East London – Defending Champion Saskia Hockly looks like the paddler to beat in the women’s races at the Biogen Pete Marlin Surfski Race in East London at the weekend.
The 2022 Junior World Champion will be aiming to defend her Pete Marlin title in the singles race on Saturday and in doing so claim the SA Championship crown, before teaming up with young British ocean racing star Rosie Edwards for Sunday’s doubles event.
Hockly is quick to admit her surprise victory at the 2022 Pete Marlin, while still an U18 junior paddler, was a little fortunate, but is aiming to make sure there is nothing lucky about her title defence on Saturday.
“Naturally I am hoping to defend my title and win – I think that’s the goal of everyone, but I do think last year my win was kind of lucky after Kira (Bester) got taken out (fell off her ski) on the point near the finish.
“But for this year I’m feeling confident. I’m strong and I’m building nicely towards the World Champs in Australia in a month’s time, so I’m definitely feeling ready.
“The World Champs is my major goal and I think that’s the big one for everyone that I know of at the top end of the field, so competition is going to be really tough.”
In the singles, Hockly faces some stiff competition with Kira Bester no doubt keen to make up for her late swim which cost her the race in 2022. Others who will have to be watched closely include fellow U23 Jade Wilson, as well as the experienced East London local Nix Birkett and KZN’s Pippa McGregor. Cape Town juniors Georgia Singe and Hockly’s doubles partner from 2022, Holly Smith, have sprung into the limelight recently while the international duo of last year’s doubles winner and former Knysna resident, Chloe Bunnett (Spain), and Rosie Edwards (GB) pose a threat for the South Africans.
In the doubles, Hockly will be teaming up with Edwards to create an international crew that could be tough to beat. Edwards and Hockly were fourth and first respectively in the 2022 Junior World Championships in Portugal, and Hockly was second overall with Smith in this event in 2022, so there is no doubt they have the pedigree to claim victory.
“I met Rosie about two years ago and decided to paddle with here when she was struggling to find a partner. I actually wasn’t even going to do the doubles event, and was just going to focus on the singles, but she was struggling to find someone to take her. I know what it’s like when you’re in a different country and you are keen to do a race and no one’s willing to jump in a boat with you.
“We are good friends and I know she paddles well, and I am keen to just give it a go. We’re just going go out and have fun and see how we end up.”
The doubles race could be a fascinating battle with two relatively unknown crews made up of South African and international paddlers, the recently crowned junior world champions and a wily old crew of experienced East London locals.
Joining Hockly and Edwards as a multi-national boat on the start line will be last year’s mixed doubles winner Tracey van der Walt, who teams up with Spain’s Bunnett.
Local favourites will surely be the Border pairing of Birkett and Wilson, while Singe and Smith were recently crowned World Junior K2 Canoe Marathon Champions and are clearly a combination that knows how to win.
Paddlers in the Biogen Pete Marlin will do two races over the weekend, with the South African Singles Championships on Saturday and the SA Doubles Champs on Sunday.