Terry Russell: Hell or High Water

Paddlers, powerboaters encouraged to enter WA’s great white-water race

Avon Descent veteran Terry Russell is encouraging others to take up the challenge of tackling Western Australia’s greatest white-water river race, saying you don’t have to be a professional athlete to participate.

As well as the epic 124 kilometre race from Northam to Bayswater, there is also a selection of shorter events to suit paddlers and powerboaters of all levels of experience and ability.

For Maylands resident and amateur athlete Russell, it is the excitement of the river adventure which draws him back – year after year. Even last year when the official race was cancelled, Russell completed the full course with two friends on the scheduled race days, with Russell arriving in Bayswater first.

“The 2020 race was cancelled early on due to COVID, but as I trained and prepared for the race from January, I was still going to do the race as long as there was no lockdown. Pretty easy to keep 1.5m social distancing in a single kayak!” Russell said.

“I paddle for enjoyment, all other benefits are a bonus, and the challenge of my 17th straight Avon descent, alone and at 0.2m water level was definitely something to enjoy.

“I enjoy exciting things – I don’t really compete in terms of place-getting or winning events.”

And there is no shortage of excitement on the Avon River, with competitors navigating an adrenaline-pumping downriver course featuring challenging white-white obstacles including rapids.


There is plenty of variety during the iconic two-day event to keep participants pushing through towards the finish line in the cold and wet.

“It’s always exciting, with different water levels every year there’s always a new experience around the corner,” Russell said.

Avon Descent Die-hards Terry Russell, Andy Hewlett and Peter Van Maanen emerge from the darkness at Riverside Gardens, Bayswater on what would have been the 2020 Avon Descent weekend.

Taking on the Avon Descent is a family tradition for Russell whose father first completed the event in the 1980s in a homemade boat, with some of the original boats still in their possession today.


Since the inaugural event in 1973 which attracted 49 competitors, more than 35,000 people ranging from enthusiasts to professional paddlers and powerboaters have taken on the Avon Decent. Russell paddles the extra 13km every year to wrap-up his race at the original finish line of Barrack Street Jetty at Elizabeth Quay, paying tribute to the pioneers of the Avon Descent.


The 2021 Avon Decent will take place between August 13 and 15. Categories include powerboat, kayak, ski or SUP as a single, double or relay team. For more information or to register, visit www.avondescent.com.au .



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