South African surfski paddlers look set to challenge for numerous medals at the second edition of the ICF Ocean Racing World Championships in Tahiti this weekend, fronted by the defending men’s champion Shaun Rice and the six times marathon world champion Hank McGregor.
Rice managed to hold off a tough field at the McCarthy Toyota Durban King of the Bay race that served as the trial race for the team that was going to the World Championships and with that performance as well as some good consistent showings throughout the World Surfski Series the Think Kayaks star is looking a strong contender to defend the crown he won in Portugal in 2013.
“I’m super amped for Surfski Worlds,” an excited Rice posted on social media recently. “I managed to get out on the race course earlier today (Wednesday) and it was great!
“Paddled with about two thirds of the wind that we are expecting for the race and the runs were solid.”
McGregor, who is the most decorated paddler in South African history, was at the first edition of the Ocean Racing World Championships and with a number of national and regional crowns under his belt a World Championship title would cap off another remarkable year of international racing for the Jeep Team/Epic Kayak’s star.
McGregor decided to travel to Tahiti a bit later than the rest of the team and following his four flights got to Tahiti at the end of last week giving him a whole week’s build up to the important race on Saturday.
For the 37 year old Durbanite adding a surfski title to his illustrious CV will complete his mission to claim a title at the highest level in Surfski, flatwater marathon and river marathon racing.
A large and impressive team of women looks set to contribute to Team South Africa’s medal haul at the event, despite the absence of Michelle Burn or Nikki Mocké who podiumed in Portugal in 2013, with a fired up contingent that includes Jenna Ward, Nikki Russell and Hayley Arthur.
Russell, who has been very strong throughout the year in her adopted Durban conditions will be hoping that she can take that form onto the international stage when she takes to the crystal clear waters of Tahiti.
Ward has , like McGregor, had her focus split as she went back-to-back with her second bronze medal in the Under 23 women’s K1 race at the World Marathon Championships in Hungary recently.
With that said the youngster from Durban has also been in good form throughout the year in the ski with a number of wins in the various series that have been run as well as a third in the King of Bay race behind Russell and Arthur.
Ward’s partner at the recent Marathon World Championships, Kyeta Purchase was one of the finds of the event as the pair were strong against some of the best K2 crews in the world however following an emergency surgery to remove her appendix following her involvement in Hungary she is a doubtful starter for the World Championship showdown this weekend.
Kenny Rice will take up the Under 23 men’s charge with Jenna Ward in the Under 23 Ladies division with the young but impressive Bailey de Fondaumiere and Mark Keeling representing South Africa in the junior men’s race.
The wind has also picked up and is starting to blow in the right direction in Tahiti with racing fast approaching.
Surfski personality and South African team member Barry Lewin mentioned on social media: “Great last couple days of paddling on the islands. Made that much sweeter with the wind switching and blowing the right direction.
“Getting really excited about racing now with the race briefing done!”
The racing has been moved from the original Saturday and Sunday schedule to a day earlier to accommodate everyone due to the lack of surfskis on the island however the strong team from the Southern tip of Africa is ready to mix it up with the best in the world at the second instalment of this world championships.
The first edition of the world championships was held in Portugal in 2013 where South Africa dominated with Sean Rice winning the elite men’s race and, now American citizen, Michele Eray taking the women’s world championship title.