The FNB Durban Downwind is one of the very few paddling titles in South Africa to have eluded Hank McGregor, something the six-time Canoe Marathon World Champion is eager to rectify when this year’s edition of the World Surfski Series title event takes place on either Saturday or Sunday this weekend.
“The Durban Downwind is a race I’d love to win for sure,” confirms McGregor. “It’s going to be pretty tough though; at this stage conditions look like it’s going to be pretty flat plus a lot of the local guys are in really good shape at the moment.”
“Guys like Matt Bouman and Wade Krieger are both very fit while Steve Woods and Luke Nisbet also showed at Thursday’s Scottburgh to Brighton that they’ve got the miles in them too.
“A local youngster or two may just put their hand up on the day as well and I hear there will also be one or two Aussies (Mark Anderson) on the line, which will add another element to the mix as well.”
Organisers and competitors alike continue to keep a close eye on weather forecasts as they try to best prepare for the weekend’s likely conditions with current predictions suggesting there will be a healthy breeze blowing during the latter part of the week, however there appears to be little wind expected this weekend until Sunday afternoon.
“At this stage it looks like it might be a bit of a slog before having to deal with a bit of swell at the end but it doesn’t matter too much what conditions are like on the day really, if you’ve got the right mindset then you’ll adapt accordingly.
“Anything can happen when it comes to the weather; a buster Westerly could suddenly come through and it could be great downwind conditions or current predictions could be correct and it will be a tough, flat paddle from start to finish – who knows?
“Local knowledge will help a bit if the wind does end up blowing and then current and lines become a factor but if it’s a hard slog, then it comes down to who is the fittest guy on the day!” said Euro Steel/Epic Kayaks’ McGregor.
In 2014 – his only appearance at the race previously – McGregor looked well set to clinch the event’s inaugural title as he led from start to 100 metres from the finish.
A stumbling at the final hurdle – getting through the colossal surf shortly before the finish line on the at La Mercy beach – however proved his undoing and handed Jasper Mocké (Euro Steel/Epic Kayaks) the win instead.
“2014 will definitely be playing on my mind as I prepare this week,” admits McGregor, who trains from his Salt Rock home base. “It can be flat and you’re in the lead the whole way but not even that can guarantee you a win as you could take a swim at the finish.”
“There is a bit of swell around at the moment so if there is some surf at the finish again this weekend then to be safe you’ll need to have enough of a lead that you don’t have to take a chance and can afford to take your time and go in on the back of a wave or wait on the sand bank for the set to go through.
“We’ll just have to wait and see how the weather pans out over the next couple of days and then try to plan accordingly.”
The organisers aim to stage the race in the best available downwind conditions and, as such, a two day window period has been set aside with a final decision on the race date, start time and 26km course – either Marine SLC to La Mercy or vice versa – to be made on Thursday morning.
While the majority of the focus will be on the singles racing, Durban’s affinity for doubles racing is likely to draw a healthy S2 field as well, an event that will run concurrently to the S1 clash.
Through the generous support of title sponsors FNB, the first 100 online entrants will receive a complimentary moisture management race garment while R40 000 will be up for grabs across all age and gender categories and all participants stand the chance of claiming one of the various sought-after Thule lucky draws prizes at the event’s prize giving.
Online entries, submitted via www.roag.co.za, close on Wednesday, 22 June with registration taking place at Marine SLC on Friday, 24 June from 17h00-19h00.
The 2016 FNB Durban Downwind takes place on 25 or 26 June, the final race date and venue will be announced on the series’ Facebook page on Thursday, 23 June.