Billed as the longest and toughest surfboard marathon in the world, even the George Bass Surfboard Marathon is no match for COVID-19.
Traditionally starting at Batemans Bay on New Year’s Eve and traversing seven grueling days down the coast, the race has been left elevated and dry by the COVID-19 pandemic, which shows no signs of slowing down.
Organizers called for postponing the 2022 event at this month’s meeting.
“Due to the uncertainty of the movement across Australia and New Zealand, we cannot guarantee the safety of our competitors, their families, support teams, affiliates and their respective communities,” a spokesperson said.
“The decision was made in consultation with several key stakeholders. Bearing in mind the current COVID-19 situation, the Commission’s decision was unanimous.”
Gavin Hunt, spokesman for the Viking Surfboat Rowing Group in Canberra, explained that while the decision was disappointing, the George Bass Surfboat Marathon Committee made the right decision.
“You can’t blame the organizers for calling early,” he says. “These things require so much training and preparation that it’s better to finish early.”
The first George Bass Surfboat Marathon was held in 1975, with 12 crew members competing.
The race was the brainchild of Vega newspaper editor Carly Annabelle, who had the idea in 1797 to follow part of the journey of early explorer, surgeon George Bass.
Commander Bass Surgeon, along with a crew of six Naval Allmans, paddled a longboat from Port Phillip down the New South Wales coast to the southern tip of Victoria to map the coastline.
Annabelle’s idea was initially considered crazy and didn’t find much support until then-Secretary of Surf Life Savings, Nick Dixon of Cronulla Boat Sweep, picked it up.
Mr. Dixon was the driving force behind recruiting the first entries, training the crew of Cronulla to a crushing victory.
The level of professionalism exhibited by Cronulla in 1975 is said to set the standard for all subsequent races.
About half of the fleet used sliding seats, while the rest of the crew used “Vaseline shorts”, the standard short-course method of the time.
Since then, after several interruptions, the race has been held every two years with entries from all over Australia and abroad. Sponsorship expanded to include women in the late 1990s and Surf his ski events were added.
Canberra’s involvement began in the 1980s. Moruya Surf Life His Saving His club stalwart Bert Hunt moved to his ACT and Surf brought his love of life saving to him.
He got involved in Vikings rugby and set out to establish the nucleus of what would become the Canberra Surf and Lake Rowing Club.
The Canberra Vikings made history at the 2010 event, becoming the first team in 29 years to win the marathon without losing every leg.
“We did it again in 2012,” says Gavin, Bart’s son.
Prior to that, Moruya was the only one who could completely dominate the marathon in 1981.
The most recent George Bass Marathon was held in January 2020, but had to be canceled on day two as Black Summer wildfires blew toward the coast.
“It’s a shame and disappointing that next year’s event has been canceled because so many people wanted to come back and finish what they started,” Gavin says.
“But we hope it will be bigger and better in January 2023.”