Good mates travel the world on white water
By TONY WHITE
GRAFTON-raised Phil Benfield and Sean Gill have just returned home after representing Australia at the World White Water Rafting Championships held on the Quijos River in El Chaco, Ecuador.
The pair, who steered the raft from the rear, were part of the six-man Australian men's team that finished 9th overall.
Both 28-year-olds are good friends and multiple Australian champions.
Benfield won the Australian Championships in 1997, 1998 and this year. Gill was a member of the successful Australian team that won the world title in 2001.
Benfield, born in England, moved to Grafton as a four-year-old and attended Grafton High School with Gill until completing Year 12.
"Sean and I were trained as kids to compete at white water kayaking at Grafton High with Sean's late father Graham Gill as a mentor, coach and teacher of many children at school," Benfield said.
"Graham gave kids a real go and I would not be where I am without him."
Benfield and Gill started their careers on Goolang Creek, near Nymboida.
After leaving Grafton Benfield and Gill took up positions as tour guides and instructors in Cairns, Queensland.
Ecuador was the third time Benfield has represented Australia, this year's team sponsored by Teva, Mountain Designs, RnR Rafting and Eco H2O, and Gill's second.
World White Rafting teams compete in three disciplines -- sprint, slalom and down river.
Sprints are over 1000m head to head where both teams are fighting side by side to cross the finish first and usually involves pushing each others boat and forcing them on rocks etc.
Slalom is over 600m with 12 gates that must be passed through depending on the colour of the gate. Four of the 12 gates must be passed going upstream.
The down river is over 17km, an endurance race where picking the best line all the way down the river will save time.
"Ecuador is a beautiful place with massive hills and volcano's all around the area," Benfield said.
"The water is clean and continuous. The style of the rapids were very similar to that of North Queensland.
"Ecuador was one of Australia's best performances because the competition has gone full professional with full-time athletes being paid by their governments to train at this adventure sport.
"The security was amazing with military and police carrying M16 automatic guns, but the locals were so friendly. It was also so cheap to live, normally you only needed to carry $4 for the day to live on."
White water rafting has taken Benfield around Australia and around the world.
"I've been to Japan, China, Africa, Costa Rica and Ecuador but of all the rivers definitely the best if the Nymboida River area outside Grafton," Benfield claimed.
Benfield, who became a police officer in 1999 which limited him from competing until this year, is currently stationed at the remote township of Wanaaring, 200km west of Bourke. Gill lives in England.
"It is a single man station and my patrol covers 200km x 200km in area with 70 people," Benfield said.
"Life is great out here. I even get to train in the little creek out the back of the police station.
"It's a little muddy, but clean fresh air and amazing scenery.
"When there's enough water I paddle 50 metres one way and 50 metres back.
"I get to put the kayak on the police car sometimes, but just don't tell my boss."
Benfield, married in August to wife Tracy, plans to return to Grafton after his posting in outback NSW.
"I can't wait to get back on the local rivers," he said.