Defending champ cautious in the face of a potent entry list

East London – A potent entry list and some tricky long-terms goals mean Hank McGregor is not bubbling with confidence as he prepares to defend his singles title at the Biogen Pete Marlin Surfski Race on Saturday.

“I am the defending champion but that means nothing,” said McGregor as he prepared to travel to East London for the country’s biggest surfski race, which this year is also designated as the SA Championships.

“I would love to be able to keep the title, but in all honesty my main goal is actually for world champs which is still a month away, and I’ve had to keep training through. I’m going to use the Pete Marlin as part of training with the bigger picture in mind, because next week I go to Hong Kong to race there, and then the week after it is WA Race Week in Perth in Australia, which will be leading up to World Championships in early December.

“I’m still going to go out to do the best I can at the Biogen Pete Marlin and if I could win it would be fantastic, but I will be using the two races on Saturday (singles) and Sunday (doubles) for race simulation.”

Despite his status as the world’s most successful male kayak paddler, the 11-time world canoe champion has never won the World Surfski Championships and he has made that his major goal for 2023. McGregor’s focus on the World Champs next month means the door is open for a strong field of paddlers to win the SA title at the Pete Marlin this weekend.

“There’s quite a few guys who could win on Saturday,” said the Team Euro Steel paddler. “The level of paddling in South Africa is like an international standard every week and we are ranked basically number one in the world. You look at the biggest race in Australia last year and there was five South Africans in the first six.

“When it comes to ocean racing, we are the strongest country and so just because maybe one of the paddlers isn’t on the start line, you know it doesn’t mean that it’s going to be any easier.

“This weekend at the Pete Marlin we’ve got the Fenn brothers with home-ground advantage and they’re both in the national team; and then you’ve got Uli Hart from Cape Town, who got a third in the Doctor race in Australia last year and was top five or top six in world champs last year; then you have Mark Keeling who was second in the Doctor lost year … and you know, the list goes on.

“From Cape Town you’ve got a strong contingent that always comes to the Pete Marlin, and then the Fenn brothers and Andy Birkett from East London with local knowledge; and a few KZN boys going from Durban, like Hamish Lovemore – if the conditions are mild he will be in contention.”

The two-day Biogen Pete Marlin has a prizefund of almost R140 000 with the singles racing on Saturday and the doubles competing on Sunday. Both races are also designated the 2023 South African Championships to add some extra spice to the event.

McGregor will be paddling Sunday’s event with his wife Pippa and they are clear favourites to win the mixed doubles category.

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