Murphy takes on the Massive Murray

Auckland kayaker Sean Murphy is in the midst of his biggest challenge yet- a 415km paddling adventure race down the Murray River in Australia. After 3 days, he leads the race by just under 30minutes. But when you are paddling an average of over 80km a day in sweltering conditions, Sean knows that anything can happen.

We heard from Sean just before he embarked on this adventure about why he is doing this race again, what he can expect, what it took to get him ready for this but more importantly, why?!

So, it’s 4am and I’m sitting here at the airport waiting to board the plane for Melbourne. I’m heading back to the Massive Murray Paddle Race 415km (MMP415). This will be my 3rd time doing the race but I’ve been preparing and training for this one for over 2 years, after Covid restrictions and local flooding have impacted recent running of this event.

There is good representation from other Aucklanders in 2023 – Peter Lipscombe and Steve Reece (Waitemata Canoe & Multisport Club) and Wing (Wayne) Kam from North Shore Canoe Club are also along on the ride. Steve has also done the race 3 times but Wing & Peter will have their first taste of ultra-distance kayak racing. I’m sure we will all be coming back with our own version of the experience.

So why am I heading back? I get asked that a lot and I do mean a lot! I’ve done it and won it previously and came back from it requiring some serious physio to get the body right again. So much so that I almost gave up racing at that point. But I’m not really a quitter and I decided to refocus and go back to basics.

Well, the answer is because the organisers have made it harder and longer. It was previously 404kms and the last day was around 60kms. This year, they have reconfigured the race and pushed the distance out to 415kms with the last day being around 90kms. It was that last day that really made me decide to get back over there as I couldn’t resist the challenge to push my body and mind even further than before.

A little insane and maybe even sadistic but those who know me are not surprised.

The MMP415 is a five-day event:

Day 1 — 27 February Yarrawonga to Tocumwal, Paddling distance 89km
Day 2 — 28 February Yarrawonga to Tocumwal, Paddling distance 89km
Day 3 — 1 March Picnic Point to Moama Beach, Paddling distance 76km
Day 4 — 2 March Moama Beach to Torrumbarry WEIR, Paddling Distance 80.5km
Day 5 — 3 March Moama Beach to Torrumbarry WEIR, Paddling Distance 80.5km

This is a slightly modified course due to the flood last November but the distance is still 415kms. I probably would have preferred to race it in the floods as the conditions that we are going to are the complete opposite, with low water levels, little to no flow and a lot of snags sitting just under the water line. The cherry on top is the average predicted temperatures for the week are 30-34 degrees. After speaking to the race organisers yesterday they said we will be earning every stroke in this race.

All of this adds to the challenge! In ultra-distance kayak racing there is so much against you- water conditions, hydration, weather, gear failure, nutrition and mental attitude. The race is certainly not for the faint hearted but the other paddlers are all passionate about our sport and there for their own personal reasons. They are also a good part of the reason why we are heading back. We have made friends with other paddlers and their support crews, so much so that at the last event when I finished my wife, Carmen, told me we were coming back for the next race as she had so much fun with the other paddlers wives. At that point I was too exhausted to say anything other than ok!

I’m extremely fortunate to have Carmen along to support me during the race, and it is a race that I personally would not do unsupported. When you’re absolutely exhausted and about to start that last day, you really need a smiling face to wish you well as you hit the water. I have also been well supported by Stellar Australia & NZ who supply me with a very good ski which is effectively the same as my ski I train with at home. That makes a huge difference and enables me to get things right with my seat pads and simply transfer that over to the race ski for the MMP415.

How do I think I will go? Well, the training is done and since December, alone, I’ve done over 2000kms in training specifically for the race. I’ve also had a team behind me helping me ensure I get to the start in the best shape possible, Hayley and Rebecca from “Body Evolution Method” and Gavin from the North Shore Canoe Club. So, I’m ready and I’d like to think improved from the last 2 years of training and planning for the campaign but with the MMP415 I don’t underestimate anyone let alone the numerous things that can go wrong during the week.

However, with a little bit of luck and a lot of mental fortitude I’d like to think I’ll be somewhere at the pointy end going into the last day. From there it will be what it will be.

Words by Sean Murphy