“Flee or Fight Back” could be the strategy for many participating in the Avon Descent, a 124 km white water race for Paddle and Power boats, running from Northam to Bayswater, along the Avon and Swan Rivers, but for Sam Pilton, the call was quite different. “I felt I was more mentally prepared last year than any previous Avon Descent. I didn’t ‘hit a wall’ with fatigue, a few positive thoughts do go a long way to keep you going” says Sam when asked about her strategy last year which enabled her to become the fastest woman paddler in 2016.
Sam Pilton, from Swan View, is a seasoned paddler who was introduced to paddling by her father at quite an early age. “I have paddled in 8 Avon Descents and all the lead-up marathon races in the Perth racing calendar. I have been a member of Ascot Kayak Club since I was a kid” recalls Sam. She has completed 7 out of 8 solo Avon Descents, all in the long plastic division except for the one year she didn’t finish. “That year I decided last minute to paddle a K1 and didn’t set it up comfortably. But I am keen one day to try again in a K1” says a determined Sam.
“The Toodyay tea trees are tough, definitely advise trying to memorise the correct route through and have a plan B if the channel is banked up with other paddlers. The hardest part is the last 30kms of flat water paddling before the finish line and almost always into a strong sea breeze.” Sam opines.
The 32-year old never had any experience in power crafting but she is happy with her present status-quo. She ardently believes that she is an innate paddler who enjoys the training all the year round and loves the strength and fitness she gains from paddling.
Last year 193 paddle boats, including double and team- entries, crossed the finish line of which only 20 competitors were women. When asked about such alarming disproportion, Sam replies, “All the kayak clubs in WA have a lot of social female paddlers, we just need to get them interested in having a competitive challenge with their paddling and give Avon Descent a go”
We will see this confident paddler around this year as well. “I’m always out on the water training all year round so I’d say I will be competing again. In all the Avon there is always a close race and huge competitive rivalry which brings you back every year for some healthy competition between the females and males.”
This white-water race has its own pros and cons but Sam Pilton sums up the entire event as an adventure which is cherished lifelong. “You will surprise yourself with what you can achieve and how much fun it is. Completing the Avon Descent is a huge achievement in itself.”
Determination plus hard work, undoubtedly was the winning formula for Sam Pilton as she believed if opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door. But for many, especially female competitors, there is a lack of inspiration and impetus that helps you keep going. “News media do let down the females in sports. Recognition would be a start to help create interest and hopefully encourage other females to give it a go”.
Recognition or not, Sam Pilton’s success coupled with her courage and positive attitude will surely entice and encourage many women paddlers to participate in Avon Descent in the future.