Words: Kyle Gilham | Photo: Anthony Grote
Durban – Durban’s reputation as a global surfski mecca will be strengthened on Saturday 21 and Sunday 22 June 2014 as the nation’s best ocean paddlers do battle for national titles in the newly launched FNB Mazars Durban Downwind surfski race.
The brand new event will not only become the permanent home of both the KZN and Gauteng Surfski Champs annually, but this year’s opening edition also doubles as the 2014 South African Surfski Championships.
Starting at Marine Surf Lifesaving Club at Durban’s Addington Beach, paddlers head 26km either north to La Mercy or south to Amanzimtoti – depending on the wind direction. Under the watchful eye of race director Barry Lewin, the brand new race seeks to become KwaZulu-Natal’s premier downwind surfski event.
“The depth of talent in South Africa when it comes to surfski paddlers is incredible, so every year the racing at SA Champs is really tight and I’m sure it will be again this year,” said one of the world’s greatest paddlers of all time, Hank McGregor.
“It’s great to have SA Champs back here in my hometown this year. We haven’t had a top class downwind event in Durban for a while and it’s great to see big-name sponsors like First National Bank (FNB) and Mazars getting on board!" added the Epic Kayaks/ Team Jeep ace.
Despite dominating proceedings in his home town in recent years, McGregor regularly enjoys stiff opposition from Epic Kayak’s Matthew Bouman as well as regular training partner Grant van der Walt (Epic Kayaks/Team Jeep) and McGregor believes the pair will certainly be in with a shout at this year’s nationals.
“There are also guys like Barry Lewin, Adam and Luke Nisbet and the Bartho brothers (Daryl and Brett) who I’m sure will be hoping to challenge for a top ten finish or better,” said McGregor.
“Who knows, if the conditions get up and the wind blows then the likes of my dad (Lee McGregor) and Oscar and Herman Chalupsky may even become a factor too! They’ve probably done more runs along this stretch of coast than rest of us all put together!”
KZN’s top male competitors won’t be expecting home ground advantage to count for much though, especially as a world class Western Cape team gathers in and around Fish Hoek and surrounds.
Current World Surfski Champ Sean Rice (Think Kayaks) will lead a very strong Western Cape contingent which includes the likes of Dawid Mocké (Fenn Kayaks), Kenny Rice (Think Kayaks) and Tom Schilperoort while Bevan Manson will look to lead the Eastern Cape’s charge.
Rice, the defending national champ as well, will be eager to retain the title he clinched in East London last year although McGregor is just as ready to make the title his own.
“As newcomers to the world of surfski, we are relishing the opportunity to be involved with the Durban Downwind event. FNB’s ongoing strategy is to support local and community events that show the potential to grow and this sponsorship affirms our dedication to providing an experience that is beyond expectation, through a sport that continues to grow in popularity as one of the key activities on the KZN and South African sporting calendar”, said Preggie Pillay, FNB KZN Provincial Head.
Mazars, title sponsor of last year’s edition of the national surfski champs, are back again in 2014 and are also eager to see the Durban Downwind serve as the perfect stage for the widely anticipated clash of the country’s best surfski paddlers.
“Professional services firm Mazars is proud to again be a headline sponsor of the SA Surfski Champs having first sponsored the event held in East London in 2013,” said Mazars Durban Managing Director, Dave Bates.
“The firm shares the paddling community’s ethos of technical excellence, courage and dedication and is excited to be associated with an annual event which attracts SA’s paddling elite who have gone on to proudly fly the SA flag in international competition as well!
“Mazars wishes all the participants of the 2014 FNB Mazars Durban Downwind the very best and may the waves carry you to success,” he added.
The 2014 FNB Mazars Durban Downwind, which doubles as the 2014 SA Surfski Championships, takes place on Saturday 21 and Sunday 22 June. The race starts at Marine Surf Lifesaving Club at Addington Beach, Durban and heads 26km north to La Mercy or south to Amanzimtoti depending on the wind direction. More info can be found at www.durbandownwind.co.za