The two-day Gara Dolphin Coast Challenge will pit the provinces best doubles surfski teams against each other over 43km between Suncoast Pirates SLC and Salt Rock on the North Coast of KZN this weekend.
Saturday’s first stage will see paddlers tackle the ocean between Pirates on Durban’s North Beach and Umdloti further north over 21km while Sunday’s second day will take paddlers from Umdloti to Salt Rock – a distance of 22km.
Much to the frustration of the die-hard downwind fans the wind that was initially predicted has moved off, however with the shortening of the race the weather conditions won’t be too influential and the 43km will be manageable in the mild winds predicted.
KwaZulu-Natal currently boats some of surfski paddling’s most prodigious talent and they will all being fighting it out for the KZN Doubles title this weekend.
Euro Steel’s Hank McGregor has won the previous two editions of the race with friend and business partner Lee Furby. This year though the surfski ace will team up with his marathon K2 partner Andy Birkett for the event.
Birkett, who has relocated to Durban, has become a more and more common sight in a surfski and the pair are currently in the process of preparing for the ICF Canoe Marathon World Championships in Portugal early next month.
There is no doubt that the other big guns of KZN surfski paddling will be out to unseat McGregor with Matt Bouman and Wade Krieger often pairing up as well as Luke Nisbet and Gene Prato who do a fair amount of ocean paddling together.
The ladies field is more than likely going to be stacked with quality as current ICF Ocean Racing World Champion Hayley Nixon teams up with her K2 marathon partner Christie Mackenzie for the race.
There will be many other top paddlers on the start line in the ladies race with Jenna Ward, current junior girls surfski world champion Sabina Lawrie, Donna Winter, Nikki Birkett and a number of other paddlers eyeing a Dolphin Coast title.
With Bridgitte Hartley heading to Portugal for the ICF Sprint Canoe World Championships next week she might not be on the start line this weekend.
With mild conditions expected the change in distance has given many more inexperienced surfski paddlers the chance to get a significant race under their belts. Changing the distance was done with the intention of attracting more paddlers to the event and with entries better than last year the organisers feel that they have achieved their goal.