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“This Race is Survival of the Fittest": Terrene Black Recounts Her Heavy Water Experience.

The 2019 Red Bull Heavy Water event was hosted in San Francisco, which saw athletes battle fifteen-foot waves, a relentless current and blinding fog. Female victor, Terrene Black, sat down with the APP to recount her terrifying experience on the Heavy Water course.

San Francisco, Red Bull Heavy Water, 2019

“The Heavy Water event was not at the forefront of my mind in 2019. I was only doing a little bit of training on the side of my job, so when we got the green light, I was really nervous… I was checking the forecast like ten times a day. When I arrived in San Francisco I had a paddle in the harbour and around the Golden Gate Bridge. The current was raging that day, and I remember thinking I am not fit enough for this. I am so relieved that I got a feel for the course because on the actual race, we lost visibility completely.

I knew it was going to be way harder than anything I had paddled before.…I didn’t sleep that much that night.

“The night before the race, I was pretty nervous. I knew that the swell was meant to pick up even more, so I didn’t know what to expect the next day. Where I live in Sydney, the waves don’t get as big, so I knew it was going to be way harder than anything I had paddled before.…I didn’t sleep that much that night.

“The day of the race, we got held up by the coast guard, so we started late. I noticed that the tide had started to turn, and it was only getting stronger. When we did get going, April Zilg was off like a rocket. I was trying to hang on to the train for as long as I could, but I wasn’t race fit and I was on a beast of a board that wasn’t fast at all, so I didn’t hang for very long. In my mind I thought this is about survival of the fittest, it’s not about winning this paddle race at the start. I needed to be race smart and conserve something for the surf zone when I get there. I was a far way back when we got to the bridge. I was hugging the shore as much as I could to get out of the current, but I could still feel it pummelling against me.

“I finally approached the bridge and man, the waves were crazy compared to the day before. I was watching some of the guys just get over some bomb sets, but others were just getting cleaned up…there was some carnage under that bridge. The current… I could not believe how strong it was. It was taking half an hour to get a couple of hundred metres. If you stopped, you were washed away straight away…it was wild. I managed to get through, but I swear every minute that current was getting stronger.

I just put my head down and grinded through. I didn’t see anyone for a good hour, I was just paddling on my own.

“Then, the fog rolled in, which made it ten degrees colder. I knew the direction I needed to go in, so I just put my head down and grinded through. I didn’t see anyone for a good hour, I was just paddling on my own. I was cursing because the distance part was taking a lot longer than I expected.

“I started getting around to the islands around the main Hedland. I saw all the girls, but they weren’t moving because of the current. I excel in these waters, so I managed to get through there, catching the little back washes and keep the momentum going, whereas everyone else was having a tough time. It still felt as though I wasn’t moving. There was some islands and I was looking at them and it seemed as though I never got past them… it was really demoralising. I was making some slow progress.

“As I got past the island, I looked back and saw a ginormous, 20-foot wave that was going to break. I remember seeing this bomb break the day before and thinking I wouldn’t want to be caught there in the race. I knew I was going to get over, I had to turn my board and start paddling but It was pretty close. Shakira Westdorp was on the inside of me and it was going to break on her. I was yelling at her and she heard me just in time. As it broke in front of her, she reached down, ripped her leash off and dived under, she was right in the impact zone, but she managed to get under it.

When I was out, I looked at my watch and realised it had taken me three hours to get to the beach… I thought it was going to be an hour distance race.

“I eventually saw the can to turn and go in, so I started thinking that the surf zone is coming up and I began getting nervous. I caught a wave in, but once it broke behind me, I got obliterated. It was the first wave I had caught on this board. I just got smashed and washed into the beach. When I was out, I looked at my watch and realised it had taken me three hours to get to the beach… I thought it was going to be an hour distance race. At this point, I was really tired, but I still had a determination to carry on.

“I was waiting on the beach for a break, but the sets looked endless. It was really foggy too, so it was hard to tell. Eventually, I got in, but I was stuck on the shore for ages. I managed to get past the shore and got over a few more waves and then it was all a blur after that. I really don’t know how long I was paddling. Someone said they saw me dive under this massive wave, but I couldn’t remember. I don’t know if I almost got out…I think I was close. I wasn’t going to give up.

I got hit by a huge set and got swept in a pretty long way. I thought I was going to have to start again, but I wasn’t ready to give up.

“Then, I got hit by a huge set and got swept in a pretty long way. I thought I was going to have to start again, but I wasn’t ready to give up. There was fifteen grand on the line. I was there to finish it. I made my way up the beach, to try again, but a couple of lifeguards came up to me and told me it was called off. I was bummed as I wanted to get out there, but I was exhausted. I think calling the race off was the right call, it was pretty dangerous… it was life-threatening.

Casper Steinfath and Terrene Black, Red Bull Heavy Water, 2019.

It terrifies me but I would definitely compete in that event again... it was an awesome adventure

“I spoke to the girls at the end and no one expected those conditions. We all felt that there was unfinished business, but we did the best we could. At the awards ceremony I was awarded as the winner for getting the furthest on the course. That was the coolest thing ever. Everything was against us that day: we started late, the tide was against us, the fog, the wind…everything took so much longer, and no one was quite prepared to be on the water that long. The only people could truly understand what happened that day are those that experienced it. It terrifies me but I would definitely compete in that event again... it was an awesome adventure.”

By Terrene Black.

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