Four Cape paddlers will loom large on the start line, fronted by world champ Dawid Mocke and his equally talented younger brother Jasper, Tom Schilperoort, and Sean Rice who is the legendary race's defending champion. [Editor: Rice is a doubtful starter after having been injured in a surfing accident on Monday. He was struck on the back of the head by a surfboard – and suffered concussion as a result.]
Sean Rice had an unfortunate encounter with a surfboard on Monday which left him with 3 stitches in the back of the head; a neck-brace and concussion.
On the start line at dawn at Scarborough beach they will eyeball a hugely powerful challenge from KwaZulu-Natal, spearheaded by new world marathon champ Hank McGregor, his Team Best 4 kayak Centre teammate brother Grant and Brandon van der Walt and the fit and focused Barry Lewin.
Richard "Chopper" Von Wildermann tops a strong contingent of Eastern Cape paddler entered for the event that also includes Aussie expat Hayden Smith, paddling out of Dubai nowadays and Dutch marathon star Joep van Bakel, and the race for the singles title promises to riveting.
Juniors and Women
Also expect the junior surfski stars to be right in the top ten mix throughout, as the prodigious talent of Dom Notten and Craig Flanagan have peppered the top of the results in the summer Discovery Sunglass Surfski Series.
The women's title race brings together a potent field of classy and fit female paddlers like Kim Brugmann and Bianca Beavitt, Eastern Cape standouts Kirsty Wessels, Kerry Louw and Angie Austen, all of whom will be desperate to try and stay with the fit and experienced Alexa Cole.
Olympic sprinter Sean Rubenstein will be amongst the starters, but in the double ski race with Steve Farrell. Given their current form they will play a part in the pacesetting and tactics at the front of the race, and while Rubenstein is quick to concede his lack of experience in surfski racing, the prevailing conditions may well play right into his hands.
Much of the race is moulded by the weather on the day, where mild conditions can make the circumnavigation of Cape Point a mesmerisingly stunning occasion, but if wind and waves collude the turn around Cape Point is often associated with huge surf and swells pounding the treacherous rocks and reefs.
It looks like conditions will be gentle on the day, much to the relief of the many less experienced paddlers in the new record field of singles and doubles.
Traditionally the race tactics are dividing neatly into two sections at the turn around Cape Point. From the start at Scarborough, on the Atlantic side of the Cape Peninsula past the notorious South Western reefs to the rough waters off Cape Maclear and on to Cape Point, the exact halfway point of the race.
(This beautiful shot of Cape Point was taken by Jean Tresfon
This is where the title race usually starts, with the elite stars cautiously conserving their energy until this point. The actually turn at Cape Point offers a major gamble where the inside line through the rocks can produce a thirty second lead that splits up the gaggle of racing stars at the front, but at considerable risk.
After the point the character of the race changes considerably, and it looks like weather conditions will provide the paddlers with decent downwind runs for the last 25km to Fish Hoek past Buffels Bay, Smitwinkels Bay, to Bakoven, where the popular Millers Run route takes the paddlers to the finish at Fish Hoek beach.
“It’s the only one-day race around that tests all your surfski skills," said former winner and local series champ Dawid Mockè. "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.”
International flavour added to the Fenn Cape Point pot
Cape Town – Two respected international paddlers have been added to the stellar starting line-up for the Fenn Cape Point Challenge, presented by Hansa and DiData, on Saturday, adding further spice to what us already being billed as the hottest surfski showdown of the year.
Joep van Bakel of the Netherlands and Australian Hayden Smith both bring international racing pedigrees to the event, which looks set to be held in paddler-friendly mild conditions, easing the burden on their lack of experience in the unique seas around Cape Point.
Van Bakel is well known for his efforts in flatwater marathon racing, a discipline in which he achieved a commendable eleventh place finish at the world championships in Singapore earlier this year. However the talented paddler has had a great season in Europe in a surfski as well.
“Previously I’ve been more of a marathon paddler and I did white water paddling as a junior but this year I’ve spent a lot more time in a ski and things have been going nicely for me,” said van Bakel, who made an impression on the local paddlers in the final race of the summer Discovery Sunglass Hut Surfski series.
“This was my first year I took surfski competitively and I was very happy with how everything went,” he added. “I came third in Norway behind Sean (Rice) and Dawid (Mocke) and I had some good results all around Europe so I’m feeling good at the moment.”
Joep van Bakel
The Fenn Cape Point Challenge is a true test of every aspect of surfski paddling and van Bakel will have some aspects of his ability in the two oceans of the Cape tested on Saturday. The Dutch paddler is however determined to give it his all and soak up as much as he can from the wealth of talent he will be surrounded by.
“I’m still pretty new to the sport so I’ll go out there and try learn as much as I possibly can this weekend,” said van Bakel.
“I back myself to keep up with the locals guys on the flat water or going upwind but it will be extremely difficult to keep up with the top South African guys on the downwind leg.”
“I really want to try learn how to catch runs but I will try my best to make sure I’m not too far behind the leader,” he added.
World renowned surfski ace Dawid Mocke was full of praise for both van Bakel and Smith and sent out a clear warning to the rest of the field ahead of the big race on Saturday.
“I had to work hard to keep Joep (van Bakel) behind me in Norway and Hayden (Smith) will be a real dark horse to look out for this weekend,” warned Mocke.
“The local guys would do well not to underestimate what these guys are capable of,” he added.
The Fenn Cape Point Challenge brought to you by Hansa and Di Data takes place from Scarborough to Fish Hoek on Saturday 17 December. More info can be found at www.capepointchallenge.com