The Cape of Storms
Right now the forecast says that the paddlers will have a gentle southeaster for next Saturday – but the only certain thing about a seven day forecast is that whatever it says now won’t be the conditions on the day!
The race has been held 17 times since inception in 1980 (it ran every two years until 2007) and in only 5 instances has the mighty “Cape of Storms” not lived up to its name. Usually there’s a strong southeaster – in the legendary 1984 race, the wind speed was measured at 47kt at Cape Point, paddlers were MEN back then – while on two occasions a strong northwester made the stretch from the Point to Fish Hoek a grinding misery.
The paddlers start in batches at Scarborough Beach on the Atlantic side of the Cape Peninsula.
Heading southeast towards Cape Point, some 25km away, you have to decide whether to take a clear outside line or to risk getting entangled in the endless beds of kelp. (Kelp is miserable stuff to get stuck in. As the waves move past it seems to rear up out of the water, clutching at the ski and wrapping itself around the rudder. As the next wave lifts you, you paddle frantically to try to make progress before the trough dumps you back into the tangled morass of vegetation.)
Skirting the kelp beds
Don’t pull the bunch
The secret to the Cape Point Challenge is that the race only starts at Cape Point itself. Until then, it’s all about energy management. The paddlers form long lines, slip-streaming each other into the wind and you must take advantage. Woe betide the inexperienced paddler who, finding his mates strangely lethargic, pulls the group for too long. (We did this in a double last year. We were strong; we were fast… and we pulled the group all the way to the Point. Then we found we were weak; we were slow – and the entire group overtook us as we hit the wall… The 25km to Fish Hoek was not fun.)
Riding the bunch - don't pull if you can avoid it!
If there’s any swell running, the ferocious Southwestern Reefs present the next obstacle as breakers form, seemingly at random, anywhere from 500m to 2km out to sea. The hotties at the front thread their way through (Hank McGregor was taken out one year near the point, nearly drowning in the process), but the weekend warriors are well advised to take the long route around.
The 4km section from Cape Maclear to Cape Point is a veritable maelstrom – the swell rolling in from the open Atlantic rebounds off the cliffs and the resulting confused chop is notorious for causing sea sickness among the paddlers.
Then it’s the Point itself. A rock just off the cliffs presents another opportunity for the elite paddlers: taking a line through the channel can give you a 50m advantage – provided of course that one of breakers that can close the channel out altogether doesn’t eat you!
Take a moment and look up!
Downwind for beer
For the weekend warriors (who have wisely taken a line outside the rock) it’s time to pause for an instant and look up at the magnificent spectacle – the brilliant white lighthouse gleaming in the early morning sun, perched half way up the 1000ft sheer cliff face. It’s quite breathtaking.
Then it’s all downhill. This is where the race starts; you’re heading downwind (ideally) towards Smitswinkel Bay, then on past Partridge Point and to Bakoven Rock which marks the start of the famous "Millers Run" – the quintessential Cape Town downwind route. The lighthouse on Roman Rock signals that you’ve only 5km to go to the finish (and the ice-cold beer) at Fish Hoek.
Heading for home - Sean Rice wins the 2010 race
First for three?
The eight previous winners racing this year are:
- 1982: Tony Scott (the oldest entrant at 64 years old)
- 1986: Garth Watters (that year Mark Lewin was 2nd, Johnny Woods 3rd)
- 1991: Ian Boyd
- 1993/1995: Paul Marais
- 1997: Pete Cole
- 2005/2009: Dawid Mocke
- 2008: Hank McGregor
- 2010: Sean Rice
The only paddler to have a realistic chance of being the first to three victories is Dawid Mocke. “I think it’s quite a tall order at this stage!” Mocke said. “There are one or two other guys I’d need to get past before I get there!”
(The other paddlers with two victories each are Oscar Chalupsky, Herman Chalupsky and the late Peter Creese.)
Mocke went on to explain why he loves this race so much: “It’s the only one-day race around that tests all your surfski skills. You need to be quite tough; you need to be fit; you’ve got to know how to use bunch tactics; you’re using your downwind skills – it’s a great race.”
“It’s clearly one of the toughest fields we’ve had for a while,” said race director (and previous winner) Pete Cole.
In the elite bunch there’s:
- Dawid Mocke
- Hank McGregor
- Sean Rice
- Jasper Mocke
- Tom Schilperoort
- Grant van der Walt
- Brandon van der Walt
- Barry Lewin
- Hadyn Smith (Aus/Dubai)
- Joep van Bakel (Netherlands)
Twenty women will be competing, eight in singles, the highest number ever. Alexa Cole is the clear favorite with Kim Brugman my pick for second place.
The junior singles race is likely to be dominated by Dominic Notten, Craig Flanagan and Shanti Stewart. Other up and coming juniors such as Kenny Rice (aka “Shrimp”, the younger brother of "Sean the Prawn”) and Nikki Notten are in doubles. Pete Cole as race director and the coach of many of the juniors has a rule that under-sixteens can only do the race in doubles.
Although the main focus of the race is on single skis, there's always a big doubles contigent, and this year is no different (37 men's doubles and 12 mixed crews so far).
Californian husband and wife team DeAnne and Patrick Hemmens will look to dominate the mixed doubles while Olympic hopeful Shaun Rubenstein is partnering Steve Farrell in the men's doubles
As the race’s popularity has grown, so too has it’s attractiveness to sponsors, and this year Dimension Data and Hansa joined Fenn to boost the prize purse to R130,000, the biggest yet for the event.
“Apart from the prize money,” said Pete Cole, “the race offers tremendous value to the fish ‘n chips paddlers. Medals, paddling shorts, bath towels, cell phone pouches all in the goodie bag, and then of course plenty of (Hansa) beer, food and live music at the finish.
“The after-party has become quite notorious over the years!” he added.
2008 Race Video
This was one of the flat years!