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A long drive through a brown and parched countryside brought us to a brown and dry concrete ditch. The siren sounded, the huge pumps started and slowly the water rose and the rapids appeared. The lack of water in Victoria had led Geoff and me here to Penrith Whitewater Stadium. We climbed into our gear and leaped into the play boats. Game on! Into the bottom pool for a quick warm up and stretch before the conveyer belt brought us up to the top pool and the beginning of the run.
Down the first drop, about a metre in height and into the first section of rapids. A series of drops with good surfing waves and swirly eddies finishing in a large drop and a big circulating pool as the course kicks hard left. The next section has a few meatier stoppers and we seem to be taking turns practicing our rolls. The final rapid in the series is a sticky stopper they use for side surfing the rafts and it certainly isn’t pleasant to sit in upside down. Another hard left turn and we’re into the last series of rapids. There is a reasonable bit of gradient in this section and there are wide stoppers and waves which put pressure on your skills. Then it’s through that final stopper and into the bottom pool for a breather before the next lap.
Geoff and I carved up the waves, scratched our helmets on the concrete bottom, dodged rafts, pulled off big supports and generally had a good time. Some laps would take an hour as we surfed every wave. Others would take a matter of minutes as we blasted around the course. And when you needed a break there was always the on site café for food and the grassy lawn to lie on. Certainly a great way to paddle when there isn’t any water in the rivers!
Penrith Whitewater Stadium is easy to find from the M4 highway from Sydney. The course is 320 metres long and drops a total of 5.5 metres in height. The stadium was built for the Sydney Olympics and now makes its money from people experiencing rafting. They only turn on the water if there are rafting punters so it pays to contact them before hand to find out if the water is going to be turned on and for how long. Also they run slalom and other events there so you don’t want to turn up to find out it’s closed. The rafts are a bit of a pain and you need to keep out of their way as they won’t keep out of yours. Remember it is because of the rafters that they turn the water on so you can’t complain too much. There is about half an hour between the water starting and the rafters starting and also about an hour over the lunch break so it is worth making the most of the raft free period. Some of the rapids are a bit shallow so if you go upside down you are likely to hit the bottom so you need to be a bit careful.
When you paddle at Penrith for the first time you’ll need to fill out a disclaimer and commit that you can paddle grade 3 rapids. The cost if $25 for a day of recreational paddling. They give you a numbered top which you must wear while paddling. There is a deposit of $20 for the top. The facilities are good and include car parking, café, change rooms, showers and boat wash facilities. For more information on paddling at Penrith go to their web site: www.penrithwhitewater.com.au or phone 02 4730 4333.