The George Bass Surf Boat Marathon, billed as the longest and toughest surf boat race in the world, is at times one of the more brutal sporting events I have witnessed.
In late December, the 2020 George Bass race was cancelled two days into the seven-day competition due to the horrendous bushfires on the South Coast. The first leg began at Batemans Bay on Sunday, 29 December, arriving at Moruya for an overnight stay. That leg is 31 km of hard rowing. And that’s just the start.
The ferocity of the ocean and the resilience of the crews was evident at the end of the second leg as boats made their way to Tuross Head from Moruya, a 19 km row. Only another 140 km to go!
The toughness of the race was what the 400 plus competitors, the second largest field since 1990, had signed up for and there was a sense of anticipation with another five days remaining to the finish at Eden.
As they hit the Tuross Head shoreline at around 9:00 am, crews had little idea how the remainder of the race would unfold.
Unbeknownst to them, they had just completed the last leg of this year’s race as bushfires raged up and down the South Coast.
The marathon was cancelled on Tuesday morning. But the competitors didn’t relax.
The surf boat crew members quickly adapted. They took on the role of first responders, helping out at evacuation centres with first aid and cooking, putting out spot fires and positioning boats on the shore in case people were forced into the sea by the encroaching flames and smoke.
The surf club community effectively rose to the challenge, applying much-needed expertise to the crisis situation.
As the ash settled, several options were considered to make up for this year’s lost race.
Given it is a biennial event, no race was scheduled for 2021.
Gavin Hunt, a veteran of the George Bass Marathon, says one option was to run the event next year but he says logistics and expense make it unfeasible.
That’s understandable with an emphasis on safety and the number of support personnel required, as well as the commitment of the clubs involved. Remember, clubs come from far and wide for this event. In 2020, a crew came all the way from the Top End.
It’s been a tough time for surf clubs on the South Coast with the bushfires closing of the Kings Highway, followed by the COVID-19 shutdown resulting in the cancellation of most of the carnivals.
Club captain of the Broulee Surf Club Andrew Edmonds says he remains optimistic the season will start in September but there is a sense of the unknown in the midst of the COVID-19 shutdown.