Ireland success for SA surfski stars sets up Pete Marlin thriller

The four South African paddlers who raced onto the podium at the World Surfski League Irish Coast Paddling Championships on the weekend have all confirmed their entries for the upcoming Dischem Pete Marlin Surfski Race in East London on 30 and 31 October, turning up the heat on an event that already has a reputation for being one of the most competitive contests on the calendar.

New world champ Michelle Burn won the women’s race in Dublin overall and shared the podium with East Londoner Nikki Birkett in second and Chloë Bunnett in third, while Birkett’s husband Andy finished second in the thrilling men’s title race to Spaniard Walter Bouzan.

As locals and close to the Pete Marlin organising committee Andy and Nikki Birkett were entrants, with Andy Birkett confirming his double ski entry with 2019 winner Nicky Notten.

Michelle Burn will return to Border to defend the title she won in 2019, and with the added weight of the global title she grabbed in Lanzarote, she will be the paddler that all the other elite women destined for the Pete Marlin will want to beat.

Bunnett adds intrigue to the women’s race in East London. She has been racing abroad more than any other female surfski racers this year, having challenged the world’s best in Lanzarote and then racing to a silver medal finishes at the European Championships in France and again at Spanish Championships in Castellón , followed by a win in the women’s doubles race with Sara Uki.

Durban Under 16 star Valmajean Hockly has also added her name to the Pete Marlin entry list, hot on the heels of her podium finish at the surfski worlds in Lanzarote, but her older sister Saskia, who won the junior world crown, won’t be racing in East London as she has to prioritise her matric exams.

But new men’s world champ Nicky Notten is confirmed for the Pete Marlin, where he will feel the same pressure as Michelle Burn, coming into the race as defending champion and holder for the world title as well.

“Our list of men’s and women’s winners of the Pete Marlin reads like a who-whose of paddling, with athletes who have won multiple world titles in marathon and most of the world biggest surfski races,” said race committee head Charl van Wyk.

“The results from Ireland on the weekend really excite us as it proves that once again the field that will line up for the Pete Marlin will certainly grab the surfski world’s attention,” he added.