DBN World Cup: McGregor says fifteen paddlers in with a chance

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Durban - Hank McGregor hit the nail on the head when he said there are at least fifteen paddlers who were capable of winning today (Sunday's) Durban Surf Ski World Cup. Apart from the names that make up the top ten of the current World Series rankings, there are a number of class paddlers capable of sneaking to register a shock victory.

Tommy Woodriff, Mark Anderson, Tim Jacobs, Jezza Cotter
Aussies at today's GP Relay (Pic: Rob Mousley)

While the likes of locals McGregor, Oscar Chalupsky, Dawid Mocke, Bevan Manson, and Australians Tim Jacobs, Tommy Woodriff, Jeremy Cotter and Dean Gardiner are being touted as 2008 champs, one of Durban's surf lifesaving sons now paddling in Aussie colours is poised to upset the apple cart.

View from the Durban Undersea Club
Dawn - from the World Cup start venue (Pic: Rob Mousley)

Matthew Bouman was a stalwart of the local surf ski racings scene before relocating to Australia, where he has kept himself on good shape. Sneaking discreetly back into his old hometown, Bouman is sure to figure in the race, particularly with the forecast weather due to follow the cold front expected to hit KwaZulu-Natal this weekend.

The massive surf lifesaving iron-man showed in last years race that the combination of his accumulated experience, strength and speed make him a factor to be reckoned with in big downwind conditions, which will dominate today's 33km race from Vetch's Pier to Westbrook beach outside Tongaat.

Another paddler with the credentials to post a top dark horse result is Durban youngster Clint Pretorius. "Lightie" as he is popularly known stunned the surf ski world by winning the gruelling 58km Epic Molokai Challenge on his first attempt in 2006.

Pretorius has shown during the current winter Discovery men's Health Surf Ski Series that he is not the fastest flatwater surf ski paddler on the circuit, but that he excels in rougher downwind conditions.

"In a decent downwind I enjoy sprinting to get onto the runs, and then linking up the runs," said Pretorius. "That's definitely my strength."

Katie Pocock, Pablo Fernandez, Alexa Cole at Grand Prix, Durban World Cup 2008
Katie Pocock (stunning livery!), Pablo Ferndandez (Spain) with Alexa Cole (Pic: Rob Mousley)


The northerly route from Vetch' Pier will also place a lot of pressure on each individual paddler's navigational ability, and their reliance on the Garmin GPS devices that have become essentials competitive tools.

From the start just south of Ushaka Marine World the field will be required to paddle straight out to sea for one kilometer before turning around a buoy and heading north, where they will be able to capitalise on the expected strong swells driven by the fifteen knot South Westerly winds.

The leg across Durban Bay to Umhlanga will be critical as it will be raced at breakneck speed. The South Westerly winds will tend to push the paddlers into the bay, and their ability to plot a course that takes the straightest line across the Bay may well sort out the contenders from the other elite paddlers by the time they pass the Umhlanga lighthouse.

Lewis Laughlin, Daryl Bartho in Durban, 2008
Lewis Laughlin (Tahiti) with Daryl Bartho (Pic: Rob Mousley)


The second half of the course however may well favour those with local knowledge as the coast to Westbrook beach is laced with current and counter currents. The field can be expected to fan out over a wide area here as each paddler seeks northerly currents to aid their sprint into Westbrook beach.

"The currents are all over the show there," said Oscar Chalupsky. "The Benguela Current pops and can slow you right down, and if you move a hundred meters in or out you can be out of the current. With a big swell running it will be hard to see the other paddlers around you so you won't be able to get an idea of you are going faster or slower than they are."

That's where the GPS devices become invaluable. Apart from being able to lead the paddlers to pre-determined points in the ocean, they also give a very accurate reading of the real speed across the water, and will quickly show if an oncoming current is encountered.

Herman and Oscar Chalupsky, Bevan Manson
Team Epic... (Pic: Rob Mousley)


The finish at Westbrook may also prove to be the final roll of the dice. While the start at Vetch's pier will; protect the less experienced paddlers from any treacherous surf, Westbrook in a strong South Westerly is guaranteed to have a big backline breaking as well as a shore break on the sandbar.

In the heat of a sprint to the finish it will be very easy for even the most skilled paddler to make a mistake and take a swim that decides the outcome of the Durban Surf Ski World Cup, or even the World Series.....

Spectators keen to follow the race can gather at the Durban Underwater Club where a big screen will relay the progress of the front runners from GPS plots of the top forty craft.

The finish at Westbrook beach is also to guarantee spectators with action aplenty as the tired paddlers try to negotiate the surf on their return to the beach finish.

The race starts with a reverse order start at Vetch's Pier at 8am, and the leader are expected at Westbrook beach at around 10:15 am

Tommy Woodriff
Tommy Woodriff (Aus) (Pic: Rob Mousley)


Pics from the Grand Prix Relay race held today at the Durban Undersea Club.


Click here for Dawid Mocke's post-relay-race comments

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Published in Africa

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