Lake surf boaters rise to the challenge

SHE does it for the adrenalin rush, to ride waves and save lives, and yet rower Pip Butt and the rest of the all-girl crew of local surf boaters train in the extremely flat and non-surfy Lake Burley Griffin.

“Yeah, we do an ocean sport in a land-locked city!” says Pip, who belongs to the Broulee Surfers’ Surf Lifesaving Club. “We struggle with the cold, too, when training on Canberra winter mornings.

The crew’s sweep Gary Pettigrove and rower Pip Butt.

“What’s great about the sport, though, is that in order to compete you have to do 25 hours per year patrolling the beach – we need to have at least the bronze medallion for surf lifesaving.

“We spend a minimum of one day a month in the summer patrolling at Broulee, which keeps us in touch with the surf.”

The crew, known as the Broulee Capitals, are in Adelaide competing for the first time in Rescue 2012, the Life Saving World Championships.

Training for this in Canberra is somewhat of a challenge, says Pip, since the oar-driven surf boat is designed to enter the ocean from the beach in heavy surf or large waves.

“There’s a sort-of beach by The Boat House Restaurant near Russell, where we practice our launches,” she says. “I use the term beach loosely… we just have to pretend!”

It’s been a big year for the crew, the majority of whom come from land-locked parts of the country and moved to Canberra for public service jobs.

In January, the crew came fifth in the George Bass surf boat marathon, the world’s longest surf boat race. At the end of the 2011-12 season they were the Far South Coast sprint champions. Two rowers from the crew were part of the Queen’s Jubilee boat pageant held in London in June, and the crew also won the 10km Pambula Club to Pub endurance race and came second in the 12km Georges River Rooster Run endurance race.

“There are so many exciting things you can do as part of a novice crew – it’s great,” says Pip.

Since training on the lake is very different from hitting the surf, sweep Gary Pettigrove says they hope the conditions at Christies Beach will suit their skills.

“Our inexperience does show in choppy conditions, but once we’re past the waves and out in flat water, we really shine,” he says.

Pip says their strength as a crew is endurance, or “rowing boats down”.

“We may not get off the beach and past the waves first, but once in open water we can usually catch up to crews and, after turning the buoy, it’s anyone’s race to catch and hold a wave,” she says.

“We’re also hoping our endurance sets us up to be able to dig that little bit extra and find more power when we have to!

“The ocean is a great leveller, though – anyone can win on the day.”

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