I am super stoked that I finally have the opportunity to participate as a paddler in the FNB Durban Downwind. As the race organizer I have been unable to take part the last few years.
When I conceptualized the FN Durban Downwind, I wanted to create an event that would feed two of my great passions:
My passion for Downwind
I really love the element of flexibility that we have incorporated into the ethos of the event. The FNB Durban Downwind has a two-day window period to ensure that the paddlers are afforded the opportunity to compete in the best possible conditions. This is one of the only events, which form part of the World Series, where we have the opportunity to exercise this element of freedom to ensure that, of the two-day period, the paddlers compete on the best possible day.
The ‘down-winders’ of Durban come out in their numbers to take part in the FNB Durban Downwind to embrace the spectacular conditions that the KZN coast has to offer
We all love downwind paddling and this event strives to deliver exactly that, “awesome downwind”.
My passion for Durban
I am a born and bred “Durbanite”.
Durban has year-round warm water currents and is renowned for its wild oceans, making it possibly one of the most exciting and challenging places in the world to paddle. With its diverse sphere of sporting activities, Durban can safely be regarded as the place where “watermen” are born.
I wanted to bring international level racing to my hometown and last year, in 2015, the event found itself on the map of the Surfski World Series.
Having the opportunity to take part in the event, as a paddler, with all the other paddlers who share in this passion for downwind paddling is truly something special.
Our Durban paddlers as expected, dominated the line up for the 2016 race. We did however have a spiced-up mix of paddlers from Gauteng, who competed in the event and used the floor-space as the Gauteng Canoe Union (GCU) doubles champs, as well as some paddlers from the Eastern Cape, and some even further, all the way from Australia. A superb mix of paddlers to provide for some competitive racing.
The wind forecast for the weekend wasn’t great, but we tried our best to get the paddlers into some bumps. This meant a late Sunday afternoon start to make the most of what was on offer, about 10 knots of NE wind. The back line start kicked off without any issues and the field spread straight away.
I chose to pick my own course on a wider line than the other top paddlers and soon I was all on my own. It felt very lonely not having another boat in sight. This suited my fine though as I was banking on two things 1. I race better chasing the ocean rather than other paddlers, 2. I knew the coastline well and that I was straight on course for the finish.
The runs were very small but there was still a push. I never once put my paddle down, but was always chasing something. This kept my mind active and so much focus was needed to keep the boat on a bump.
I never saw another boat until 3km to go to the finish. Km after km I focused on one bump at a time, making sure I was using the sea to the best of its potential.
Hank McGregor had got away early in the race and stormed to his first win in the event, one he has wanted since his close miss in 2014. Hank was followed by Matthew Bouman, with Mark Anderson the last position on the podium.
My outside line meant I spent a little too much time out in the current, which allowed Mark Anderson and Gene Prato get through on my inside. Gene’s 4th place is testimony to his hard work and fitness. I managed to sneak past Luke Nesbit in the last km for a solid 5th place.
The top 10 was filled with class paddlers and a number of stand-outs performaces.
6th Luke Nesbit
7th Bailey De Fondaumiere – this is one hell of a paddle for this talented junior in a class Durban field. This kid is working so hard and has come so far since I travelled with him to worlds last year.
8th Jason Ekstrand
9th Steve Woods
10th Wade Krieger
In the ladies there was a titanic battle going on between Nicole Russell and Hayley Nixon, with the lead going back and forth between them during the race. Nicole proved to strong on a shallower line to take the win by just 30sec. Ladies paddling in Durban is certainly world class and it is exciting to see the sport producing such amazing local athletes.
I wouldn’t be able to organize such a cool event without the help of a great team. Thanks to all, you know who you are. You all allowed me the freedom to take part as a paddler, as well as put the event on.
A special mention to my super second, my amazing fiancé Carly. Carly really got behind me for this event, diving in to help wherever she could, to make the event and my race a success. I love you miss Carly and I am lucky to have you as the backbone of my support system.
A big thanks to my good mate Wade Krieger, who has been lending me his spare ski. I don’t have a boat right now and it has been great to have a decent boat under me the last couple of weeks, thanks Wade.
Next up is the Mauritius Ocean Classic, another of my favorite events for the year, not to be missed. I am lucky enough to be taking Carly with me to share in this year’s experience. Off to the Islands we go.
The events that lead to the date change of the annual Scottburgh to Brighton Surfski race just show the true heart of our sport is on the right track. Through a local whattapp group, paddlers simply got talking and the power of the community started to rally together.
The sentiments were all the same, “our sport is about downwind paddling and we need to have the race in downwind conditions”.
Some calls and the race organizers (south coast lifesaving association) managed to get the permits to run on a public holiday Thursday. A untraditional move for a somewhat traditional race (second oldest race in the world).
No matter the results, surfski paddling and specifically, downwind surfski paddling was the winner. This was all due to the strong community around our sport and the great people I like to call my peers. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you to all involved in retaining the true essence of why we paddle.
I wasn’t planning on doing the race. Its long, hard and not really my thing. The lure of downwind conditions was just too much and I did a last min team up with a good friend Lee Furby.
There were little nerves on the beach at the start, with more a vibe of joy, happy paddling about to do what they love. With not planning on doing the race my prep was less than ideal, I had done gym on Monday / Tuesday with my fiancé Carly and the body was stiff. It didn’t bother me with the excitement of what was to come.
We got away well through the surf, which can be very challenging at Scottburgh without any issues and set course for the halfway stop at Toti. Lee and I have paddled a lot together and found a nice rhythm quite quickly. I hurt in the first 10km with tight muscles but we were able to sit comfortably with the leaders Matthew Bouman and Wade Krieger for the first hour. The body loosened as the runs started to flow, the freedom of flying downwind warmed the heart.
I think my line was to shallow off the points with the top 2 boats getting away from us before Toti, unbeknown to us there was a titanic battle going on for line honors which came down to a sprint finish. The finish line officials couldn’t make out a winner and the race was called a tie. Matthew Bouman/Wade Krieger and Luke Nisbet/Gene Prato broke the old record for the race by 16 plus min in a new record time of 2h40.59. The old record had been set in 1998 so was about time we had conditions that the race deserves.
We had a solid paddle all round with no mistakes or issues. The feeling of pulling into some really great runs in the second half with a good mate hooting with joy behind you is something I will remember for a long time. Lee’s stoke for the sport only taking it up later in life is infectious, a bug I hope he passes on to many more. We gel really well in a boat together and came home in a very happy 3rd spot. The first 6 boats breaking the old record on the day.
I am looking forward to even more downwind paddling to come with the next event in Durban being the FNB Durban Downwind on the 25/26 of June. With the 2 day window for the event I hope we get similar conditions and can again share in what the sport is all about.
Where did all start? In 1957 a group of Pirates SLC member put out a notice to the other clubs in Durban, a challenge was made and a tribe born. In those days the surfski’s never had rudders or pedals. I love the simplicity of that time, lets just paddle to the next town and back.
Some 59 years later a like-minded bunch of nutter surfski paddlers lines up at Pirates to follow in the footsteps of the sports pioneers.
The race course is 27km and this the light SW wind on the day the second half of the paddle was going to be very tough, paddling half the way into the wind. As a surfski paddler I avoid paddling into the wind at all cost and actually haven’t done this race in a couple years.
I didn’t have a great start after playing it safe in the wave zone going out, getting to the turn at backline in around 10th. I was passing a lot of boats in the first km and settles into a line I felt was straight to the turn point.
Looking at the GPS speeds it was obvious we were heading straight into a hectic head current, surfing down a run at 13km/h. I chose to head in a little to get out the current which worked in the first half but in the latter part of the outbound leg there just weren’t the bumps needed to keep the speeds consistent.
I got to the turn can in 4th feeling good that I had some left in the tank to get me home into the wind. By this stage Hank McGregor had forged a big lead on the field, with Matthew Bouman and Wade Krieger in 2nd and 3rd. I probably should have been with Matt and Wade after a downwind let and my shallow line cost me a little time.
The return leg would be a mental battle. I really don’t like the headwind and to keep concentration would be imperative. I hooked into a double and just focused on keeping the stroke rate even, holding my form well and not looking the back of the boat in front. After 20min another faster double caught us with Luke Nesbit in tow. The current helped a big in keeping speeds up and the bunch came home together. Luke and I had a nice race off near the end, we came down the same wave and he outran me up the beach leaving me in 5th.
The result may not be the best but I take a lot of positives away. I would normally not even do this event as it doesn’t suit me and finishing physically strong at the end of a head wind is a break through of sorts. Its part of eliminating my weaknesses and challenging myself to be a more all round paddler. It is often the paddler that can adapt the best, who does well. This is a good confidence boost, as I haven’t ever paddled that well into the wind and I hope to add this into the bank of skills for the future.
As much as I was not looking forward to this race (I really hate headwind), it turned out to be one awesome paddle. The overcast sky and sunrise peaking through the clouds on the early start, was pure magic. The morning light shimmering off the water and feeling of pulling into a run, flying down its face, having the salt water splash in your face, makes one realize that they are truly living, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Next stop is the 5 Beaches on the south coast this weekend, which I won in a tight race with Wade last year. It’s one of my favorites and look forward to some wild coastline and good hospitality.
A small but very elite field line up behind the surf for the Winkle race this year. Some of Durban’s best surfski paddlers drove south to support the south coast races, which are always a stand out of the season with raw ocean conditions and great hospitality.
Everyone got through the surf without any issues for the back line start. The pace was set by double, Bailey De Fondaumiere and Steve Woods. They were using the race as a practice run for the Scottburgh to Brighton in a couple weeks time. The towering Matthew Bouman showed great for to stay with the double for the first section of the race.
I knew that double pace was to hot to handle for myself so I dropped off to work with Wade Krieger as the second bunch. We were still holding nice speeds and was happy with the work rate. We were closed chased by the in form Luke Nesbit and south coast local Gene Prato showing the depth of the field.
Turning at chain rocks for the longest section of the race, each paddler opted for their own line. I could see Matthew attack the double to get a small lead but this was short lived with Bailey/Steve countered back to be the first boat in at the finish. Watch out for them at the S-B this year.
Matthew was in a class of his own in the singles finishing with a great lead. He is a great athlete to watch race as he gives his all and often has drool plaster down his face out of pure effort, you can just see he love the hurt box.
Wade got away from me through the middle section of the race with a great grind in the milky flat conditions. I managed to keep the gap to just 100m or so, which I was really stoked with, in the process holding of some chasers to claim 3rd single.
I have been in a double recently (as I don’t own a single) and it was great to be back in the action in such a class field. I love racing and this result just motivates me to put in more effort ahead of the FNB Durban Downwind as well as the Mauritius Ocean Classic at the end of June.
Thanks to Wade Krieger for the loan of the boat for the race and to Winkle SLC for putting on a great event. The heart and soul in these small clubs is amazing and will be back on the coast for their next race for sure.
This weekends Pirates Umhlanga Pirates has been moved to Sunday and looking forward to another tough outing.
With my normal doubles partner away for the weekend (and I dont own a ski surfski right now) I needed to full my back seat with a powerhouse and somehow I managed to convince my gorgeous Fiancé to push me around the 12km in the ocean.
I love paddling with Carly, she just loves life and everything she does so much that it’s impossible not to have an absolute blast. Secondly she is super competitive which drives me to paddle and race even harder. We were in for a great day.
The weather played ball, no wind, tiny waves and really clean water, what more could you ask for? Durban really was showing off.
We had a terrible start, my fault. How many times have I done this and why would you mess it up now? Was going through my head as we passed a couple boats on the way out to the first turn can. Once in the open ocean I took a wider line to pick up a little more swell on the way to the Emgeni River. It worked and we packed up a couple more places, getting into a nice grind.
At the turn we met up with a much larger bunch of a couple of faster singles with some doubles hanging on for dear life. We moved through the bunch to get a good spot as boats fell off one at a time. Carly was a machine in the back helping us stay in a good position with the singles pulling us home.
The race had two surf turns near the end. We got through with not issues and came home 4th overall in the long course doubles and 1st Mixed. The smile on my partners face at the end was priceless, one of pure joy, pushing herself so hard and enjoying every second. It reminds me how much fun paddling really is and to take it all in. What a DAY!
A big thanks to Lion of Africa Insurance, this weeks race sponsor and series sponsor Bay Union for looking after the paddlers, making for a very memorable day. Durban winter is the best place in the world to paddle and I am looking forward to the Bay Union Dairy Doubles race next weekend.
All photos by Kevin Sawyer