Words & Photos: Jacques Marais



One amazing winter festival. Five extreme sporting events. Tens of thousands of athletes. And literally split seconds within which to grab all the action … shooting the annual Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival proved an excellent (and extended) test for my new Sony cameras.



The BIG 5 Challenge at the Oyster Fest is fast becoming a multi-sport acid test for athletes keen to prove their prowess over the full gamut of endurance sporting events. Competitors must do a minimum of five events out of a potential seven races (should you account for the Half- and Full Forest Marathon distances as two separate events, that is).


The action kicks off with the Rotary Pick n Pay Mountain Bike Challenge and Road Cycle (both 80 km), and then move to the scenic Featherbed Nature Reserve for the Salomon Featherbed Trail Run, presented by GU. Next up is the Totalsports Xterra, presented by Rehidrat, held at Pezula, before the final challenge of either the 21 km or 42 km Rotary Forest Marathon.


The road cycle can also be replaced with the lagoon paddle, allowing athletes to play to their strengths in amassing points based on their finishing time in relation to that of the winner in each event. All the action takes place over a period of one week, with limited recovery time in-between each of these energy-sapping events.


Shooting each of these races makes for fantastic photographic fun, but also brings with it a huge amount of running around, often on rugged trails and in the pouring rain. My Sony A99-SLTs proved to be the perfect full-frame tools with which to capture the action, and handled the rain, mud, and trails admirably.


The lack of high-speed flash transceivers meant I could not sync at high shutter speeds, and I thus worked with infra-red wireless Flash. Fortunately though, I’ve discovered that Phottix manufactures excellent radio triggers, and can’t wait to have my four units delivered by early next week.


The Exmor CMOS Sensors really come into their own in the low and murky forest light, and even on the in-camera processed JPGs I could shoot up to 3,200 ISO without marked grain or edge definition loss. (This came as no surprise though, as it is after all Sony who supplies brands such as Nikon with their sensors for full-frame models such as the D800).


For more information on the BIG 5 Challenge – presented by the event organisers Magnetic South – check out or


Pick n Pay Weekend Argus Rotary Knysna Cycle tour - 80 km MTB

Raaht ... so it is that time of the year when you can't get parking in Knysna, and the restauranteurs and guest house owners are rubbing their hands in glee ... in other words, the Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival is happening, big time!
So, here I am, rabbiting around the forests and plantations as one does on any given race day, pointing the A99-SLTs at all and sundry.


My brief was to shoot the BIG 5 athletes specifically, but when you have an itchy shutter finger, I suppose the odd shot of Kevin Evans or Matthys Beukes might end up in the fray. Long day, but good day, with the road cycling event looming early early tomorrow morning. Time to go and charge those Sony batteries, I suppose ...


Pick n Pay Weekend Argus Rotary Knysna Cycle tour - 80 km Road Race

Tarmac is pretty unfamiliar territory for me, but as the annual road cycle made up part of the Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival's BIG 5 event, that's where I headed with my Sonys, albeit from the back of a motor cycle for a change. The (shortened) 80 km road race blasted from Knysna to Wilderness and back along the N2, and a surprising array of familiar faces popped up in my viewfinder, mostly from Xterra, triathlon or adventure racing days.


The status as far as the BIG 5 Challenge remains unchanged, with Dan Hugo (1,935 points), Kent Horner (1,905 points) and Stuart Marais (1,901 points) argy-bargying at the sharp end of the Men's Field. Carla van Huyssteen (1,742 points), Marilyn Fisher (1,706 points) and Nicola Gilliomee (1,692 points) are holding sway in the Women's category, with Thea-Mari van der Sandt just off the pace in fourth.



Salomon Featherbed Trail Run presented by GU

I'm biased, so sue me. The Salomon Featherbed Trail Run, presented by GU, is without a doubt my favourite event at the annual Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival.


Nothing quite matches up to it as far as scenery, natural grandeur, and exhilaration go. Imagine a ferry ride across the estuary at dawn, with a monster climb up the Knysna Heads, followed by a tumultuous ridge descent and a blast to the finish line across a rusted bridge. It does not get much more exhilarating than that, except if you now imagine experiencing this THREE times in a single day.


The dawn run saw a duel to the near-death between Thabang Elias Madiba and Stuart Marais, with the latter proving unbeatable over the 15 km Coelecanth route, shattering his own record with a time of 55 min 36 sec to beat Madiba by more than a minute. Marais' blitzkrieg, however, lasted a mere three hours before the second running of Kane Reilly. The young Salomon athlete went out hard and fast from the start, completely dropping the field of the 13h00 run as he powered his way along the fynbos ridges high above the scenic Knysna estuary. With a kilometre to go it became clear that the young speedster had a fantastic chance to shatter the Featherbed record for the second time in one day, and a jubilant crowd cheered him across the finish line. His time? An absolutely astounding 54 min 39sec, highlighting the class and skill of an athlete who certainly now rates as one of SA's top trail runners.


The two women's races were dominated by Candice Davison and Carla van Huyssteen, with both athletes running well clear of their closest competitors, and van Huyssteen scorching home in 1 hr 05 min 29 sec for the fastest time of the day. Right now, the Featherbed Nature Reserve is lit up as hundreds of athletes negotiate the trail with the help of their head torches, but it is highly unlikely that any of the day’s records will fall in the dark and slippery conditions out there. Kudos to Magnetic South for once again presenting a world-class event with the assistance of two of South Africa's key sporting brands - Salomon and GU. It is assistance like this that has seen the sport of trail running booming over the past ten years. A very special mention must also go to the Featherbed Company, which once a year allows the organisers to present this exhilarating event within its pristine protected area.


Totalsports Xterra, presented by Rehidrat

This is the speed readers' condensed version of this year's Knysna Oyster Festival Totalsports Xterra, presented by Rehidrat. It happened fast, damn fast, which is why I'm doing a condensed version of the race.


Dan Hugo pulled out with an injury niggle - damn shame. Kevan Evans took his running to another level, taking it down to the wire against a seemingly indomitable Stuart Marais, right now arguably the hottest property on the multi-sport block. The ding-dong battle swung this way and that on the run-bike-run between these two ace athletes, with Evans dominating on the bike, and Marais on his feet. In the end, the Man with the Moustache wiped out a 3 minutes lead off the bike to beat Evans home by just on a minute.


The same script unfolded for the women, with will-o-the-wisp Carla van Huyssteen reeling in the lead built up by Candice Neethling on the bike during the final 7 km run leg. In short, it was all pretty damn awesome, and with just one event in the BIG 5 Challenge to come, it seems as if Marais and van Huyssteen will be walking away with the spoils.


Pick n Pay Cape Times Knysna Forest Marathon

The final showdown in the annual KNYSNA Oyster Festival BIG 5 Challenge came courtesy of the stalwart Forest Marathon, with competitors able to choose between the half- or full distances. There were no huge surprises (we won't mention that somehow the marathon ended up being an ultra this year), with the BIG 5 standings very much remaining as is. Carla van Huyssteen proved too strong to dethrone in the Women's field, and led home Marilyn Fisher and Candice Davison. Despite serious wind resistance from the new moustache, Stuart Marais returned to the top of the podium again this year, flanked by the ever-green Kent Horner and a resurgent Matt Trautman. Pity to not see Dan Hugo there, but we know he will be back too.


I'm but a small cog in the big machine that coordinated this fantastic competition, but as always it was a pleasure to work with Mark Collins and Christine Collins of Magnetic South. They (and their staff) are certainly in a class of their own as far as events of this nature go. A huge shout out to the competitors, too - you are all officially hard core!