Matt O’Garey has lived on the Coffs Coast since 1997. He’s been paddling surf skis competitively for 25 years, starting in Tasmania and enduring the freezing cold, relentless winters. Now at 38 years old, Matt finds himself in the strange but enviable position of being the fittest and fastest he has ever been.
This May, Matt will be racing the World Championships of Ocean Ski Racing in Hawaii – a huge paddle of 32 miles (52 km) from the island of Molokai, across the Kaiwi channel to the island of Oahu. Matt shares his inspirational story, and hectic training schedule, with FOCUS …
The Molokai Challenge, recognised as the World Surf Ski and OC1 Championship, is the title watermen covet most. The race begins near the west end of the island of Molokai, crosses the volatile Kaiwi Channel – considered one of the roughest ocean channels in the world – and finishes at Hawaii Kai on Oahu. The distance is around 30 nautical miles.
Win the greatest ocean race in the world, and you’re in select company. Over the past 25 years, only six men have won the surf ski division: Grant Kenny, the famed Aussie Ocean Ironman and Olympic Bronze medalist, won his first of five titles in 1979. In 1983, a 20 year old South African named Oscar Chalupsky defeated Kenny, to win the first of his seven consecutive titles.
When Chalupsky was barred from international competition for five years due to apartheid, Australia’s Dean Gardiner stepped in as the Molo man to beat, winning his first title in 1993. A former commercial fisherman from Perth, Gardiner holds the course record of 3:21:26, set in 1997.
I currently try and balance 11 – 13 training sessions a week, a full-time job, 2 amazing children, family and a new part-time coaching business! Following is an example of my typical day. Enjoy!
5.05am: My trusty iPhone alarm sounds, and up I get. A quick check of weather apps on my phone, and I am in the car and off to training. Luckily, it’s only a 3 – 5 minute drive.
I am on the water for around 60 – 90 minutes, with a very deliberate and specific training plan. I work on a 4-week cycle broken down into microcycles, with taper variations incorporated for upcoming races.
7.15am: Finish training and tear home to spend 15 – 30 minutes with the family and kids. Grab some breakfast, pack for the mid-day and afternoon session and off to work.
7.45 – 8am: Arrive at NSW Real Estate and complete a full day’s work until 5pm. I am licensed real estate agent and auctioneer. Working in property management, my day includes property inspections, meetings, phone calls, client interaction, tradesmen contact etc etc etc …
12midday: Lunchtime gym session at Power house gym. I do 2 – 3 gym sessions a week, to try and maintain my strength. Getting old and taking on the young guns requires every bit of strength, endurance, surf skill and technique I can possibly muster!
1pm: Back to finish the afternoon at NSW Real Estate.
5pm: Finish work and travel down to training.
My afternoon sessions are at least 90 minutes in duration and where possible, will be in open water. If the wind is up, I will try and mimic the Molokai Championship and do a downwind run.
7.30pm: Finally make it home, just in time to stretch and see the wife and kids. Harrison (8) and Isabel (5) help with my nightly session of pushups (100), sit ups (100) and planking (2 x 2 min sets). Issy counts and Harry will usually join in, as he is almost as driven as me!
8.30pm Try and snuggle the kids, quick chat with Ginny and get ready for the next day, before passing out at around 9pm, ready to do it all again.
My weekly sessions include:
8 paddling sessions
3 gym sessions
2 running sessions
Of a weekend, I try and do a long paddle of at least 25 – 30 km. This will increase to between 30 and 50 km in the coming weeks, to ensure that my body can cope with the rigours of a 52 km race without breaking down.
The Molokai World Championships and in turn, the Kawai channel is an unforgiving place. Conditions can and have varied from a dead flat ocean, adding at least an hour to the race, to a full on downwind race with 30+ knot winds and 5 metre seas. The race record stands at 3hr 21 min.
I raced the channel in 2010 in a 6 man outrigger. It was a changes race, and I represented Australia in its first attempt at sending a national crew. To give you an idea of the extremes of this race, one paddler died on the start line, another was run over by his support boat (swells so big you can’t even see a 30 foot sports cruiser), 3 support boats broke down and one sank completely.
This is my Everest, and I can’t and won’t attempt it ‘just to participate’. As you can see, my day is packed to the brim, but what it doesn’t show is the sacrifice and support needed by those around me in order to make this a reality. Time with my family, financial burden with racing, travel, accommodation, etc all adds up.
I am lucky enough to be supported by some amazing sponsors … Simmocean watersports, Stellar Skis, Paddle2Fitness Coaching, Meek Paddles, as well as a wave of support from secondary sponsors who help out with advice, product and support.
The entry fee alone for this race is US$350, with a total cost to race of around $US5,000. This, combined with racing as much as I can locally (usually 2 – 3 times a month), is an enormous expense.
I count myself extremely lucky that I am fit and healthy and get the opportunity to paddle in the ocean and see the sunrise and set over the water pretty much every day.
A week wouldn’t go by without seeing a dolphin beside me, a turtle pop its head up, or a stingray leap out of the water (regularly in the harbour). Flying fish are my favourite though! They buzz past you at an amazing speed and regularly travel 50 – 100 m out of the water – a common sight out around Split Solitary Island.
I train a lot on my own and it can get a bit hairy out there, as I am often 1 – 2 km out to sea in big swells. I carry a mobile in a waterproof cover, wear a lifejacket and leg rope and rely on state of the art equipment to ensure that I am well covered if things go a bit pear shaped!
Ocean ski paddling is one of the fastest growing ocean sports and is a great way of getting fit in an amazing setting. I run regular coaching clinics – if you’re interested, give me a call on 0423 790 525 or shoot me an email at email@example.com
Ocean ski racing is a great platform for fitness. The most inexperienced paddlers can line up with Olympians, world champions and elite athletes and enjoy the water and racing just as much. I am very humbled and thankful that I can get the opportunity to race, train and live on the Coffs Coast.