Every year, the SAS Hurley Classic is a huge event that attracts hundreds of paddlers of many different disciplines. Be it racing, freestyle, stand-up paddle boarding or old ‘skool’ boating, this is the place to be. The event is held on Hurley Weir on the Thames river, which during the winter months (at the correct levels) forms a unique feature, that allows both hole and wave moves to be performed in the different gates of the weir.

The Hurley Classic usually runs over one of the last weekends in November – this year the 19-20th. As the event approaches, the weather forecast is scrutinised – will the rain arrive in time? The last few years have been rather good – mostly 3 gates, forming a nice wave flanked by 2 wavy-holes – this year, unfortunately, we weren’t as lucky.

On Saturday Morning, unfortunately there was only 1 gate. An optimistic yet disappointed atmosphere was there, however the ‘Paddle with the Stars’ event was still running – a superb opportunity for junior paddlers to learn and paddle with some of the best paddlers around. Next came BoaterX – a quick slide down an infamous ramp into the water, a sprint across the flat to do some slalom in the flow and then another sprint to the finish. The BoaterX always has lots of racers – some with the intention of winning and others who just want to slide off the ramp! 

After this, the freestylers come out in force, not only for a free paddling session, but also for the team freestyle after this –  a unique event. Last year, when this event was first introduced at the classic, not too many teams entered – most were unsure what it was. Although this year, there many more – with a wide variety of paddling ability. It is as it says on the tin – a team event, where 3 coordinated (hopefully)paddlers all take to the wave at once – and try to perform moves as usual. On a 3-gate level, this would be simple; 1 paddler with ample room in each gate, throwing moves like they usually would. This was not going to happen this year though – as mentioned, there was only 1 gate! To make it even more interesting, the weir was set to 1.5 gates, a level that almost no one had ever seen. It formed a reasonably big hole-wave combination against a wall, and then half a foam pile allowing you to get into the wave from the eddy.

I was fortunate enough to be in a team with fellow Squarerock team members Ottie Robinson-Shaw and Mike Shaw. We had 2 1-minute runs, and being the only ones in our heat there was no real break to catch our breath. While a minute is much longer than the usual 45 seconds in personal ride, it is not very long given that after a flush, getting back on the wave can take between 15 and 30 seconds, depending on how the eddyline is feeling… So it was quite energetic! A fantastically different competition, adding lots of variety – hopefully team events will become commonplace at events in the future.

The evening was finished off with a superstar showcase, where the best paddlers at the event get a chance to show off – what freestyle is all about, of course. Then, a delicious banquet and the TVF Awards left everyone tired and ready for the main competition the next day.

Everyone woke and all eyes were turned upstream (and on the livestream). Most people would have been sad to have gone home the night before in the rain, and woken up in the rain – but not kayakers. Had it rained enough to open a second gate fully? Would they be able to open a second gate for the whole day, or would they run out of water? 2 gates are considered a good level for Hurley, allowing most moves to be performed and retained. The excitement of the paddlers when they saw the second gate opening was unbelievable – enough to overturn the grey skies and raise the temperature. The heats progressed well, even making up the time lost from the delayed start.
Even though my personal performance wasn’t very good, I still had immense amount of fun. Due to the timing of the event, this was the first time I had paddled Hurley in 7-8 months and everyone was remembering what a fun and fast feature it is!

The rest of the day was filled with watching fellow competitors, the SUP races and the Hurley Horn; a quirky, magical chair in which you sit and win free stuff –  what could be better!

All in all a great event, lots of variety and simply fun! Can’t wait for next year!  Thanks to Jacko Jackson and the organising team who once again did an amazing job!


Hugh Mandelstam