30 June 2008
Hank McGregor paddled a perfect race in testing rough sea conditions to win his second Durban Surf Ski World Cup title on Sunday in a contest that was laced with intrigue and ultimately decided by tactics and composure on the water.
McGregor pinned his ears back and stuck to a line the he felt would be the best straight course from the start at Vetch’s Pier in Durban to Westbrook beach outside Tongaat, while around him the elite paddlers fell foul of tactical errors and lapses in judgment in the three-metre high seas and a south-westerly wind that gusted up to thirty knots.
‘Conditions were perfect for me’
“Conditions were perfect for me, but I actually didn’t know whether I had won the race until I reached the beach finish,” said a relieved McGregor after the race – relieved because he had been despondent to see a ski finish ahead of him. It turned out that it belonged to a back-marker who had enjoyed a fast race from their reversed-order start.
It was only once he had asked the race timekeeper, Margie Oliver, where he had finished, and was told that he had won, that McGregor could punch the air in triumph.
The race provided a captivating duel as McGregor stuck to his straight line option, while talented Durban youngster Clint Pretorius opted for a line much further inshore. Cape ace Dawid Mocke went two kilometres out to sea, while the defending champion, Oscar Chalupsky, switched lines throughout the race.
“Hats off to Hank as he raced a great race, but I can’t believe that with 45 years of experience I panicked and changed my mind in the middle of the race,” said Chalupsky, who was unnerved by reports that Mocke had taken the lead with his gamble to race far out to sea where the runs were formidable.
Mocke conceded that he too had strayed too far out to sea, even though he had stuck with the readings from his GPS Navigation device. “Suddenly I started getting this reading from my GPS telling me to go in closer, and I realised that I was too far out,” said Mocke afterwards.
He cut sharply towards shore as the race neared the finish at Westbrook Beach, but could only watch as first McGregor reached the finish and then Pretorius, leaving him in third place overall.
It was, however, enough to see him leapfrog into second place in the final World Series rankings, ahead of Tahitian Lewis Laughlan, who did not fare well on the day and finished eighteenth overall.
Oscar Chalupsky finished fifth, just behind his younger brother Herman, who had doggedly persisted with a line closer inshore throughout the race.
His fifth place was enough to wrap up victory in the World Series rankings for the veteran surf ski paddler, after he held off the challenges of Mocke and Laughlan.
The women’s title was successfully defended by Cape Town star Alexa Cole (nee Lombard), who thrived in the big downwind conditions. She led the ladies race from start to finish, holding off Kiwi ace Katie Pocock, to win by less than 30 seconds.
“I had no idea where I was in the race because the sea was so big and I never saw any of the other girls,” said Cole. “When I got to the finish I was trying to concentrate to make sure I didn’t make a mistake in the shore break. Then I heard over the loudspeakers that I was the first woman home.
“I also heard the announcer saying that Katie (Pocock) was right behind me, which added just a touch of pressure as I was coming in through the big shore break!”
In addition to encountering dolphins and flying fish during the race, Cole was also stung on the hand by a bluebottle, which caused uncomfortable swelling of the glands in her arm.
“The downwind conditions were just perfect for me,” said Cole afterwards. “It wasn’t as big as last year’s race, and I never felt out of control.”
Durban star Michelle Eder wrapped up third ahead of Nathalie Veckranges and Tiffany Kruger.
The thrilling action on the heaving seas north of Durban proved to be too much for the junior world marathon champion Grant Van Der Walt. Racing in his first surf ski race, the Johannesburg schoolboy overshot the finish and was eventually rescued from the beach at Princes Grant, 20 kilometres north of the finish.
Durban paddler Steph De Robbillard also caused anxious moments for his seconds and family. He was unaccounted for late into the day, until he was located at Tinley Manor.
Scottburgh star Shadrack Mkhize excelled, finishing just ahead of the first double ski, paddled by Butch Murray and Gary Albers. Kelly Howe and Thomas Prior took the mixed doubles class, while Jenny Cullinan and Bettina Risch were the first all women’s double ski crew home.
Durban Surf Ski World Cup
- Hank McGregor (RSA) 1:56:24
- Clint Pretorius (RSA) 1:57:07
- Dawid Mocke (RSA) 1:57:40
- Herman Chalupsky (RSA) 1:58:59
- Oscar Chalupsky (RSA) 1:59:01
- Jeremy Cotter (Aus) 1:59:37
- Tim Jacobs (Aus) 1:59:47
- Dean Gardiner (Aus) 2:00:48
- Matt Bouman (Aus) 2:01:44
- Daryl Bartho (RSA) 2:02:59
- Alexa Cole (RSA) 2:21:01
- Katie Pocock (NZL) 2:21:05
- Michele Eder (RSA) 2:25:44
- Tiffany Kruger (RSA) 2:29:43
- Natalie Veckranges (RSA) 2:36:45
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