Novice Kayaker Shatters 30-Year-Old Record on Australia’s Longest River

Dave Alley doesn’t consider himself a kayaker. Yet the 47-year-old Australian has just set an impressive new fastest known time (FKT) on Australia’s longest waterway, the Murray River.

Alley paddled the 2,287km from Bringenbrong Bridge in New South Wales to Wellington in South Australia in 15 days, 11 hours, and 33 minutes (including a 12-hour time penalty), breaking a record that’s stood since 1993.

Alley is an endurance athlete and coach with an impressive list of accomplishments. But notably missing from that list is much — if any — experience in a kayak.

18 months of prep

“It was an 18-month turnaround from [the] initial concept to hitting the water on day one,” Alley told ExplorersWeb.

“I was like a sponge, soaking up as much learning as I could in the time I had available. But I was essentially self-taught, with no background in the sport.”

Kayaking the Murray end-to-end gives a flavor reminiscent of America’s Mississippi River — sometimes wild, sometimes industrialized, with locks to navigate, submerged obstacles to avoid, and slowing currents as the waterway reaches the coast. And like Old Man River, the Mighty Murray has suffered from low water flows in recent years.

David Alley paddles his custom kayak en route to setting a smoking FKT on the Murray River. Photo: David Alley


Alley said that as he approaches his fifties, he’s increasingly aware that he can’t wait around for perfect adventuring conditions. The clock is always ticking. And because the Murray’s headwaters are a three-day drive from his house, he also couldn’t wait for ideal weather.

“The weather gods were against me from day one. On arrival, we quickly established that the river flow was down by a staggering 300% at times from the previous record holder back in 1993. I also had headwinds from day 1, battled storms, and temperature ranges from -3˚C to 41˚C.”

Sleep deprivation, capsizing, and more

Alley racked up his impressive time through a combination of top physical conditioning, mental fortitude, and sleep deprivation — a familiar recipe to followers of endurance endeavors. He paddled up to 23 hours a day and slept on the riverbank. Occasionally, he grabbed a nap in the back of a support vehicle.

“I was hallucinating,” the athlete said. “I also fell asleep while paddling!”

He had half a dozen capsizes throughout the trip caused by falling asleep or hitting submerged logs.

In addition to the unfortunate weather and low water, Alley suffered a mental blow when he lost his phone during a capsize on day one, We Are Explorers reported. With none of the podcasts and audiobooks he’d downloaded available to keep him sharp, he was faced with the daunting prospect of endless hours of silent paddling.

A light and fast boat

A crew of seven followed behind while Alley paddled his 6m Fusion LR6 TK1 kayak, a boat that had been customized with bulkheads fore and aft before setting out. Alley happily accepted the extra weight of the bulkheads for the additional strength they lent his boat. Even with the customizations, the whole thing came out to only 12kg. The support boat carried his food, fuel, and other supplies.

According to Alley, “Kayaking the Murray River is done by several adventurers each year. Most do it for the challenge and experience of stopping off along the way and soaking up the scenery and wildlife. However, there are always those [who] like to push the boundaries of what’s possible.”

Ultimately, the paddler broke a 30-year-old record by 19 hours and 25 minutes despite considerably more challenging river conditions, a fact he says gives him both “satisfaction and pride.”

Not bad for someone who was a kayaking novice a mere year and a half ago.

Andrew Marshall

Andrew Marshall is an award-winning painter, photographer, and freelance writer. Andrew’s essays, illustrations, photographs, and poems can be found scattered across the web and in a variety of extremely low-paying literary journals.
You can find more of his work at, @andrewmarshallimages on Instagram and Facebook, and @pawn_andrew on Twitter (for as long as that lasts).