Action aplenty: There will be no shortage of action on the water for the Australian Outrigger Canoe marathon champs.
Action aplenty: There will be no shortage of action on the water for the Australian Outrigger Canoe marathon champs.

Outrigger champions hit Coffs

GOLD Coast pair Greg Long and Travis Grant are preparing to continue their ocean paddling rivalry when Australia’s finest outrigger canoeists join a host of Hawaiians in Coffs Harbour this weekend for the Australian Outrigger Canoe Racing Association’s (AOCRA) National Marathon OC1 and OC2 championships.

Defending champion Long, formerly of Cronulla but now firmly entrenched as part of the Outrigger Australia Canoe Club on the Gold Coast, has again emerged as the man to beat after his wins over the 25km distance in 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2009.

But he won’t arrive into Coffs Harbour until the last minute this morning after flying in from the North West Shelf where he works on the offshore gas platform via Perth and Brisbane.

“I will drive down to Coffs Harbour on the morning of the race, jump on the canoe and see how I go – I’ll be relying a lot on experience and cross training,” said the 32-year-old former fitness instructor, who is one of the world’s most renowned paddlers.

Grant, 28, is the man most likely to cause an upset after finishing third last year to Long and Hawaiian ace Pat Dolan and second to Long in 2008.

“I have not beaten Greg since I last won the race in 2006 and I’m sure it’s going to be on again when the gun goes off on Saturday morning,” Grant said.

“It is going to be the paddler who has the smartest race, particularly not knowing what the conditions will be like.

“But what is interesting about outrigging, the uncertainty of the ocean – you never know what direction you will be travelling until the day of the race and whether it will be surf or flat water.”

The 25km OC1 downwind championship is set to start at 11.30am today between Coffs Harbour and Woolgoolga.

One of the world’s most respected outrigger exponents, long-standing Gold Coast lifeguard, Ocean man and Currumbin surf coach, Chris Maynard, can’t split the pair.

“It’s going to be a great duel between Travis and Greg, a real toss of a coin; it’s going to be a cracker of a race,” said Maynard, a shock withdrawal from the race with an injured thumb.

“The Hawaiians, like Kai Bartlett, will certainly be tough to beat again, as they always are, and also keep your eye on Sunshine Coast’s Todd Cohen.”

The women’s race will feature defending champion, Hawaiian Olympic kayaker and one of the world’s finest Kai Bartlett and a host of Australians, including Coffs Harbour’s mother-and-daughter combination of Gail Mills-Thom and 17-year-old daughter Jesse Mills-Thom.

Fellow Coffs Harbour paddler Andrea Polkinghorne is also expected to put up a bold showing along with Port Macquarie’s rising star Lauren Grant and Mooloolaba’s Sonia Adams.



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