12 Towers – Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia 2020

Unlike most, my 2020 12 towers experience consisted of 16 hours on site Friday setting up Sydney’s Ultra music festival in the rain and shin high thick mud after 11 days of long hours and back to back festivals.

On my break I checked my socials for race & scheduling updates and came across a flood of beaming smiles in Burleigh and 12 tower hashtags, I was finishing at 11pm asleep by midnight and back up at 4am for the JQ 400 flight at 6.05am from Sydney to the Gold Coast.

The bumpy take off from the breezy southerly made way for an epic sunrise,

Quick flight, land, airport shuffle, hire car, then straight to Burleigh Heads to be greeted by the day’s perfect conditions, 2-3ft lines pulsing through the point and the contest area combining with light offshore winds combing the swell was sure to make for a dynamic technical race with the sets breaking out near the deepest buoy which would provide a clean run all the way to the beach if you just happened to time your run with some luck of the ocean.

I quickly ducked back to hire car to get my camera and water housing ready, I was actually really nervous, and it took way longer than I anticipated, I made my way to the start line to hear a yell of “three minutes” oh crap! I thought to myself. I didn’t even have my flippers on, and the competitors were all lined up and frothing to race.

I just made it past the crunching shore break and bang it was on! The top paddlers smashed their way through the oncoming slabbing shorey whilst everyone else got caught! I could see out of my peripherals that humans and boards were flying everywhere.

The next ten to twenty minutes was a complete rush from a water photographers perspective with paddlers zipping in and out, under and over, it was complete calculated chaos, everyone was going hard and charging the shore break both on the way in and on the way back out, I could only imagine what the land view would have been like for spectators.

I swam into see a sea of smiling faces, beach interviews and group photos, the technical race was for 2020 was done and dusted with Ty Judson taking out the men’s and Karla Gilbert taking out the Woman’s, the afternoon made way for the foil muster, unfortunately I went back to my air bnb for some much needed sleep and missed it.

I tried to provide the link to the results but it kept on breaking so for results for the 2020 – 12 Towers Technical race checkout - supracer.com or 12 Towers on facebook.

12 Towers Down Wind Race.

I have never seen so many so many stand up paddle race boards in one place at one time, it was clear to see this is what the paddlers were here for.

The race briefing was at Burleigh Heads which was the finishing lines location after the brief everyone headed to the starting spots of Snapper rocks (full course) or Currumbin Alley (half course). Mark Kane asked Troy Pease if it was possible to get me on the back of a ski (thanks legend) a few things didn’t go to plan and I had to play it by ear, after finally getting a park on the hill that overlooks Duranbah, I got my camera ready to snap a few photos of the pre-race as I thought it fell through, I only just started walking down the hill and I got a text from troy via messenger saying I’m on a IRB, you just have to find Georgia (the 12 Towers official photographer)! Once again the nerves hit as I basically had ten minutes to get my water housing set up ready and down to the beach and into the thick of the action, once again I was fumbling with my housing whilst trying to envisage the images that I was after in my head, I was trying to calm myself down but nothing would work so I just sat with the energy, ran down to snapper and just happened to locate Georgia straight away, she was all over it and had me sorted out straight away! (Thanks Georgia!!!)

I jumped into the IRB with the driver saying to me at least you came prepared most photographers jump in with no housing and their cameras get drenched, Good thing to know! We zoomed out past the line up at snapper rocks and the countdown began followed by the starting buzzer (Beep) and just like that the 2020 12 Towers race was underway.

I started off shooting images from the back of the field to try and get the iconic Surfers Paradise skyline in the background with the paddlers in the foreground, everyone was smashing it and splitting up after picking their own line, I had to really think quickly about where to position myself so I opted to push ahead and try and catch paddlers as they were gliding past on the large bumps that the conditions were providing, it was actually really challenging from a photographers perspective, I was bouncing around like a frog in a sock in the IRB and at stages I felt like a metal music fan head banging to slayer in a oceanic amphitheatre, overexaggerated I know, but it sounded cool whilst I was typing away.

I kept leap frogging the leaders and would shoot photos of them and let half of the field pass me and then do it all again, everything is so dynamic and explosive and there is not much time to get the image, the race was three quarters complete so I opted to head straight to the final buoy turn to get that classic paddler/Burleigh headland image.

The swell was hitting the point and made it really hard to sit in the IRB and capture the images I was after plus everyone paddles so damn fast, so many lessons learnt for 2021.

All in all, I’m going to leave it at that, I really love seeing everyone smiling all weekend, the encouragement and friendly but fierce competition, the paddle skills and surfing skills, the epic conditions and epic vibe! Thanks to everyone involved on all levels, the Sup community is such a great community and I’m super stoked to be a part of it, really looking forward to the 12 towers ten-year anniversary in 2021.

I hope you enjoyed my version of the 12 Towers event from a photographers perspective, I couldn’t really give you an accurate description of the technical or downwind race as everything was so fast and actually a speed blur in my memory, I ran on such a supercharge of adrenaline the whole weekend…So crazy!

A large amount of imagery from the 12 Towers event will be in the Australian Sup Life 2020 Photo Annual being released in December.

For complete results for the downwind event check out - supracer.com or 12 Towers on Facebook.

All photos and words by Mickie Williams for Australian Sup Life.

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