Southern Hemisphere Rules – View from the sidelines at EuroChallenge ** Video **

Wednesday, 13 May 2009 04:05 | Written by  Gavin Kretzschmar
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"It's nerves I reckon," twanged Aussie Jeremy Cotter - arguably the world's best and most in-form surfski paddler.


We were driving in blazing Spanish sun to the start of the inaugural EuroChallenge surfski race. With both our tummies burbling and heaving away, we sat in silence as the road twisted through olive grove terraces down to the sea.  Ten minutes later I checked in the rear view mirror and with a thin film of sweat beginning to cover his face Jeremy was looking either increasingly ill or very nervous.  "Yeah", I said hopefully, "I reckon we will be fine after the first can".

Strongest Field

With the start only an hour a way I could tell from his eyes that he was trying to keep his head strong for the battle up front.  No wonder: with the strongest surfski field ever assembled in Europe, the South Africans were circling. Jeremy was the only paddler with a realistic chance of chance of holding them off. As for me, it was simply a case of trying to survive the race after 4 years of not having sat in a boat. The Scottish highlands, North Sea and spec surfskis are not good prep for a 25km race - let alone with a spiteful Spanish lurghy...


By comparison, it was great to see my ex-countrymen housemates in such rampant form. Just as I remembered them, the South Africans were funny, irreverent, strong and in rude health.  It was a really well balanced team out to prove an antipodean point. The enthusiasm of the younger guys Tom Schilperoort and Sean Rice balanced the established old boys of Dawid Mocke and Mathew Bouman. The banter in our beautiful Hort de Gloria base was cutting, funny and loaded - but the measured and competitive looks were always there.  


The reason these guys were in Europe was simple; they all wanted to podium in the newest race in the old world - wanted to take honours in Europe's biggest ever surfski Championship.  In silence Jeremy and I got out of the car and started to prepare our skis... 50 minutes to go and we needed the clubhouse, badly.

Le Mans Start

Go! At one of the few Le Mans starts remaining in the sport I took it easy - and just watched the bun fight. With a beautifully calm Mediterranean and a glassy start, the best European sprinters took off but were surprisingly easily contained by the surfski paddlers.


The SA boys were all over it, easily holding the ailing Aussie and the lone Spanish legend Manuel Busto.  After about 2 km Jeremy's challenge was over - he started retching as soon as his pulse rate climbed.  After the first can (back in the middle of the field) I began my own Spanish shark chumming research programme while Jeremy paddled gently back to the start.


We don't get Sun that often in Edinburgh, so, even with disappointing results from the shark research - I decided to tap over to the last turning point. There I sat in the lee of the seagull sanctuary, waiting for the top boys to come steaming through.  They were awesome - high cadence saw Dawid lead Matt.  Matt's predatory loping style enabled him to adjust Dawid's mistake of taking the lee line and take a wider windward loop to pick up some runs, close on Dawid and take the win. The final Euro Challenge top five score: RSA 4, Spain 1, Aussies 0.


Europeans Hungry Enough?

For the Europeans I would say revenge is some way off.  As someone who now splits his year between Scotland and South of France I just do not see the same hunger in their eyes - the same will to win as I did over breakfast every morning at the Hort de Gloria farmhouse. South Africans and Aussies seem to have found the sport that they are the best in the world at and I don't see them letting go.


Video by Dave Blow of VOTwo -

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