East London – A stellar field of the country’s top off-shore paddlers headline a big entry for the annual Biogen Pete Marlin Surfski Race which takes place off the East London coastline on November 4-5.
The weekend consists of a singles race on Saturday and a doubles race on Sunday. Both events are designated as the respective singles and doubles South African Surfski Championships for 2023, with over 250 paddlers entered in each race.
The top-quality, large field is befitting both the event’s status as the national championship and its purpose to honour Pete Marlin, a popular East London surfski paddler who tragically lost his life while paddling on the Umkomaas River in KwaZulu-Natal in 1988.
Marlin is described on the race website as a “charismatic, high energy, free spirit who loved wild places and adventures, which he found aplenty in the rivers and seas of the rugged and magnificent coastline of the Eastern Cape.”
“He moved to East London where he joined a small of small group of intrepid, pioneering kayakers and paddlers who began to explore every river that could be paddled in the Eastern Cape.”
Following the tragic news of his passing, it was decided to honour him by holding a surfski event in the Eastern Cape, and the Biogen Pete Marlin Surfski Race has grown to become one of the country’s most prestigious events, attracting a large entry that always includes the who’s who of South African surfski racing.
This year will be no different, with the November 4-5 weekend giving paddlers a chance to grab two national titles in two days. The date also provides the bulk of the South African national team with an ideal opportunity for some hard race preparation for the World Championships, which take place in Perth, Australia, on November 30 (doubles) and December 2 (singles).
The man to beat in East London in the singles race is probably going to be Hank McGregor, who will be leading the national team to Australia after winning the trials in the Eastern Cape earlier this year. However, he will face some strong competition from fellow team members Mark Keeling, Dawid Mocke, the Fenn brothers Joshua and Matthew, and Daniel Jacobs, while rising star Uli Hart, who will be competing in Perth as an U23, cannot be discounted.
In the women’s race, a trio of youngsters in the national team could be leading the way. Jade Wilson, Kira Bester and defending champion Saskia Hockly are all still U23 but could be fighting among themselves for the gold, silver and bronze in East London.
Senior SA team members Michelle Burn and Melanie van Niekerk are reportedly unlikely to enter, but local Eastern Cape paddler Nikki Birkett, fresh from her recent third position at the South African Marathon River Championships, could disrupt the U23 party.
One interesting women’s crew who will be taking part is the Georgia Singe / Holly Smith combination. The pair won the World Junior Marathon title in Norway recently and, while the two under 18s may find the going tough in the overall singles race, the World Champion crew be in contention in the doubles race on Sunday.
The final race course is dependent on wind and weather conditions with the organisers aiming to give paddlers an 18-25km downwind course, either finishing at Nahoon, Orient Beach, or Yellow Sands.