Competitors find a tough start to the second leg of the Clarence 100 going under the Grafton Bridge.
Competitors find a tough start to the second leg of the Clarence 100 going under the Grafton Bridge. Matthew Elkerton

BIG RACE: Never underestimate the Clarence

CLARENCE 100: The motto reads "Never Underestimate the Clarence 100", but while this weekend's event has a competitive element, for one of the organisers, Ben Sullivan, it is more about taking on a challenge and completing it.

Having started in 2014 as a social reunion between paddlers, the event became formalised as the word spread on social media.

"It just grew organically," Sullivan said.

"We've got about 60 people so far and expect a few more entries late."

The three-day event will start with a briefing tomorrow night at Copmanhurst and a ceremony by local First Nation custodians.

"It's important that we acknowledge them as the custodians of the river, and we come with respect and seek their permission on Thursday night," Sullivan said.

From there, the paddlers will take three days on the journey down the Clarence River, stopping at the Grafton Rowing Club and the Lower Clarence Rowing Club before finishing at Whiting Beach on Sunday.

Brisbane Paddling Club's Gavin Cook, one of the 2016 winners, will return and is favourite to take out the open men's division, while former Olympic kayaker Denise Cooper will be looking for a hat-trick of successive wins.

The event is not all about the competition. A recreational division also offers the chance for people to take part in some, or all, of the 100km journey. However, while it is recreational, paddlers are still expected to be competent on the river.

"It's a gruelling and challenging paddle that requires a large amount of general fitness and, in particular, paddling," Sullivan said.

"We're on the water for four to six hours (a day) and while we have on-water support, they are expected to be self-reliant."

This year, the event will get support from Team Rubicon, an international organisation of ex-military veterans who use their skills to assist in times of emergency.

Led by Mark Dobson, the group will not only provide support, but use the event as a fact-finding mission on the Clarence River so they can understand the area to possibly assist in future emergencies.

Local Will Elrick, who has one leg amputated at the hip, will also take on the paddle, combining with former America's Cup grinder Gordon Griebous in a double outrigger that Sullivan says will be right up with the frontrunners, who are expected to challenge the event's records.

"With the river heights, and recent rain, it's a great opportunity for some fast times and course records to be broken," Sullivan said.

"However, we're expecting the last leg from Maclean to Yamba to be against the tide for almost three quarters of the way, so like we say, you can never underestimate the Clarence 100."