The KwaZulu-Natal North Coast is set to be the venue for another exciting edition of the Gara Dolphin Coast Challenge as surfski paddlers from around the province lick their lips at the prospect of two days of entertaining downwind paddling when the event takes place from 20-21 August.
The race sees paddlers tackle the Suncoast Pirates Lifesaving Club and Salt Rock on Saturday’s opening day before continuing their journey to Zinkwazi Beach on Sunday with moderate winds – primarily mainly from the south – predicted for the two days of racing.
The event will be contested in double skis with a large number of the province’s top ocean paddlers fighting it out for the KZN S2 Surfski Championships title with pre-race entries suggesting it is going to be a hotly contested bout between the richly talented elite contingent of the field.
Hank McGregor, the country’s most decorated paddler, will take on the challenge with training partner and good friend Lee Furby.
The pair struck up a relatively potent ‘social’ partnership that has produced a number of high profile wins both on the ocean and in the river of late.
Despite Euro Steel/Epic Kayak’s McGregor’s competitive pedigree, he and Furby – who recently went into business together, along with long-time paddling manufacturer Ken Holden, at race title sponsors Gara Paddles – are not seeking the top step of the podium as much as they are hoping to enjoy themselves over the two days.
Two of Durban’s premier surfski paddlers and surf lifesavers, Matt Bouman and Wade Krieger have confirmed their pairing for the clash and should provide ample competition to the McGregor/Furby duo throughout the two days of exhilarating downwind paddling.
Epic Kayaks’ Bouman, who has struck up a fierce but respectable rivalry with McGregor over the years, has played second fiddle in a number of the local series that the two have contested in recent years and with a strong paddler like Falcon Sports Travel’s Krieger to lean on, the pair will be a tough nut to crack over the weekend.
The 2016 Scottburgh to Brighton surfski race was a neck-and-neck race right to the finish with Bouman and Krieger sharing the title with fellow Durban stars Luke Nisbet and Gene Prato.
Based on their previous form, Fenn Kayak’s Nisbet and REVO Kayaks/Bay Union’s Prato pose another real threat to their fellow pretenders to the title and will be confident they can again be at the shape end of the race come the finish of the Dolphin Coast Challenge on Sunday.
The ladies race appears to be a one horse contest with the impressive duo of Nikki Russell and Jenna Ward taking on the challenge together.
The duo have been in marathon racing mode ahead of the ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships in September, however the transition from flat-water racing to ocean racing should be a seamless one for the experienced duo.
The mixed doubles category has too been sewn up before the craft arrive on the start line on Saturday with the Carbonology duo of Bailey de Fondaumiere and Hayley Nixon joining forces for clash.
The Gara Dolphin Coast Challenge takes place on Saturday 20 and Sunday 21 August.