I received the call 24 hours before the race. A voice on the other end was pleading "please paddle for the Challenge Stadium team as they do not have a paddler". Sitting comfortable on my sofa I thought why the hell not. Very pleased the call went around that the team now had a paddler. Half an hour later reality of the unknown hit. What had I done and could I do it without a support paddler, but too late I packed my things.
Now I must state the word got around that I was a little nervous as the team banded together with reassuring phonecalls. They made sure my ski was picked up the day before, organised for me to be picked up (I guessed so I couldn't back out as well as efficiency on the day) and gave me all the tips needed for a successful run.
The morning of the race I was loaded with all my Mountain Design accessories ie.: water carrier, water proof bag to carry the precious lollies, and what I called the ugly hat in the shop (later to be known as the spaz hat to all fellow team members). If this does get read how ever by the creators of this hat, locally made from Karrinyup I must stress that it was the best purchase I made, being UV protected I never gained the beetroot face look of my boating companions.
We got to the start line and I looked with horror at the mass of boats, skis and people before me. I must have looked fairly calm as they gave me instructions, as they didn't look worried. Little did they know it was just the sea sickness tablets calmative properties setting in. I headed off to pick up my first swimmer at the shore. Passing another paddler I opened my mouth to ask if this was the right way to go and out came mmmmffffmm. My tongue had swollen up with the effects of the tablet and my mouth had dried out. He didn't answer and paddled harder obviously thinking this chick has hit the bottle before venturing out.
Embarrassed I pushed on. After an initial panic I heard my name called, and my first swimmer had found me. We were on our way and by some miracle I spotted my boat team thanks to the radically short haircut (shaved) of one.
I settled into the pattern of staying just in front of my
swimmer and to the left of the boat, feeling more secure in my
role. The kms ticked by and I enjoyed the beautiful day as it
went on. I was relaxed and it was later commented by the skipper
that I was a very suitable paddler for the team as I would, in
his words, paddle one, paddle two, look around and smile, paddle
three, paddle four and look around and smile.
I must admit the team was great to be with: full of humour and a few swear words when it came to the stingers. (The first time this happened I had to seek reassurance from the skipper that he was okay). They looked after me the whole way and made sure that I was comfortable at all times.
Numbness started to make itself known about 2 kms from Rottnest but I took one look at these guys behind me doing 3 minute change overs and didn't even entertain the idea of having a break. I saw the last leg as being as hard as the first when all those boats started to bottleneck to the finish line. But we made it and I can now say that I achieved a solo paddle, my first to Rottnest. The day was a buzz and the night just as good. With nowhere but the pub to go until Sunday we gathered our energy and with many laughs to be had, off we went.
I stared at the jug of gin and tonic before me and thought, wow, my bum hurts. Hint to all new paddlers, when you have finished your paddle, never fear as soon as you decide to cool off with a swim, the cool waters will attack your numb bum and you will have the biggest phase of pins and needle in the strangest part of your anatomy.
But thanks to a wonderful swimming team, a great boating crew, I had a fantastic day. (And yes everything that you read in the Sunday Times regarding "Minnows all at sea" is true but Craig, alias the skipper, has paid me to tell everybody he is not a drunk. I do think Curly the writer got out of it lightly without some tales)
To all "should I give it a go" paddlers like myself I will say definitely give it a try and I will be back next year to do it all again.