James “Jimmy” Casey has shown once again why he’s considered a world-class open ocean paddler, taking out ‘The Doctor’ race in Western Australia in record time today ahead of Jake Jensen and Michael Booth.
Jimmy’s victory adds to his impressive run of results in Hawaii earlier this season, where he scored victories at OluKai and Maliko plus a podium finish at M2M. The Sunova team rider didn’t have it all his own way today though — he hit the beach just a minute clear of Jake, while Michael Booth was close all day to finish just another two minutes adrift. All three of the boys finished under the magic two hour barrier.
As the opening weekend of West Oz Downwind Week, The Doctor attracted a relatively small but highly competitive field of serious paddlers for the 27km crossing between Rottnest Island and the mainland near Perth on Saturday morning. Those that did brave the often-grueling course were well rewarded this year, with strong winds whipping up endless bumps and producing arguably the best downwind conditions race has ever seen.
Highlighting the quality of the bumps on offer (and the level of talent in the field): The winning time of 1 hour 55 minutes was almost 40 minutes faster than last year’s race (when downwind master Titouan Puyo got the win). In fact, this is the first time anyone has gone under two hours on a SUP, which gives Jimmy the new course record as well as the 2017 title.
When I chatted with him post-race, the champ summed up this year’s conditions by saying it was “Hawaiian-like bumps! So good to be out there on the unlimited.”
Former champ Beau O’Brian came home fourth, while downwind wunderkind Noic “Chicken” Garioud snuck into fifth place overall despite being on a 14 footer. The kid is just 15 years old.
The women’s field saw only two women take up the challenge, with local Cristiana Chessa getting the nod ahead of visiting Team Japan rep Yuka Sato.
It’s notoriously difficult to find footage and photos from this event, but here’s an Insta clip of the lead surfski (eventual winner Cory Hill) chasing runners mid-crossing.
While the mid-channel bumps looked like something out of Maui, the early part of the race was a bit of as print. With Rottnest Island blocking the wind and turning the first kilometre into a lake, the escort boat whipped up a wash that some of the top guys jumped onto to split the field early, while at the same time masses of seaweed were getting in everyone’s way.
“I was ahead for 95% of the race but Jake made a big move around the halfway marker buoy and started creeping up on me. I saw him bombing down a big run – he was flying along – but then he said he ran straight into a big patch of seaweed and went flying over the handle bars. Could’ve potentially been a run up the beach if he hadn’t hit it I reckon.”
Seaweed aside, it wasn’t a huge surprise to see Casey hitting the beach first on his Sunova unlimited, with the current world number eight having won the mid-week warm-up race against Boothy in Perth a few days ago (can Casey make it a Downwind Week clean sweep?).
The Doctor is itself considered a warm-up run for what is probably Australia’s most prestigious race, next weekend’s King of the Cut downwind showdown. That’ll be happening either the 2nd or 3rd of December depending on conditions, with organisers wisely leaving a two-day window open for optimal conditions (though the long-range forecast isn’t looking ideal).
One of the major changes to this year’s KotC event is the embrace of the almighty unlimited boards. While The Doctor has always been run on the 17 footers, the King of the Cut has traditionally been a 14 foot affair. Given the latter’s standing in the Aussie race scene, the fact it’s switched to an unrestricted board class is pretty major news — it’s the first international-level race outside of Hawaii to ever do so.
This comes at a time when the unlimited arms race is heating up. It was only a few years ago that SIC was the only brand seriously targeting the big board market, but we’ve now got offerings from at least half a dozen top brands.
That was evident on the start line of The Doctor on Rottnest Island where oversized race boards from Sunova, ONE, Starboard, NSP and SIC were all present. Most of those boards have also embraced the “dugout” design that was pioneered by Brian Szymanski and popularised by the iconic Starboard Ace.
Not surprisingly, the top four finishers on Saturday were all on the big boards, but a special shout out goes to Noic from New Caledonia for his top five finish on a 14 footer (also a Sunova dugout design).
Below: start of the SUP field (the first km is protected from the wind by Rottnest Island, but you can already see the howling white caps in the distance)
Other top finishers include the Tardrew Brothers – Marcus (6th overall) and Ben (8th) – who are helping lead the “Unlimited 2.0” revolution as the head designers for Sunova and ONE, respectively.
While it was again a small turnout in the SUP division at this year’s Doctor (the event is primarily a surfski race), expect a solid field to descend on southwest Oz next weekend for the big one. While Titou sat out his title defense of The Doctor, he’ll be flying over to Perth in a couple of days to defend his KotC title. The New Caledonian superstar will be joined by his NSP/QB team mate and fellow ocean master Travis Grant in what is shaping up to be a mouth-watering clash between the top 7 or 8 guys.
Finally, I love “The Doctor” not just because it’s a tough race but also for the delicious headline puns it offers:
“James Casey Given All Clear in Annual Downwind Check-up”
“James Casey Gets an Early Appointment at The Doctor Ahead of Jake Jensen and Michael Booth”
“A Downwinder a Day Keeps the Doctor Away”
Ok, I’ll spare you. Here are the full results. Pics (hopefully) coming soon.
Third behind Jimmy and Jake yesterday in ‘The Doctor’. 25knots and an angry ocean made it awesome fun out there. Special mention to Stimo and Andy for getting me to the start line and everyone else who helped out. Looking forward to KOTC next weekend. 😄 @starboardsup @inamopay #shawandpartners @vaikobi @vmgblades @zazik_ @_psyborg_ @stoke_physio
The Doctor: SUP Results
Course: 27km (16.7 miles)
Conditions: firing downwind
Click here for full results
|1||James "Jimmy" CASEY||1:55:43||Unlimited open||1||Sunova|
|2||Jake JENSEN||1:57:06||Unlimited open||2||ONE|
|3||Michael BOOTH||1:59:50||Unlimited open||3||Starboard|
|4||Beau O'BRIAN||2:04:13||Unlimited open||4||Starboard|
|5||Noic "Chicken" GARIOUD||2:07:07||14'||1||Sunova|
|6||Marcus TARDREW||2:07:29||Unlimited open||5||Sunova|
|7||James KNOWLES||2:09:19||Unlimited open||6||Sunova|
|8||Ben TARDREW||2:10:20||Unlimited open||7||ONE|
|9||Paul JACKSON||2:15:31||Unlimited 40+||1||ONE|
|10||Will LEE||2:15:36||Unlimited 40+||2|
|11||Ty JUDSON||2:20:22||14'||2||Blue Planet|
|15||Adam FAHEY||2:44:01||Unlimited 40+||3|
|17||A P||2:53:00||Unlimited open||8|
|19||Cameron MCKAY||2:55:04||Unlimited open||9|
|20||Greg KERR||2:56:00||Unlimited 40+||4|
|21||Gordon STIMSON||2:56:09||Unlimited 50+||1|
|23||Scott MCCLUSKEY||3:06:27||Unlimited 40+||5|
|26||Derek JONES||3:13:03||Unlimited 50+||2|
|27||Graeme SPENCE||3:16:57||Unlimited open||10|
|29||Marty MAHER||3:18:37||Unlimited 50+||3|
|31||Matt MUDIE||3:33:39||Unlimited 50+||4|
|32||Mike Oscar BARTON||3:46:45||14'||11|