Countdown to the Southern Shamaal PE2EL Challenge

Saturday, 20 November 2010 17:41 | Written by  Murray Williams
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Southern Shamaal PE2EL Challenge Southern Shamaal PE2EL Challenge Credits: Owen Middleton,

Standby for the toughest surfski race in the world … the Southern Shamaal, presented by Epic Kayaks - 21 days and counting!

250km in 4 Days

The world's longest and toughest ocean paddle race is the legendary 250km PE to EL race held in the Eastern Cape of South Africa over the past 30yrs.

In 25 days the talk will be over.

Southern Shamaal PE2EL Challenge

Ready or not, December 9 will be E-Day – “E” for an epic adventure for more than 100 paddlers, every one of them hungry for a finisher's medal.

We hooked up with Race Organiser, Anton Erasmus.

OwenM_081209_PE-EL4 030

Anton Erasmus - guiding his flock home - 2008

“We have over 100 entrants, so we’re very chuffed,” he reported.

And this year, 2010, it’s a straight race from start to finish - all entrants will be completing the entire route.

Team Events

In 2008, with the backing and support of Epic Kayaks, the Southern Shamaal saw the introduction of International Teams which was an instant success and was won convincingly by an Australian team lead by Dean Gardiner.

In 2009 the Southern Shamaal offered a ‘Teams only, Downwind only’ edition of the event, being won by the South African team led by Barry Lewin.

2010 – Traditional Solo Event

The PE2EL Challenge has been run every two years and it was agreed to leave the solo traditions of the original race untouched with future team events running on alternative years. So 2010 will see the Southern Shamaal run as a traditional ‘Challenge’ event with singles & doubles only.

“We’re really chuffed with the field lined up. We have lots of first-time paddlers on the water – which we haven’t had for ages.

OwenM_081209_PE-EL4 033

Jamie Hamlin - jubilation at the finish

“Many have already participated in the Team Relay – so they’ve realised that the challenge is do-able.”

Anton gave his assessment of conditions:

“Woody Cape hasn’t stood up and klapped us for years.

“The race is a week after the New Moon, so there’s no big lunar swell, and no large tidal shift (the difference between high tide and low tide).

“The difference between low and high tide is going to be 1.2 metres, whereas at full moon it’s two metres.

“Around the 20th of December, eight days after the race has finished, you get monster surf normally, with the summer solstice, so that pulls in big waves.

“So, calendar-wise, it’s worked out well with the lunar calendar,” he told

Bianca Beavitt

Bianca Beavitt - one of the few women paddlers to complete the race - 2008


But before anyone is lulled into a false sense of comfort, he added: “But I can’t predict what the wind’s going to do.

“If I look back to past races, we typically have two days of West, one day of iffy, variable wind and one day of East.”

Anton promised he wouldn’t expect the impossible of paddlers.

“If the headwind is in excess of 14 knots, we’ll do an out and back. If it’s really strong, then we turn the day completely – starting at the finish and racing back to the normal start. But that’s highly unlikely.


“But the East normally comes up at 9-10 in the morning. Sunrise is at 4.59am, so we can start each day long before that east really comes through.

“And you don’t want to start a race in the afternoon, you don’t want to have to search for people in the dark …”

What does that mean for those who hope to scrape home within the time-limits every day?

“If a guy’s struggling really badly, then we’re going to pull them off the water,” Anton said.

That cut-off will be calculated backwards based on around 120% of the winner’s time.


Accidents will happen - the result of a collision in the surf - 2008

Southern Shamaal PE2EL Challenge

The physio's are a vital part of the race organisation

“If you have someone who’s going to struggle to finish every day, then it’s only going to get worse,” Anton said.

But he had full faith in paddlers’ abilities, and common sense.

“The guys who are doing it are sensible about their abilities,” Anton said.

Overseas Participation

International competitors have been taking part in the PE EL Challenge for over 20 yrs. Entrants from Australia, America, New Zealand and the United Kingdom have all given it a go.

Most notable was Dan Mathews from the USA. He was 8 times USA iron man champ and 2 times USA Ski champ.

Dan Matthews

Dan Matthews

Another notable was the Oz Champ surf lifesaving champ Ken Vidler. Despite some real battles & honest attempts not since the race began in 1972 has a non South African won the solo race.

Ken Vidler 1977

Ken Vidler 1977 - note the flat blades!

Gareth Lucas

Gareth Lucas (UK) with a peculiar appendage - the 1976 UK team comprised 3 men and 2 women.  

Is that about to change?

After the Oz success in the team event – Dubai based Australian Haydon Smith, is coming to the race, ready to give it his best. He is the current Dubai Surf Ski & Kayak Club Champion and finished a credible seventh in the Mauritius Ocean Classic.  Haydon will be a top seed, along with Scott Rutherford, Peter Cole and Bevan Manson.

Tom Schilperoort and Haydon Smith

Island Shamaal, Mauritius - Tom Schilperoort (L) and Haydon Smith sprint to the finish

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