Michele Eray – Set to Dominate EuroChallenge 2009

Friday, 01 May 2009 05:55 | Written by 
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Michele Eray is odds-on favourite to win EuroChallenge 2009 - and she's on a mission to boost participation by women in surf ski.  "I'll put your stickers on my boat," she said, "but only if you give the women more coverage!"

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South African Women's Champion 2009

Eray spent most of the last few years restricted to flat water paddling; she was part of a South African K4 team that made it to the finals at the Beijing Olympics.  Since coming back to surf ski however, she's won pretty much every race she's entered including:

  • The Man Dragon Run in Hong Kong 2008
  • The Dubai Shamaal 2008
  • Cape Point Challenge 2008
  • Nelson Mandela Bay Classic 2009
  • 2009 Pennypinchers South African Single Ski Championships at Plett

This last race gave her particular satisfaction as Plett is home for Eray.

It's always a great thing, to race in your hometown. The course was very difficult, as the SW wind kept picking up, so it felt like we were forever paddling into it, or had it side on. Unfortunately, the downwind section was in the lee of Robberg, so there weren't too many runs. However the Keurboom's river mouth made up for that. It has changed a lot in the past few months, and has become really challenging and tricky, as there is a massive sandbank there, which causes the waves to break really hard. The 9m deep channel has disappeared completely, and before you could paddle through there without even getting your hair wet! We do a weekly dice through the Mouth, so we are pretty used to it. The dice has been around since Daniel Conradie's days (my first coach), except back then, there was a beach, and we used to catch a wave in, and then run up the beach around the lifeguard tower and back out through the surf!


Sequence of photos shot by Mike Schilperoort at the Pennypinchers Plett Surfski SA Championships 

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Separate Start?

A perennial debate has been whether the female paddlers should start with the males - or have their own, separate start.  The reason for this that it is sometimes possible to hook onto a diamond of faster paddlers - and some women believe that this is unfair. 

At Plett there weren't enough female paddlers to justify a separate start - so the women started with the men.

The guys in Dubai are talking about having a separate start, and I think it is a fantastic idea. The media will be able to find the women in the masses, and the women will actually race each other and form their own bunches. It's a really exciting idea, and the Shamaal will have the numbers to support it.

Eray won the doubles championship race too with fellow paddler Carol Joyce.

The Plett to Nature's Valley is one of my favourite paddles, and even though we didn't have any wind, it is still very scenic. Fortunately, the swell was very small, as Nature's has a pretty hectic shore break, and that would have caused some tears! I paddled with Carol Joyce. I was really excited about paddling a double ski with Nikki this season (as we went so well in a K2), but she is pregnant of course. I am really pushing hard for more women in the sport, and one of the ways to do this is to get the Flatwater women involved.

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Racing, and more racing

Eray is part of the Epic Kayaks team and has access to their flat water boats as well as their surf skis.  She intends to make the most of her opportunities.

Having been restricted for the past few years due to Flatwater & Olympic commitments, I am playing "catch up". I want to race. I personally feel that Surf Ski paddling has a great cross over effect into Flatwater (ski gives you great strength) and into rivers. I recently won the Drak Challenge, and absolutely loved it. There are also a lot of really good women river paddlers out there, so racing is pretty exciting. Quite often, the women's race ends up being closer than the men's! I have come 2nd in the Fish more times than I would like to admit, and it really is my favourite race on the river scene! Flatwater this year, I am going for Marathon Champs again, which I am really excited about. And of course in Surf Ski, I am going to all the big races, including Mauritius and the Dubai Shamaal trip.

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Women's paddling

Eray is a passionate advocate for women's surf ski paddling - and reckons there has to be a multi-layered approach to promoting this aspect of the sport.

Firstly, the manufacturers need to push it. If you asked any business if they would like to double their sales, wouldn't they be keen? The manufacturers should be trying to get more women involved because then they would then be selling more boats.

Secondly, the women themselves should be pushing it. We should all be trying to get to as many races as possible, and to be as visible as possible. Sports like canoeing and life saving should prove to be a feeding ground of women who could move across to Surf Ski.

Thirdly, the media should start making more of an effort. Less bikini shoots, and more paddler interviews and race coverage for the women.

And lastly, the race organisers, they should be looking at ways of incorporating the women's race, helping the media to find the women paddlers (i.e. separate starts, different coloured vests, women's hotspots etc). A race is way more legitimate and exciting if there is a big field at the event, and full of quality paddlers too (both in the men's and women's fields).

Team Player

  • Surf Ski Team 2004
  • Flatwater Sprint Kayak Team 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008
  • Junior Flatwater Sprint Kayak Team 1995, 1996, 1997
  • Flatwater Marathon Team 2007
  • Olympic Kayak Team (K2 & K4) 2008

Other achievements include:

  • Discovery/Men's Health 2008 Series Singles Champion
  • Bronze medal at 2004 Surf Ski World Cup, singles and doubles
  • Bronze medal, Surf Ski event at 1996 World Life Saving Championships

And when she's not racing?

Eray runs an online coaching practise called MultiCoach . 

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With the boom in surf ski paddling, there are more and more people keen to improve their performance.  The best way to do that, said Eray, is to have set goals.  MultiCoach not only facilitates the process of goal setting and monitoring, but being online, can be used from anywhere in the world.  70% of Eray's clients are overseas.  Check it out at http://www.multicoach.co.za/ .

She's a biokineticist and had her own practise in Plett, which she had to give up when she commenced with her Olympic training.  (The ramifications of giving up all other forms of income - including racing - in order to be a member of the Olympic team would fill another article...) 

She's currently single and lives with a dog called Bongo.  His pedigree?  "Hmm, now there's a question!"

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EuroChallenge 2009

Race website: http://eurochallenge.es/

Check back for live commentary tomorrow, Saturday, 2 May 2009.  The race is scheduled to start at 11h00 local time.

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