A Stormy Freedom Paddle in 2023- Part 1 – the Short Course

A Stormy Freedom Paddle in 2023- Part 1 – the Short Course

As Freedom Paddle Race Day became an impending reality, a potential squall opened the floodgates for the usual pre-race jitters.

The race organisers took it all in their stride, changing tactics and issuing conditional lists. This was done to help the 410 registered paddlers decide if they really were racing material suited for a stormy paddle.

Despite numerous drop-outs, a few seasoned SUP and prone board paddlers decided to tackle the challenge. Here is their feedback, to give you a true taste of participating in this iconic race.

The hype starts at registration, on the day before the well-organised race.

Due to limited parking space the paddling craft are all dropped off at and left on racks overnight. This helps reduce chaos on race day. Paddlers sign in and get a very generous goodie bag.  All they need to do on race day, is arrive, do the safety check and go paddle!

“My hubby helped me out with dropping my board etc….. He said everything was pretty slick and well organized. I was happy with the booking process and the comms etc.”  (Gaby Nordgaard)

Great goodie bag. Loved the Prescient dry bag which is useful for all water based sports. Registration was super efficient and quick. (Lynne Beachy-Head)

On offer for regular mortal paddlers, was a 10km short course.

This was intended as almost a mini-version of the island experience. It entailed a 1km headwind paddle out to sea, and then a downwind back. Completing five laps would make up the total distance.

“We’d had such beautiful weather all week, so I was hoping for great conditions like last year, but that was wishful thinking. On seeing the churning water and fierce winds, and hearing that some of the early starters for the long paddle had quit, I seriously considered not attempting the start. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, and we positioned ourselves on the starting line with some difficulty staying upright!”  (Lynne Beachy-Head)

When foul weather threatens, the organisers choose alternative options to ensure the safety of all involved. It does not always make the course easier, but ensures that they can still participate to the best of their abilities.  The 5 laps intended were shortened to 3, but even this did not make for easy going.

“Thankfully the course was changed to suit the conditions, but the slog to reach it heading into the wind had me resorting to my knees. Having rounded the buoy, I was hoping to catch runs back but the unpredictable swell was from all directions. This meant I had to stay on my knees and could only stand up after the breakwater to make a vaguely respectable exit, and end my attempt after only one lap. It was just too gruelling!”  (Lynne Beachy-Head)

“The conditions were pretty gnarly with strong wind and big swell. The vibe was great though! I only ended up doing 1 lap, but in retrospect I feel like I should’ve pushed myself and done another lap. (It ended up being only 3 laps in the end, but I only found out afterwards.) It’s fine, and was a great experience all round – I’ll definitely do it again!” (Gaby Nordgaard)

“Yesterday was a question of should I stay or should I go? The hype got to each and every paddler and it was difficult not to go and see for ourselves. On the short course there was knee paddling into squalls for the first 2 rounds. Most paddlers bailed after one lap. Three of us remained standing and Mark Bind showed us some prone paddling techniques which were quite amazing to see on a 14 foot Naish! The downwind section was fun closer to the wall, if your legs were strong enough to time it right between side-swell, with some swimming in between, and an enormous sun fish looking on.  (Evette Terblanche)

Gary Van Rooyen reports about the short course race:

“Absolutely brutal, really tough…..Even the short course was a kilometre straight out to sea, very, very tough. Well done to the girls!  You know, they spent most of their time on their knees, but well done for even trying. It was terrible – the wind, the chop, the swell, NOT pleasant at all. but well done to them!”

This is only the start of the story – follow on to the Prone and Long course articles. These also have details of the experiences and lessons learnt by the paddlers taking on the trip to Robben Island under gruelling open ocean conditions. 

All photos courtesy of Prescient Freedom Paddle photographers.


A Stormy Freedom Paddle – Part 2 – the Prone Course

A Stormy Freedom Paddle – Part 2 – the Prone Course

​The Prone paddlers set out with the long course participants, making some team and individual trips to Robben island.

The four teams of 2 paddlers swopped out every 7.5 kilometres to make up the race distance.

Their prone Freedom Paddle experience is described here by Kit Beaton:

A brutal headwind 10 km start to the island….. Sheet rain squalls and some shelter on the inside of the island… Incredible runs along the side of the island!

We suffered a lot from cold, and actually had a few situations. Nothing escalated, as we managed to bail the boys out.  Naor was in a rash vest and a pair of jammers.  We had to get him into a wetsuit halfway across the channel. He lost about 3 minutes or so – bailing him out of potential hypothermia, just making sure he completed. Heath also went into quite a cold state on the support boat afterwards.

It was so gnarly at one stage that, actually, paddling was almost easier than the support boat!

I warned them all but they didn’t want to listen to me. They are all “laaities,” and they want to go as light as possible, as fast as possible.

I think everybody learnt a vital lesson. If you get cold; you lose energy. You lose energy; you go slow. If you get more cold – you’re gonna have to DNF (did not finish).

That’s what could’ve happened – but it didn’t happen and everybody was super stoked.



The race details, as explained in Kit’s commentator style:

Zach and George build a serious lead after the Island… Jonny kicks into Beast mode and dominates the channel return…

Scotty Tait pulled right back into the pack… Ethan shows ridiculous downwind skills… Matthew kicks into Downwind mode and actually gets his team into a second place finish.

Jadon, ever steady, had a solid completion…Naor felt the cold and made off with a stylish 3rd place finish!

My own personal race was made a up of a buddy team with Scotty, whom I didn’t even know. The winning team used his board and he got to ride with me. Right from the get go, I was like, “You have to be kidding me, did you downplay this or what?”

Scotty was amazing! He had an incredible paddle, I think he’s fully hooked! We did really well, we almost got into the mix and onto the podium – it was just great to have him!

A positive day for Prone, proving that Freedom is a completion event which turns into a race.


Every Prone Paddler finished with a smile!

All photos courtesy of Prescient Freedom Paddle photographers.
A Stormy Freedom Paddle – Part 3 – the Long Course

A Stormy Freedom Paddle – Part 3 – the Long Course

Only three of seven paddlers stayed the full Freedom Paddle course. Conditions were gnarly enough to chase away even some of the very best.

Due to this weather, the SUPS were prevented from rounding the island, but still did a hefty 22km there-and-back course, just 5kms short of the full route. 

Sinda’s long paddle was filled with a variety of emotions:

“It was intense at the beginning – everyone bailing out ! When I looked behind me, there was no one – no boat, no one! Then the fog started AND there was rain.

I couldn’t see the island and I was going in the wrong direction because there was no one in front of me, no one at the back of me!

I couldn’t see Cameron because the swell was so big! It was like mountains, you know – it just covers.  You can’t see anything, you can’t see anyone…. There were big waves breaking on the island. I could actually see it…. I paddled for like an hour 45 minutes, but I couldn’t get to the island. I could see the lighthouse, but I couldn’t get into it, and I was like, “I’m just gonna turn around.”

So I told Steve (on the safety boat) and he was like, “NO!”…. He told me I’m so close – the island was 3km away from where I was!

I got to the island, and saw some penguins on the way – that was one of my wonderful experiences in the race.

I even saw a bus – just imagine! I’m like, “Oh! How did they get the bus there on Robben Island?”

Anyways, I turned around and as I was paddling back, I saw Rudy. I told him, “Bro’ you already close, you just need to go there and come back.”

On my way back it was intense. It was not fun at all because the wind had died down, so we were not doing a downwind, it was like side swell…..I can’t measure it, but I know it was big. Side chop and there was no wind , so we had to paddle back you know!

Yah, it was TERRIBLE, in one way, it was terrible AND hectic at times.” (Sinda Simoni)

Rudy, as the newest SUP paddler, took on a massive task by entering the long course:

“The conditions were trying for sure, as you know, most of the field dropped out.

I just kept pushing – at one point I had to check my watch to see if I was still moving forwards, and I always had to check behind me to see if I was getting anywhere, ‘cos a lot of times it just felt like I was paddling on the spot.

A lot of persistence and just having casual chats with the canoeists as they came past…. I was definitely a back marker and the slowest out there, but it was great. It was good fun and I eventually got to the island and we headed back.

I can’t believe I lost my legs on the way back! It was just really, really so difficult, and my legs were the ones that went first – cramping, just from keeping upright on the board.  I can’t believe or imagine what Cameron and Sinda went through because they were obviously up on their legs a lot more.

It was definitely the hardest paddle I’ve been on and can’t wait to join the next one. I hope that it will be a little bit easier. It was super fun! Loved the camaraderie, loved the support. A lot of support there – that was very cool.”

(Rudy Kindler)

Cameron’s story echoes his journey to World Champ status – waiting, and being ready for the right time:

“I’ve been keen to do this race for a while, but the first time I was too seasick, the next time I was sick, then I had a knee injury – so it’s been a long time.

When I got back from Italy I was definitely in a really good mindset, especially after going against the standard those guys race in. I’ve found my new self in paddling: to push past my limit, which I never thought I could.  I did lots of distance paddling with Rory, and was just excited to get on the water and paddle.

Once the race eventually started, it was a gruelling 10 or 11 kilometres towards the island. You don’t get much worse headwind than we had – almost 30 knots, with 3-4 metre big side swell. With the added surprise of mist and rain towards the island, even making it there was an achievement!

When my Dad came past and said some paddlers had pulled out, I thought, “I’m really alone now.” I got a pretty good lead in the start, and was in the mentality to paddle by myself and to my best ability. I did not want to draft anyone or paddle with them, but just to stay in my own bubble, really. I went off on my own mission. My dad who was in the safety boat, also had to look after the other paddlers,  so he was constantly going up and down. 

There were moments I was stuck out at sea in 4m swell, wind, rain, no one around me… I literally felt so lonely.

I was feeling a little nervous, but was so zoned in. I wasn’t going to let anything stop me. Let me just get there, and I’ll treat it like a downwind home and finish strong.

I got to the island after about 2 hours of paddling in the crazy headwind.  I was already so sore and tired, but my mind just took over.

I didn’t feel like I was paddling – my mind was just doing its work. It became like an emotionless paddle. 

On the way back it was just a home run from there.  My dad stuck with me the whole way, which is amazing. Catching as many bumps as I could, like it was just a 10km.  As if I didn’t even paddle 10km into the wind before, I  treated it like a race on the way back. I was just enjoying myself.  My legs, however, were cramping and aching like never before from all the balancing. I fell off quite a few times, but I was on a 23″ wide board.

I finished really strong and was greeted towards the end with a nice crowd, everyone cheering. I didn’t really know how to pace an over-20km race; so I just treated it like it was a 10km race. I had a pretty good pace for that distance.

Great race! I hope to do it again next year, hopefully with some great conditions!” (Cameron Tripney)

These race descriptions give us a great summary of the event. If you know the paddlers, you’ll hear them exclaiming as you read it:

“The race was terrible!  It was hard! It was hectic! It was intense!  But I told myself I’m gonna do the race, no matter what it takes. I’m gonna go to Robben Island and back.” (Sinda Simoni)

“Hopefully I’ll recover some time this week. It was really such an experience.” (Rudy Kindler)

“It was a great, great day and this was one hundred percent, by far, the toughest thing I’ve ever done! Not even just in paddling – just the toughest thing, mentally and physically.  When I got out of the water I was broken; I was dehydrated; I was sore; my vision was messed up. I just didn’t stop paddling, so it truly showed me what is possible and what’s not. You can really push your body past the limits to what you think you can’t do.” (Cameron Tripney)

“Absolutely brutal, really tough!  It’s really amazing that Rudy, Sinda and Cam made it to the island and back. Once you got closer to the island you were in the lee of the wind and the swell, so it was ok.  It was the two and a half hours that it took to get there which is absolutely horrific, so well done!”  (Gary Van Rooyen)

“Seeing Sinda and Rudy finish, broken and relieved was the best sight ever. So proud of these paddlers. Cam made it clear why he is such an accomplished paddler – swooshing through wind, swell and chop like a hot knife through butter. (Evette Terblanche)”

This is why we paddle: the joy, the pain, the thrill of the chase and the challenge! Surviving nature’s lashings becomes another tale to store in our mental paddling journal.

Always keep in mind that the ocean (or any body of water) is not a force to be overcome, but an element to be respected – don’t paddle outside of your abilities, but work on them to become stronger.

Paddle safe, paddle strong!

Bravo, Freedom Paddlers!

All photos courtesy of Prescient Freedom Paddle photographers.