This weekend’s FNB Durban Downwind will have extra venom as the nation’s best surfski paddlers fight it out for the race’s fifth edition title as well as the bragging rights of being crowned the South African Singles Surfski Champion when the race gets underway on Saturday, 24 June.
The event organisers have opted to stage the race to coincide with the North Easterly wind that is forecast for a steady 10 to 12 knots on Saturday afternoon, racing 26km from La Mercy to Marine Surf Lifesaving Club on Durban’s South Beach.
Both the men’s and women’s contests will be peppered with talent as paddlers from around the country converge on Durban this weekend, for what promises to be an exciting downwind challenge as the nation’s elite eye a spot on the South African team for the ICF Ocean Racing World Championships in Hong Kong in November.
The men’s race will feature current World Surfski Series champion and out-and-out favourite Hank McGregor with his Euro Steel team mate Jasper Mocké also set to mount a serious challenge for a top podium spot.
Taking on McGregor in his own back yard will be a tough task for the other elite paddlers, however with the best paddlers possible assembled, anything is possible over the 26km course where the lines that can be taken between La Mercy and Marine SLC can dramatically affect the outcome of the race.
The Western Cape will also have a strong presence at the national championships with Jasper’s brother Dawid always providing a stiff challenge while Kenny Rice, Mark Keeling, Stu Maclaren and Ian Black will likely also mount a formidable charge for the podium.
A Western Cape threat that will be missing from the showdown is Sean Rice. Rice’s schedule has meant that he will be overseas and therefore unable to race for the national crown.
Amongst the local favourites, Matt Bouman, Wade Krieger and the likes of the young Hamish Lovemore will be forces to be reckoned with over the 26km course with Bailey de Fondaumiere and Scottburgh to Brighton winner Gene Prato also throwing their names into the hat.
Mounting a challenge from further afield is Mark Anderson from Australia. The 39 year-old star is no stranger to the Durban Downwind and with an impressive third place finish last year his contenders will have to keep an eye out for the Aussie paddler.
Another Australian that will be on the line this weekend is Shaun Rice. Rice’s ocean racing pedigree is a strong one and will also pose a threat to those that are eyeing out a spot on the podium.
The ladies contest is going to be, arguably, one of the toughest yet with a handful of paddlers in fine racing form and keen to take home the national championship spoils.
Having cantered home with the title in 2016, Euro Steel/Carbonology’s Hayley Nixon goes into the race as possible favourite but will have her work cut out for her against a number of other powerful female paddlers.
The likes of Michelle Burn, Kyeta Purchase, Jenna Ward, Nikki Russell and Kirsten Flanagan will all be hoping to claim that elusive national crown this Saturday.
The young guns of Purchase and Ward can never be written off in the Durban surf and with their training for the marathon world championships in Pietermaritzburg later in the year in full swing they will be fit and firing for the showdown.
One face that has been quite prominent on a surfski this winter is Euro Steel’s Dusi winning ace Andy Birkett. He has made it clear that he is not a serious contender for the title but rather paddles in the ocean for the fun of it.