South African paddling icon Hank McGregor overcame sickness, flat conditions as well as a strong local field to clinch his maiden FNB Durban Downwind win on Sunday while the in-form Nicole Russell claimed the World Surfski Series title event’s women’s crown.
Despite organisers’ best efforts to stage the race in the best available wind conditions of the weekend, Mother Nature didn’t come to the party as hoped and the 26km journey from La Mercy Beach to Marine Surf Lifesaving Club at Addington Beach was a testing one for all.
McGregor, having come close to victory in the race’s debut in 2014, had little hassle second time around as he claimed a commanding triumph, racing home one minute and four seconds ahead of Matt Bouman.
“I’m glad to take the win this time around,” said McGregor. “I narrowly lost it two years ago so it’s nice to win the Durban Downwind for the first time.”
“Conditions were pretty tough; there was hardly any assistance really so it was a hard slog for 26kms.
“I managed to get out in front early and then kept the guys behind me for the rest of the race – there weren’t too many tactics involved really.
“I was in hospital on Friday so it was a hit and miss whether I was going to race but I’m glad I was able to get out there and it’s nice to have gotten the win,” added the Euro Steel/Epic Kayaks athlete.
Bouman echoed McGregor’s sentiments regarding the conditions while sang the praises of the victor and the organisers alike.
“It’s sad that it was as flat as it was because there aren’t many races where the organisers genuinely search for the best downwind conditions and the Durban Downwind is one of them where they do.
“This was one of only a few opportunities where the guys use the whole two day window period to try to find the wind but when Mother Nature says there’s no wind then there simply is no wind.
“I’m not unhappy with how I performed; it was good for me personally but the person who puts in the most work is the guy who wins and it’s something you’ve got to give people credit for.
“Hank was just too strong today and well done to him for that. The man’s commitment to sport and the amount of work he does is one hell of a thing,” added Bouman graciously.
Australia’s Mark Anderson (Fenn Kayaks/Oceanpaddler Sydney) claimed the bottom step of the podium while Gene Prato and Barry Lewin (Jeep Team) claimed positions four and five.
Carbonology Sport’s Bailey de Fondaumiere was the first junior across the line, finishing seventh overall, while birthday boy, Wade Krieger (Epic Kayaks/Falcon World Travel) rounded out the top ten.
“I love the Durban Downwind and it’s great to win again,” said Russell. “Winning SA Marathon Champs a couple of weeks ago definitely gave me a bit of confidence in these flat conditions because I do normally prefer the bumps, runs and a bit of swell.”
“I knew it was going to be a grind but it was even tougher than I was expecting.
“Haylz (Nixon) was there the whole way and it was a ding-dong battle between us. I went deep early on and I didn’t see Hayley until we met up at about halfway. I then went on the inside and she stuck to the middle, which worked out for me in the end but it was very close.”
Nixon was pleased with her effort. “It was an awesome race and a titanic battle. I’m stoked with second place and well done to Nikki on her win,” the Carbonology Sport competitor said.
While a predominantly local field, eleven paddlers from Gauteng and one each from Western and Eastern Cape made the journey to Durban for the race with Johannesburg’s Anna Clifford Arwidi rounding out the women’s podium while Durbanville Hills’ Anton Holtzhausen was the first Masters competitor home.
Through the support of title sponsors FNB, a prize money purse of R40000 was given away across all age groups and categories while all finishers stood the chance winning various Thule and Funky Pants lucky draws prizes.
“KwaZulu-Natal is South Africa’s second largest economy and is well positioned in the tourism and sporting sectors,” commented Howard Arrand, FNB Business – KZN Provincial Head.
“We relish the opportunity to be involved with the Durban Downwind event as the sport continues to grow in popularity as one of the key activities in the province and the South African sporting calendar.
“Congratulations to all those who took part in the race as well as the families, spectators and the various communities who showed their support,” he added.