Friday evening’s Varsity College Surfski Challenge brought down the 2014 Varsity College Marine Surfski Series curtain in a cloud of drama and action as Addington Beach’s tricky surf even sprung a few surprises on the front end of Durban’s world class field.
With five race victories already under series defending champion Hank McGregor’s belt, four under regular top preformed Matt Bouman’s and paddlers’ best six results from the ten-leg series counting towards the final series standings, the was plenty still to paddle for four the Epic Kayaks duo in the series’ final encounter.
Some trying surf, a strong North Easterly wind and large swells meant it was going to be a testing affair throughout however few would have predicted how even some of the world’s top ocean paddlers would struggle at the start with even the likes of McGregor was sent tumbling out his boat and having to play catch up from the get go.
“I got smoked in the surf at the start so I had no idea where I was in the field. I just had to try work my way back up and pick one boat off at a time,” explained McGregor.
“Eventually I caught Grant with about 500 meters to go but I still had no idea where I was in the field, that’s how wild it was out there!” he added.
Remarkably McGregor’s effort had in fact seen him claw his way back up to second with only Bouman ahead of him.
Despite a charging McGregor in hot pursuit, a flawless performance from Bouman saw the Umhlanga powerhouse surge home first and, crucially, claim his fifth race victory of the series.
McGregor crossed the line in second place with Varsity College/Team Jeep’s van der Walt third which, for the first time in many years, saw the men’s series title shared by McGregor and Bouman.
“It’s a bit disappointing to have tied the series but it’s definitely better than a loss I guess,” said McGregor afterwards.
“Having won the series for quite a few years and then to have seen Hank dominate things for the last little while, it’s nice to be back on the top step of the podium,” added Bouman.
South Africa’s most decorated life saver however also gave praise to the younger members of the field taking part in the Varsity College South African Schools Surfski Championships.
“For us, the series is just a fantastic opportunity to get a top training session in each week and go head to head with some of the world’s top paddlers. You don’t get a much stronger field at even the international races but to peak week in and week out for the series races and then for the big internationals is impossible.
“The youngsters and seeing them grow and develop into the sport, now that’s what this is all about!
“The series is all about them and is great to see them all taking to the water, even in the tough conditions that we had tonight, and going after a national title!” said Bouman.
The women’s race was again won by Nikki Russell, her third race victory in a row, and handed the former East London resident a deserved second place in the series behind regular title winner Michelle Burn of Fenn/Team Jeep.
“Michelle is just such a phenomenal athlete and an example for so many of us girls so to finish second in the series behind her is so awesome and to have even had a sprint up the beach in one of the races was like a dream for me!,” said Russell.
“Tonight it was really mushy with the wind coming from the East and the swell from the West so in terms of conditions it was in fact probably my worst race,” she laughed.
“I got hammered at the start then t-boned someone just past the backline and then I got smashed again on my way in so I’m glad to be on dry land again. But it was awesome being out there again, as always. I just love paddling on the sea!
“It’s been awesome to get a few wins under the belt in these last the few races and now I’m really looking forward to the Bay Union Surfski Series in the winter and I’m hoping to paddle the Mauritius Classic as well as the Pete Marlin in East London which is part of the world series,” she added.
The final round of the series also doubled as the Varsity College SA Schools Surfski Championships and some of the country’s finest junior talent gathered to bravely take on the challenging conditions, and one another, in search of the prestigious national title.
St.Benedicts’ Jordan Clauson surged to his maiden surfski title as he powered home ahead of the Western Cape’s under-16 Mark Keeling (Fish Hoek High School), claiming his eighth race victory of the Marine Surfski Series and the under-18 series title as well.
“I actually thought it was beautiful out there,” chuckled Clauson afterwards. “There were runs going in both directions and it was just really awesome!
“The buoys weren’t quite where we thought they were going to be so I managed to edge ahead when there was a bit of confusion when we turned and then just went as hard as I could to the finish line.
“I took part in SA Schools as an under-16 last year for the first time so to come back this year as an under 18 and win it is amazing!
“I’ve been going really nicely throughout the series, having won 8 of the races and picking up one second as well, so it’s been a really good few months for me in the ski,” he added.
Under-18 girls defending champion Kirsten Flanagan overcame a disastrous start which saw her take two tiring and costly swims in the surf, to claw her way back and pick up her second title in the age group in as many years and her third consecutive title after clinching the under-16 girls’ top spot in 2012.
“I’m really stoked to have defended my title and to make it two in a row,” said Flanagan.
“It was a little disappointing that there weren’t a few more girls on the line but I’m still happy with my result.
“It was really tough out there, especially getting out through the surf. I got smoked twice on my way out and so had to work really hard after that but I didn’t panic, especially knowing it was quite a small field,” she added.
Flanagan was also the recipient of the coveted Varsity College bursary to the tertiary institution’s Sport Life programme valued at over R40000.
KZN’s Kyeta Purchase showed good determination to overcome the elements as she claimed the under-16 girls national title.
The Varsity College Marine Surfski Series wraps up with its final prize giving at Billy the Bums on Tuesday 18 March before the KZN surfski community turn their attention towards the Bay Union Surfski Series in the winter. More info can be found at www.marineseries.co.za
SUMMARY OF RESULTS – VARSITY COLLEGE SURFSKI CHALLENGE
RACE TEN OF THE VARSITY COLLEGE MARINE SURFSKI SERIES
1.Matt Bouman 38.58
2.Hank McGregor 40.17
3.Grant van der Walt 40.20
4.Dominic Notten 41.24
5.Daryl Bartho 42.41
1.Nikki Russell 52.05
2.Jenna Ward 53.34
3.Kirsten Flanagan (U18) 57.34
1.Wayne Wilson/Shaun Dias 42.44
2.Dwayne Powell/Roland Smith 43.23
3.Oliver Burn/Michelle Burn (Mixed) 44.34
1.Oliver Burn/Michelle Burn 44.34
1.Gareth Hazell 30.35
2.Sipho Luthuli 30.45
3.Duane Taylor 34.18
1.Sandile Shange/Trent Baird 29.50
2.Geoffrey Speirs/Nic Tingle 38.55
3.Mark Backman/Maurice Dobeyn 39.05
VARSITY COLLEGE SOUTH AFRICAN SCHOOLS SURFSKI CHAMPIONSHIPS
Under 18 Boys
1.Jordan Clauson 46.26
2.Mark Keeling (U16) 47.15
3.Keagan Kok 49.04
4.Brett Wilken (U16) 51.15
5.Bailey Michael de Fondaumiere (U16) 55.21
Under 18 Girls
1.Kirsten Flanagan 57.34
Under 16 Boys
1.Mark Keeling 47.15
2.Brett Wilken 51.15
3.Bailey Michael de Fondaumiere 55.21
Under 16 Girls
1.Kyeta Purchase 1:05.26
All images: Anthony Grote/ Gameplan Media