Author Archives: Avon Descent

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Anyone who stayed at the Bayswater finish line long enough would have witnessed something that probably illustrated the spirit of the Avon Descent more than anything else.

As exhausted paddlers pushed into the strong south- westerly , a blue power dinghy glided slowly and silently around the jetty at Riverside Gardens, its crew forced to paddle to the line after engine failure upstream.

The boat made it to the beach and the exhausted pair jumped out to walk it along the shoreline and through the timing markers, ensuring an official finish.

For the skipper, that was surely his most memorable finish. Even if it was his 40th Avon Descent . Gary McNamara, a quiet bloke from York, has not missed an event since 1977.

The sight of Gary being embraced by power boat winner Michael Prosser was a truly memorable image on a weekend of remarkable racing studded with personal highlights.

After the first day’s racing, Michael said he did not fancy his chances over team mates Tom Hodgkinson (reigning champion) and Scott Goodbody, but the Avon can weave a complex web in the valley on day two.

When he and co-driver Perrin Franks skimmed across the line, it was a very popular first up victory.

The paddlers set a cracking pace with West Aussies Josh Kippin and Brendan Rice slugging it out from the start. They were one and two on day one, and that is how they stayed all the way to the line, crossing with half a boat length between them.

Not that far behind, the other significant milestone of the weekend with K2 record holders Darryl Long and Paul Genovesi teaming up again 20 years after setting a race time that nobody else has been able to reach. Their own record was not threatened, but they did finish third in their class.

Sam Pilton broke away after the tea trees on day one to put her ski into the lead and was never headed to be the first female paddler home and the competition was rounded out by the Spirit Paddle Sports Interstate Challenge… with a West Australian victory.

An ideal river level to challenge skills at all levels set the scene for a remarkable Descent and a race that added another amazing chapter to the Avon legend.

Next year will bring up Avon Descent 45 and we will all be there again… Hell or High Water.


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“Close-up” Interview: Rosalie Evans

Roalie Evans 1 Rosalie Evans 2

If any sport-minded mums are wondering what to do when the children grow up, ask Rosalie Evans. She’ll say: “Have a go at the Avon Descent”

Rosalie started when she was aged 45. She’s now in her 60s, still going strong and she can tell some great stories. She has entered in both paddle and powerboat. There won’t be many who have done that.

She was a quick learner and won Ladies’ K1 by her third Avon in 1998. Those were heady days with an exhibition beforehand in Forrest Place and a parade after. Rosalie remembers being ferried through town in her kayak on top of a car !!

The power dinghy years were fun too. Rosalie did two of them with Darryl Long. They hit the bank at Toodyay and Rosalie, as co-driver, did a head over heels right in front of the spectators. She found it exhilarating, but hard and also cold and believes the reason they drove straight into an island at Amiens was because they were almost frozen to death.

“I was glad to get back into paddle, it’s a lot easier to change direction when you get into trouble,” said Rosalie.

She now sports a wonky little finger from a spill just above Syds. “I was in a double with Grand Pepper. The ASU pulled Grand out and I clung on to the boat and managed to get my whistle string caught around a tree and my finger at the same time,” Rosalie recalled.

“When we got going again, there wasn’t time for the broken finger. Grant needed the tape for the spare paddle and off we went, all the way to the finish.”

But the committed veteran has also been injured further up the valley. She admits to always having trouble at Superchute and in 2012 that culminated in a dive into the rocks on Deadly Mistake. The kayak bent in two and she suffered serious leg injuries.

But Rosalie bounced back and was soon on the river again. Last year, she mixed her duties as Executive Officer of Canoeing WA and management of the event with partnering Neil Long in a K2 and they finished.

Plans for 2016 and beyond ? There’s talk of a K3 with her grand-daughter and another friend. Well done Rosalie.

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Video ! See what previous competitors say !!!

Come on Test Yourself, Hell or High Water ! 2016 Avon Descent !
The Avon Descent wants everyone to know about its “Hell or High Water” theme, which is designed to highlight our determination to do everything possible to make the event happen in the face of the challenging river conditions of recent years. Paddler Baillie Liddle and power dinghy racer Jake Whately combined with a special message to help spread the word …especially to anyone thinking about their first Avon Descent.
Thanks to cameraman Peter Lettenmaier and to Andrew Porter, Damian Fasolo and Ben Morton at Murdoch University’s School of Arts for their production support.


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“Close-up” Interview: Michael Prosser

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Top power boat contender Michael Prosser was introduced to the Avon Descent at the Cobbler Pool campsite playing with Lego boats in the creek while his dad competed.

“I spent my childhood wondering what this place called ‘the valley’ was all about!,” said Michael, who is preparing for his 10th Avon.

Soon after reaching the minimum age for entrants of 17, Michael had his first crack with his cousin Tom Hodgkinson. The young duo took out the race and managed to beat their fathers, who were in their 11th event.

He’s had a few adventures since then: “A heartbreaking moment was 2001 when we were in the lead and our motor gave out 5 minutes from the finish. We also have the highlight memory of crossing the finish line alongside boat 001 with cousin Tom on the tiller in 2014,” Michael recalled.

He considers the Avon to be a particularly special event. “Nowhere else do you have power dinghies competing in a combination of open deep water, shallow mudbanks, sandflats, dense tea-trees and rapids. It’s never the same, the first craft across the line is the one that has had the least mishaps.”

One of the parts he enjoys the most is setting up at the overnight camp on the Wednesday and Thursday nights before the race. It’s about the excitement and anticipation of the fun ahead.

His thoughts on this year: ”I’m very excited about the new full course hell or high water philosophy.”

“The whitewater here in WA might not be as big as other places ,but its power should not be underestimated, nor should the quality of the river valley we get to enjoy so close to our city.”

Michael’s advice to anyone thinking about it: “Get amongst it! It’s a fantastic wintertime activity that gets you out in beautiful country close to the city. The people involved are some of the most genuine you will meet anywhere.”


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“Close-up” Interview: Brent Dunbar

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The individual struggle on the river is apparent during any Avon Descent, but teamwork is also a

vital part of success in a number of classes.

The multiple paddle craft and power dinghy teams need to fine tune their judgement and

understanding, especially in power where the wrong call is almost impossible to reverse and the

consequences can unfold rapidly and spectacularly.

Brent Dunbar knows this only too well. He has paddled a number of Avons and last year seized the

opportunity to experience the race in a power boat.

Remarkably, Brent scored a victory in his first outing as he and Tom Hodgkinson took the 10hp

Sports title. “That would have to have been the highlight of my time with the Avon,” said Brent. “I

thought we had no chance after flipping while in the lead half way down the valley. The motor was

under for quite a while, but it started and we were away again.”

“By that stage we were in second and had to chase Jay Branson’s boat. The duel was amazing and I

had to tell myself to remember to breathe as we battled it out in the Upper Swan tea trees,” recalled


It takes two to keep these boats on the boil and Brent detailed the main tasks of the co-driver.

“The first job is to adjust and maintain the vessel’s trim. We need to be as far forward as possible to

get it on the plane, then get as far back as we can to reduce the planing area for optimum

performance,” Brent explained.

“Steering is also vital. At high speed with the motor in the “high-jack” position the outboard tiller is

not very effective so changing direction needs to be mostly by weight transfer and the crew are

more or less steering the boat like a surf board.”

Navigating and dragging the boat over or around obstacles completed a day’s work for a co-driver,

said Brent.

“It is almost impossible for a direct comparison between paddle and power, except for navigation.

You don’t have to know the course to paddle the Avon. But to be competitive in a dinghy, you

absolutely need to know which way to go and the quickest way through.”

But through all that hard-edged competition, it is the valley that has its own special rewards.

“The Avon is so beautiful and even paddling down the valley practising is such an amazing and fun

thing to do,” said Brent. “The camaraderie between competitors, power and paddle, is great fun


Brent knows that defending that dinghy title this year will be tough, but says every year is different.

The river will make sure of that.

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“Close-up” Interview: Darryl Long

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There is a very good chance veteran paddler and record holder Darryl Long will finish his 35th Avon Descent this year.

When he does it will be another personal triumph for Darryl, but, this time tinged with sadness.

In January, Darryl’s partner Sue Quick died as the pair set out to paddle the Blackwood River. Sue was last year’s women’s Avon champion and a much loved and respected member of the Ascot Kayak Club and the broader paddling community.

Darryl, who holds 13 men’s singles titles, knows the Avon Descent field will be sparing a thought for Sue at the start line in August and his own efforts will be a tribute to her spirit and love of the sport.

“That day on the Blackwood just shows how anyone’s life can change in an instant,” said Darryl. “The river was up, but there was nothing about it that said we should not be on it and there was nothing apart from the routine hazards we deal with all the time as paddlers.”

“The incident involving Sue just shows that it is the danger you do not and cannot perceive that turns to tragedy.” Darryl said.

The 35th Avon for Darryl will also wind back the clock 20 years for he and his mate Paul Genovesi. The pair still hold the doubles record set in 1996 and will line up again this year.

Paul is training hard to overcome major shoulder surgery. In fact, his team of carers at Western Othopaedic Clinic are sponsoring Darryl and Paul this year.

“Sue knew Darryl and I were planning our comeback on the 20th anniversary, and she was very supportive of it,” said Paul.

“The Avon is an examination, a test. We know what the questions are going to be and it is all in the preparation,” Paul observed.

Although a champion paddler, Darryl has also tasted Avon adventure in a power boat. He competed in 2001 and 2002  in 8hp Standard and despite some mechanical setbacks was right up there with race pace for his class.

An official legend of the Avon Descent, he has also experienced the amazing change of moods the river can produce. Darryl  says his fondest memory is probably 1983 when he set the men’s singles white water boat record of 7hrs 56mins 9secs that still stands.

“That year, we had a three and a half metre river for the race. But it was nothing like the level earlier in the week….over seven metres” recalled Darryl.

Paddling has been Darryl’s life and it remains so. He designs and makes boats and paddles through his business Universal Plastics in Welshpool  and still loves the way the sport attracts new paddlers who want to know everything they can about the Avon.

Let’s hope the remainder of 2016 is very positive for Darryl. “I think it shows that you need to live and enjoy life one day at a time and not make grand plans for the future that might stop you doing this.

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“Close-up” Interview: Kevin and Wendy White

We have the Avon Descent, South Africa has the Dusi. Kevin and Wendy White have done them both.

Kevin’s first impression of the Avon in 2009: “Its hard, if it was in South Africa, it would be a three-day race”.

He completed his first valley run on his own, starting out at lunch time. It was almost dark when he got to Bells ! He had learned enough to caution any newcomers against taking the Avon Descent lightly

But it would be the start of a remarkable campaign for the South African born paddler. He took out third place in 2009, was second to fellow countryman Hank McGregor in the low water the next year and went on to a fourth place in 2011

In 2012, Kevin made a serious assault on the K2 title with champion WA paddler Simon Roll but they managed to wrap the kayak around a rock up-stream of Championships. Despite that, the pair patched the hull and managed to finish the race.

He took a year off in 2013 to support a paddler from South Africa and has paddled the last two with Wendy in a mixed K2. They have won doubles and mixed doubles both times.

Wendy’s experience prior to the Avon also set her up well to meet the challenges of the event. She teamed with Helke Melvville for her first event and then she and Kevin paddled together in a K2 in 2014 and 205 to win both doubles and mixed doubles

Wendy, “I have total confidence from the start because I know Kevin is so good at reading the white water”.

With his many [almost 20] years of experience on the Dusi and a few other big races in South Africa, Kevin is used to endurance. He ran 25km with the kayak on day one of one of his Dusi races. He found Avon 2010, the low-water year, extra hard but was able to complete it with a good place. He would advocate a low-water alternative for the Avon similar to the philosophy on the Dusi.

Advice from Kevin and Wendy for anyone contemplating the Avon is, “You are only as fast as you are stable, make sure you choose a craft that has the best chance of keeping you upright”. They say their K2 they paddle together is extremely stable and assures them smooth passage through the Avon Valley.

While the Avon Descent would not be for every husband and wife combination in WA, the achievements of Kevin and Wendy White clearly demonstrate what might be possible for other couples looking for a “little bit of adventure” !!

160504_Kevin and Wendy_Website

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“Close-up” Interview: The Liddle Family

For the Liddle Family, the Avon Descent has truly become a family affair. While relatively new to paddling, Dad and Mum, Pete and Jane, have been joined by daughter Baillie and son Michael to share their love of the white water challenge.

The Liddles live quite near the Swan at Baskerville. They bought kayaks about six years ago, for Sunday afternoon outings, but they were soon paddling sleeker craft. They required little encouragement to take the sport more seriously.

Pete and Jane’s fist Avon was 2013 as a team of two. Pete paddled the valley and Jane took over on the flat. The earlier training runs had been a touch eventful. On a memorable occasion, Jane’s surfski jammed right across Terminator rapid near Walyunga. The next hour was spent with a group of kayakers struggling to free it !

Baillie’s interest started happening after she returned from London. Her training began at the end of a wet and cold winter, but she stuck with it and was soon lining up for weekend races.

A pink surfski appeared on the back porch as the craft of choice for teaming up with Mum, for a team of two, in the 2014 Avon Descent.

The family’s valley training runs, that year, saw some adventures. Jane: “One day I left my paddle in a tree and managed to do a head-over-heels in the Shredder” For Baillie the highlight of the day was: “Dad went down the water fall at Syds and he didn’t even know he was doing anything wrong !”

The 2014 event did much to build up Baillie and Jane’s confidence in the white water. Michael was support crew with Baillie’s boyfriend Will, but following the event from the riverbank was not going to last for long. He entered the 2015 race with no white water training and completed the 2015 event on his own with only a few swims.

A close and supportive family, the Liddles don’t avoid a bit of competition in the water. Pete, “I was paddling past Ascot and heard the announcer call Baillie’s number out behind me. I realized I needed to dig in to stay ahead of her !”.

Baillie was the 2015 Women’s Long Plastic Champion. The pink surfski is established as a winner !

The Liddle family’s approach to the Avon Descent says a lot about the event. They love the challenge and the competition but they also get right into the friendships and camaraderie that comes with it.

In a relatively short time they have contributed much, and they’ve introduced and trained many paddlers who have since had a crack at the race or are probably about to.
Avon Descent Family of Winners 2015

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