day a paddle out beyond the reef, tie Ski up to a buoy and go snorkeling in the aquarium. There is a lot to see on the West Coast so taking a day or afternoon off from paddling can allow you to visit the dolphins (they are there every day), Tamarin Bay, Black River Gorge, the colored earth, Martello Tower and for surfers good waves can be found sometimes at Sancho 10 minutes from the hotel and the right to left break at Tamarin Bay is world famous.
Finally it was time for the first downwind on Monday the swell had picked up and all along the South Coast was pounding the reefs. The pass through the reef was closed out and the organisers felt that they would not be in a position to guarantee the paddlers safety (postponed).So the only downwind on offer was to paddle inside of the reef to Le Morne. (Not very Happy).However the 16 km paddle anchored by Dean Gardiner to Le Morne turned out to be very enjoyable as it allowed one to admire the beauty of the coastline which is not possible when running outside the reef.
Tuesday 21km downwind outside the reef, after the horror stories of last year some first timers faced the pass from the lagoon through the reef with some trepidation. Hundreds and thousands of litres of water flow in and out of the passes in the reefs and thus caution advised. As it turned out the pass was quite benign and a great downwind to Le Morne ensued. The entry into Le Morne was through Ambulant Pass otherwise known as Ambulance Pass. Good swell on the side of the reef, too good for one Frenchman whose swimming capability was well tested. The rest of the week paddling and preparation for race day – HAPPY DAYS.
Pre-race briefing threw up a surprise the race would start from Sancho go through Le Morne Pass and finish at Emba Filao on the beach. Last year the race went through Ambulant as Le Morne Pass was closed out. Le Morne Pass has a reputation and some myself included slept fitfully that night. The ladies started first followed by the men from a buoy in Sancho Bay. The conditions were perfect so perfect that my enthusiasm took me close to the reef, a sixth sense warned me to look back only to see a huge swell bearing down on me, pays to remember how quickly waves get up as they approach a reef its very different to the wave action on a beach. The reef curves as you get to Le Morne so you need to default to the left so as not to end up in the corner and have to paddle sideways to the swell and wind to get in position to enter Le Morne pass. Awesome downwind and last two kms grind on flat water to the finish. Dawid Mocke was on the mike as I finished and was most complimentary of my paddling style whilst punting his coaching excellence. The whole episode filmed by my son-in-law. This with my Men’s Health sticker now my most prized possessions.
The beer was flowing at prize giving and Dawid Mocke as MC as always on top of his game until in the middle of his speech the Saga dancers and drummers started their performance without letting Dawid finish(Very amusing for everyone except Dawid).
To spend a week with some of the best paddlers past and present in the world is a privilege, great vibe, great people, great downwind if you have not got a bucket go get one and add this one to your list.
My thanks for an unforgettable week to Investec, Fenn, Tamassa, JPH boathouse and the organizing committee. Travis you rock. Michelle Burn thank you for the donation of a Buttpad to a worthy cause.
Guest post by: Neil Kirkwood